The Velvet Revolution

The Velvet Revolution, sometimes called also the Gentle Revolution, took place in 1989 in Czechoslovakia. A series of important events, held between 17 November and 29 December 1989, resulted in a fall of communism in Czechoslovakia.

In the 1980s there were some economic problems in the country so that it was necessary to do some changes in the Czechoslovak economic system. Similar issue was at the same time solved in the Soviet Union. The Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbechev officially declared reconstruction of the economic system, in Russian called “Perestroika”.

There was also another concept going hand in hand with Perestroika called in Russian “glasnosť“, meaning openness. According to the „glasnosť“ concept the state should not hide the problems, but they should talk about them publicly and truly.

All the hopes of Czechoslovak people to improve the economic situation went out when Miloš Jakeš became the Secretary General of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia’s Central Committee in 1987.

In the summer 1988 riots started in order to remember the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, because it was the 20th anniversary of the invasion.

Year 1989 was a disaster for the Eastern Block. In most eastern European countries occurred riots and civil initiatives that resulted in transitions of political regimes of those countries. After the events in Poland starting with Solidarity movement in Gdansk, it seemed it is finally possible, after the failure of Prague Spring in 1968, to establish democracy and free economy in Czechoslovakia.

In January 1989 events commemorating Jan Palach, Czech student who committed self-immolation on Wenceslas square on 16 January 1969 in protest against suppression of freedom and the passivity of Czechoslovaks after the invasion of Czechoslovakia by the Warsaw pact armies in August 1968 and died in the hospital three days later, took place.

The reaction of the communist government caused further riots. The government sent the armed forces to suppress the people. The civic initiative Charter 77 submitted their demands including release of political prisoners and freedom of assembly.

The riots occurred then very frequently until the fall of communism.

On 16 November there were demonstrations in Bratislava. Armed forces were put on alert, however in the end the students were enabled to go through the city peacefully.

On 17 November (International Students Day and the 50th anniversary death of Jan Opletal, who was a Czech student killed by the Nazis), mass demonstrations were organised to commemorate that day. More than 15.000 people joined the demonstration. They marched to Karel Hynek Mácha’s grave at Vyšehrad Cemetery (Bohemian poet and national symbol) and than continued into downtown Prague. There were the riots dispersed, moreover, one of the protestants stayed motionless lying on the ground. In the crowd widespread a hoax about the dead student. After that incident the consequent demonstrations were even bigger.

During the night from 18 November to 19 November was established the Civic forum (in Czech Občanské Fórum) and Václav Havel became its leader. The organisation declared a general strike on 27 November in order to put through their demands, such as punishment of the policemen who committed the incident, civil rights and freedom and other.

In Slovakia was established similar organisation called Public Against Violence (in Slovak Verejnosť proti násiliu).

On 19 November theatres and other artistic and literary associations in Czechoslovak cities go on strike. During the next days many strikes were conducted.

The general strike on 27 November was successful, it took place throughout the country between 12:00 and 14:00, and more than 75% of people joined and supported the strike. Civic Forum is commonly recognized as the legitimate voice of the nation to negotiate with the government.

On 29 November the provision referring to the „leading role“ of the Communist Party was deleted from the Constitution. By this act officially finishes the 40 years long period of rule of Communist Party in Czechoslovakia.

On 7 November the communist government resigned. Gustáv Husák resigned from the post of Czechoslovak president. Alexander Dubček was elected leader of the Federal Assembly and on 29 December the dissident, prominent member of Charter 77 movement and leader of the Civic Forum Václav Havel was elected the Czechoslovak president.