What’s happening in Czechia on November 17?

Velvet Revolution memorial on Národní třída in Prague

This year’s November 17th celebrations will mark the 33rd anniversary of the Velvet Revolution. The annual celebrations are always packed with a multitude of events, ranging from cultural festivities to political protests. Here is a rundown of what’s happening:

Korzo Národní

Prague’s Národní street, where the brutal crackdown by communist police on student demonstrators sparked the Velvet Revolution in 1989, is traditionally the sight of major activity on November 17. This will be the eighth year when the celebrations will be organised by NGO Díky, že můžem (Thanks, that we can) under the name Korzo Národní. While the pandemic years saw the celebrations muted by the pandemic, Bára Stárková from Díky, že můžem says that 2022 will see the celebrations back on the street in full force.

“There are more than 90 activities in our packed programme, which is much more than over the previous three years. Our programme mostly takes place on the street. We want to create a sort of unique gallery through which anyone can stroll through together with their family.”

Visitors will be able to light a candle by the monument commemorating the November 17 protest in person, or, if they can’t come physically, virtually as well via Korzo’s official website. A special “Velvet Brunch” will be taking place from 10am to 1pm, accompanied by music performed by the Czech Technical University’s orchestra. Various musicians are also set to perform on stages set up on the street. Ms Stárková says that a significant part of the programme is also catered to families with children.

“You can for example go and play arcade games, or there is our tram feature, wherein we transform a normal tram into a sort of art venue. Kids will be able to learn more about the Velvet Revolution and the [Communist] regime there in a fun way.”

The gallery Topic salon, located on Národní, will be displaying an exhibition from 9am to 6pm called 21 děl pro Ukrajinu. The works belong to three famous Ukrainian artists and are now being shown in Prague after previous displays in Berlin and Paris. The artists, along with the curators, will be present at the exhibit as well.

Inside the Church of Our Lady of the Snows on Jungmann Square will hold a special mass at 10am on Thursday presided over by Archbishop of Prague Jan Graubner. A procession will then leave the church to honour the memory of November 17 on Národní třída.

Festival of Freedom

Aside from Korzo Národní, the Festival of Freedom has also become a mainstay of Czechia’s November 17 celebrations. The main part of the festival’s programme will be taking place in Prague.

November 17 is not just a date connected to the Velvet Revolution. 50 years earlier, the same day saw the Nazi’s arrest over a thousand university students and teachers, as well as executing nine student leaders after closing down Czech universities. Every year sees many Czech students and lecturers gather at Prague 2’s Albertov Street to commemorate those events and mark International Students' Day. It is where the protestors who took part in the 1989 demonstration gathered as well. The meeting is set to start at 10am on Abertov, featuring speeches from university rectors and student leaders, followed by discussions about the breakup of Czechoslovakia and politics in the post-Soviet space.

There will also naturally be remembrance events taking place at the nearby Hlávkova kolej, where Jan Opletal lived. A memorial gathering will be held there organised by the Hlávkova Foundation.

If making fun of politics and current affairs is more up your alley then the carnival procession Sametové posvícení, which will set out from Prague’s Kampa park at around 3pm, may be the right thing to check out. The event sees people dressed in various satirical costumes, often inspired by what’s happening in Czechia and the wider world, walk through the city. This year the costumes were created by a mix of Czech and Ukrainian artists and children.

The Concert for the Future will be taking place from 4:30 to 9:30pm on Wenceslas Square, featuring many of the country’s leading musicians such as Ben Cristovao, David Koller, Lenka Dusilová or the band Chinaski, as well as Russian group Pussy Riot. Speeches will also be held on the stage by many well-known Czechs. Hong Kong activist Samuel Chu is also expected to make an address and it is likely that a letter from the Dalai Lama will be read out too.

On the Smichov side of the popular Náplavka embankement, the Festival of Freedom will be holding an event called Sametový svařák from 6 to 9pm. Aside from mould wine, visitors will be able to look forward to goulash soup and crafting small boats made out of nut shells that will then be set to float into the river. All of this will be accompanied by music performed by trumpeter DJ Chris Vern.

Unlike Korzo Narodni, the Festival of Freedom is not just limited to Prague. Moravia’s largest city, Brno, will be hosting its own part of the festival known as Brněnský sedmnáctý (Brno’s seventeenth) with the main part of the programme taking place on Brno’s Freedom square. The site will see many thematic speeches take place, a performance by a traditional cimbalom music group as well as the signing of the national anthem followed by a lantern procession. Cinema screenings will take place in the Alfa pasáž and Hotel Barceló Palace while the city’s Moravian Square will see theatre performances.

The National Theatre will be hosting the annual Memory of Nations Awards from 8pm on Thursday. The event will be broadcast on Czech Television.

Also, don’t be surprised if your radio station starts playing a 1960s song at exactly 5:11pm. It has become a tradition to play Marta Kubišová’s famous 1968 song Modlitba pro Martu when the 24 hour clock screen hits exactly 17:11. This year Kubišová will not be performing the song herself. However, she is set to appear at the Culture House Strakonice at 7pm, to talk about her life story.

If you’re not in Prague or Brno it may still be worth checking the programme on the website of Festival of Freedom, as there are associated events taking place in dozens of municipalities across Czechia.

Political manifestations

November 17 commemorations are not just fun and games but also a traditional opportunity for Czechs to get politically active on the streets and show their disfavour with current events or the direction in which their country is headed.

The "Czech Republic first" organisers of the anti-government protests that brought tens of thousands onto Wenceslas Square earlier this autumn are expected to gather around Prague Main Station on Thursday and march towards the headquarters of Czech Television at Kavčí Hory.

Meanwhile, the NGO Million Moments for Democracy, which organised mass anti-government protests during the time Andrej Babis was in office as prime minister is organising a gathering on Old Town and Hradčany Squares that will be focused on the upcoming presidential elections.

Old Town Square will also see a demonstration organised by the Czech Sovereignty party (Česká suverenita) against rising prices

The PES movement, which made headlines during Covid times when it protested against government pandemic measures, is planning to host a gathering on Prague’s Letná plain from mid-day.

The pro-European citizen's initiative Pulse of Europe is planning to gather around Můstek on Wenceslas Square to show support for the European Union.

The Prague regional committee of the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia will be organising a memorial act in front of Hlávkova kolej from 10:30 to 11:30am to honour the student Jan Opletal who was killed by the Nazis.