Freedom and democracy anniversary marked by political discontent

Фото: Ондржей Томшу

Czechs on Saturday marked the 29th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution that triggered the fall of communism in 1989. Traditionally the anniversary was marked by public gatherings, concerts, marches and cultural events, but this year public discontent with the political situation brought a tense atmosphere to the celebrations.

Photo: Ondřej Tomšů

Photo: ČTK/Vondrouš Roman
More than any other year since 1989, this anniversary of the Velvet Revolution was more about the present than the past. Many of those who traditionally come to lay flowers and light candles at Prague’s Národní St. in memory of the brutal crack-down on a student demonstration that triggered the fall of communism, came to confront politicians in person, booing, jeering and tossing the wreaths and flowers of some politicians into nearby bins.

The embattled Czech prime minister, Andrej Babiš, broke with tradition, going to Národní St. at midnight to pay his respects in order to avoid an angry crowd, but was still jeered by passers-by out late and populist politician Tomio Okamura also arrived during the night hours. President Miloš Zeman said he would not be making any public appearances on that day, simply sending a wreath to the monument at Národní St. All their flowers and wreaths ended up in nearby bins, trashed by angry protesters.

Photo: ČTK/Vondrouš Roman
While some people took part in the many outdoor theatre performances, exhibitions, satirical carnival and other events in the city centre, others vented their anger at demonstrations and marches against Prime Minister Babiš and President Miloš Zeman.

Opposition politicians warned that this year was a memento of how easy it would be to lose the democratic gains won by the Velvet Revolution and the deputy chair of the Senate Milan Stěch said how sorry he was to see Czech society so deeply divided.

Photo: ČTK/Vostárek Josef
November 17th also marks the 79th anniversary of brutal Nazi repressions on academic ground in 1939, after students organised a march to commemorate the death of Jan Opletal, a young man killed by the Nazi occupiers. Nine student leaders were murdered by the Nazis and more than 1,000 sent to Sachsenhausen. Traditionally, politicians, academics and students gathered at Prague’s Albertov to pay homage to their memory.

The commemorative events and street celebrations culminate with a Concert for the Future on Wenceslas Square. In a gala ceremony at the National Theatre the non-profit organisation Post Bellum will hand out its annual Memory of the Nation awards.