March that sparked Velvet Revolution re-created in Prague

Photo: Štěpánka Budková

The people of the Czech Republic have been marking the 20th anniversary of the start of the Velvet Revolution, which led to the collapse of the country’s Communist government after over four decades of repression. The main event on Tuesday was the re-enactment in Prague of the student demonstration that sparked those changes in 1989.

November 17,  1989
On November 17, 1989, a march honouring a young Czech victim of the Nazis in November 1939 turned into a peaceful demonstration against the communist regime. The students were brutally attacked by riot police – sparking the beginning of the Velvet Revolution, at the end of which the dissident Václav Havel became the first president of the new democracy.

On Tuesday, now a national holiday for the Czechs, a march was held along the same route as 1989’s demonstration to commemorate the events of 20 years ago. The re-enactment was organised by the NGO Opona, which is headed by David Gaydečka.

Photo: Štěpánka Budková
“Two years ago, we already felt that it was an important anniversary and we are the last generation that can inform younger people or people who didn’t live in totalitarian Czechoslovakia what it was like before.”

Photo: Štěpánka Budková
Tuesday’s event started by Charles University’s medical faculty at Albertov, where around 5,000 gathered to celebrate 20 years without the Iron Curtain. Many in attendance were too young to have lived under the communist regime, such as students Kateřina Kněpová and Matěj Slovák.

Photo: Štěpánka Budková
Matěj: “Yes, it does mean a lot for us and firstly it’s nice to see all the young people like us gathering here and everyone’s trying to show that they are interested and it’s really nice to see it.”

Kateřina: “Because our parents fought for us, and not only them but also politicians, so I think it’s very important not to forget.”

Photo: Štěpánka Budková
From Albertov, the crowd marched through Vyšehrad, stopping at memorable spots along the way, such as at the former residence of Václav Havel on Rašínovo Nábřeží and ended at Narodní Street for a free rock concert, attended by around 10,000 people.

Václav Havel,  photo: CTK
Alongside numerous big names from the world of Czech music, there were a couple of special guests – including Mr Havel himself, who was carrying an acoustic guitar.

“Experts call this being a roadie…But of course I haven’t just been a guitar carrier for the last 20 years, I’ve also been a citizen, and as a citizen I rely on you.”

The former president then handed that guitar to another special guest, Joan Baez, who performed a rousing rendition of the protest song We Shall Overcome.