Fifteen years since Velvet Revolution, fifteen years since being fifteen

November 17th, 2004

This week we have been remembering the 15th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution, which brought about the end of the communist regime in Czechoslovakia. Amid the commemorative events, I realised that fifteen years ago I was exactly fifteen years old.

Photo: CTK
I must say it made me stop and think for a while. It suddenly dawned on me that I have spent precisely one half on my life in a totalitarian regime and the other in a democracy. Thinking about it I tried to formulate my own definition of the difference between the two halves of my life. Clearly, owing to the nature of human life, they can never be even - childhood is too special a time and can hardly be compared to later stages in life.

The obvious differences most people would agree on, I guess, are the lack of colour before 1989, both in the literal and metaphorical sense, and the lack of freedom. Yes, everything was sort of grey then but then again even grey can have all the colours of a rainbow when seen through a child's eyes. And freedom? Well, as a child, I had all the freedom in the world, but at the same time I had none, precisely because of being just a child.

So these two definitions don't work for me personally when I am to compare life before and after the end of communism. After giving it a deeper thought, I finally worked out what sums up the difference between my life before and after 1989. It is the contrast between "constancy" and "change".

During the first 15 years of my life my country had the same name and the same president. Streets and shops in Prague never changed names. Everything was the same and that's how it seemed destined to stay — forever.

All of a sudden, a few weeks of total euphoria and national unity turned everything upside down. Since 1989, my country has changed its name twice, so did the main TV channel and its main evening news programme. Our local supermarket has had five owners and as many names since. Streets I used to walk every day were renamed after different people.

So, stability and flux - that's how I can describe the first and second halves of my life, respectively. But wouldn't it be the same if no revolution had happened?

Every age group had to approach and digest the political and economic changes in a different way. My generation was hit by the "regime change", as it would probably be called now, at a very vulnerable time of our lives. The twists and turns in society mirrored our own internal confusion and the two types of "growing pains" added on to each other.

Regardless of how many years I have ahead of me, I have a feeling that my first 15 years will always seem a longer and more substantial part of my life, just because time passes at a different speed at different stages of human life. Here's one little example to explain what I mean: the metro station I have been using for 20 years was called after a communist hero between 1984 and 1989. For fifteen years now it has had a different name but when I think of the station, the old name always comes to mind first.

And it's little things like this that make me think that even though I was not yet fully aware of what kind of twisted world I was living in during the 15 years I spent in a communist state, on a subliminal level those years are perhaps more deeply ingrained in my mind and soul than I am prepared to admit.