The Velvet Revolution

"The Velvet Revolution" was the conclusion of a series of popular movements aimed at bringing about a change of regime in Czechoslovakia. The start may be said to be "The Prague Spring" of 1968, in which Alexander Dubcek and his followers hoped for "socialism with a human face". That hope was crushed in August the same year by the invasion of troops from the Soviet Union. The subsequent occupation's most famous martyr was Jan Palach who set himself on fire in 1969.

Subsequently the new leaders governed increasingly harshly. Especially artists, writers, scientists, journalists and other members of the intelligentsia found it difficult to hold down jobs within their regular field of work, and had to resort to doing odd jobs in order to subsist. The reason for this was that the opposition to the regime had its most articulate spokesmen within the intelligentsia. This was particularly evident in the formation of Charter 77, which included the writer Václav Havel among its most prominent figures.

Havel was also the person the whole opposition rallied around in late 1989, when the communist parties all over Eastern Europe found their power base being eroded. "Havel na Hrad" (Havel for the Castle) became the cry, and in the establishment of The Civic Forum in November 1989 we again find Havel as a central figure. On 29. December 1989 he was elected president of Czechoslovakia. At the same time Dubcek, the veteran from 1968 was voted president of parliament. Thus the connection between the "Prague Spring" and the "Velvet Revolution" - even in their names the revolutions reflect the influence of poets - was upheld.


The Velvet Revolution in November 1989: student activists on Wenceslas Square in front of the statue of St. Wenceslas and the National Museum collect signatures for a petition. The slogans "Havel for President", "Free elections" and "We want democracy and plurality", together with the bust of the first president of the pre-war Czechoslovak Republic T.G. Masaryk, expressed the demands and atmosphere of the time when the totalitarian Communist regime was brought down ( AMP, iconographic collection, sign. XVII 21/14. Photo: JL)