Mixed emotions on the streets of Prague fifteen years after the fall of communism

Photo: CTK

In the Prague street Albertov a peaceful march began fifteen years ago on 17th November 1989. It was to mark the 50th anniversary of the death of Jan Opletal, the Czech student killed by the Nazis in 1939. The event marked the beginning of the Velvet Revolution, as the march was suppressed brutally by police when it reached National Avenue in the heart of the city. On Wednesday, exactly fifteen years later, another march took place. This time it was staged by students to protest against the continued influence of the Communist Party in the Czech Republic. Several thousand young people took part carrying banners, lanterns and Czech flags. We spoke to some of them.

Photo: CTK
Can I ask you why you're here today?

Young woman: "The 17th November is an important day for us, because fifteen years ago there were such a lot of young people, students, just as we are now, fighting for our future."

Young man: "It's necessary for each man for himself to participate in public life and politics. It's not enough just to wait and ask the others to do the job instead of us."

So you think that people today are mostly apathetic and they need to be reminded what democracy means?

"But I think that this age is ending."

Young man: "I'm here to infiltrate the Young Conservatives Club and destroy it from inside."

Why the Young Conservatives Club? They're nothing to do with the communists.

Photo: CTK
"They've nothing to do with the communists, but in their opinions and politics they do. It makes me mad."

Young woman: "I'm studying to be a teacher. You know, there's a very big difference when someone does business and makes huge amounts of money and when you are a teacher or something. You are in a very bad situation. So it's something strange here in this country."

I've been talking to several people and everyone seems to have a different reason why they're demonstrating today. It's not the same as it was fifteen years ago when everybody knew who the enemy was, is it?

"People are confused. That is the reason why a lot of people don't go to elections. A small percentage go - all the communists go, and the other people they feel that everyone in our political parties are the same, so they don't go to vote. So people are feeling like it's better to do nothing. That's really bad. So people express their feelings here and not during elections, because the people who are now politicians are bad."

Prague's town hall organised official celebrations on National Street on Wednesday evening, but some students who took part in the march found it all just too official. They called on the crowd to join them at an alternative event, round the corner on Wenceslas Square.

There students were greeted by former student organizers and dissidents from 1989, including the well-known sociologist Jirina Siklova.

Photo: CTK
"I think that the young people are unsatisfied with the development that is here but I think that people don't have the habits of how to behave in a democratic system."

The continued popularity of the Communist Party after fifteen years was a major topic of discussion at the student demonstration, but Jirina Siklova was among those who felt it probably would not be wise to ban the party:

"I think it is too late, that it is impossible at this moment, but I think it would be enough if people did not elect them, no? It would be the democratic solution."