Velvet Carnival blends activism with satire on 25th anniversary of revolution

Photo: archive of Velvet Carnival

They call themselves a carnival. Hundreds of performer-activists seeking to mark the anniversary of the Velvet Revolution with a twist: less wreath-laying and somber recollections, and more masks, costumes, parades, workshops and countless other events highlighting pressing issues, whether environmental or social. This is the organisation's third year, operating out of a provisional headquarters in the heart of Prague's Old Town. I spoke with Marie Knapp, public relations director for the Velvet Carnival and began by asking her to describe the event.

Photo: archive of Velvet Carnival
“The Velvet Carnival is an association of around 15 different social initiatives. We strive to highlight issues that we have in our society at this time through funny and satirical means. We create huge papier-mâché masks that we carry on the 17th November. And through this we want to first honour the fact that we have been a democracy for 25 years. We also want to demonstrate that democratic activism is still very much alive, but in a humorous way.”

And you are based in Cihelná Street in Prague’s historic Malá Strana district, in a large building there. So you have occupied this space for a period of time and all these different initiatives are being prepared there for this march. How exactly does it work and what is the atmosphere like there?

Marie Knapp, photo: archive of Velvet Carnival
“I would say it is rather a kind of punk atmosphere. Because the building that we are in – the Velvet Centre at Cihelná number 4 – is a very old building that hasn’t been reconstructed since the 1970s. But we have this great option to utilize this space for our art workshops, and to create masks there. And almost every night we host cultural events there like documentary screenings, book readings, discussions and so on. So we have turned this Velvet Centre into a kind of punk place full of culture with free entrance open to everyone who wants to come.”

Tell me abut some of the specific initiatives. What charities, or groups or initiatives are partaking this year?

Photo: archive of Velvet Carnival
We will have around 15 initiatives this year taking part at the Velvet Centre. We will have topics like Tosara (educational NGO for Roma children) and addressing issues related to the Roma minority. People in Need, Greenpeace, Naděje, who provide help to homeless people. All of the information can be found at our website sametoveposviceni.cz. And I would like to invite anyone who would like to come and see - the last of our art workshops is taking place this coming weekend, and that is the last weekend we will be creating our masks.”