I was there...Velvet Revolution in 1989
It is late afternoon of November 17, 1989. I go out with hundreds of others to the streets of Prague to protest against our government. For the first time in my life I see the Czech nation raising its head and speaking its mind.
My heart is pounding. My head is swelling. My thoughts are scattered. None of us were planning to come here today. It just happened after our government beat us brutally when we were peacefully celebrating the International Day of Students. We paid respect to the young victims of the wars and spontaneously remembered the name of Jan Palach who tragically died when setting himself on fire to protest the Russian invasion in 1968. Our leaders erased his name from history. The violent riot of military and police was the answer for us celebrating his bravery. Our parents, the parents of beat up children, lost their fear and joined us in the streets.
I march with thousands of others through the streets of Prague .
The sun tickles the roofs of the Baroque churches. Some of its rays are sliding down from the top of the tall, tip-pointed towers of the Gothic cathedral. Brown, orange and yellow leaves rest on a small abandoned park bench crouched below a colossal tree. People trapped in the cars start waving at us and honking. We answer with wild clapping. Prague starts resonating with joyous sound. Everybody around me shines with wide smiles and the bond between us, strangers, is sudden, strong and emotional.
By now we fill up the streets along the Moldau River. The water is calm, just the geese seem to sit on the surface restlessly. The tram is forced to stop; people are getting off hurriedly to join us. An old lady, sitting in the cart, sticks out her head curiously with a wide smile, the tears glittering in the corners of her eyes. Everyone from the crowd who is passing her squeezed her hand. Now it is my turn and I cannot stop the tears.
The sun softens its shine. Prague is bathed in a warm orange light. All of our eyes are fixed toward the other side of the river where the Prague castle rises solemnly and proudly. Since the ninth century the Castle has been housing Czech kings and presidents. Today it is the seat of our government. The spinal towers of the Castle cathedral are stern, perfect and maybe apprehensive. Inside are those whom we want to confront. By the time the sun departs, we reach the bridge leading directly to the Castle. Police and army block the road. The government is taking some action. Patience and determination are our only weapons. We are peacefully dispersing.
Prague is boiling. The restaurants, pubs, bars are full; there are hundreds of people in the streets talking, laughing, singing, dancing, signing petitions, playing guitars and mostly wildly debating. Everyone is glowing with optimism, nobody is in hurry anywhere. This is the place to be, this is what life is about. The city is charged with joy, happiness, excitement, and determination to win,
The next day the crowd is bigger, there are 100,000 people in the streets of Prague. We are on the main square, braving the cold November day, ready to stand here forever. The speaker, one of our persecuted dissidents, announces that all of the factories are on strike. The crowd breaks into forceful clapping and shouting.
I notice how the sky is blue today. The crowd falls quiet. Suddenly somebody’s big voice shouts, “SVOBODA!” . There is a silence for two or three seconds. How many of us had never heard this word publicly?
I feel pain in my chest from the surge of emotions and before I know it I join others in mighty shouting: SVO-BO-DA. SVO-BO-DA. FREE-DOM. FREE-DOM. We start walking toward the Castle again, shouting that we want nothing more than freedom.
It is late at night and I cannot sleep. And who can? My friend and I are going out at four in the morning to buy newspaper. Prague is bubbling, steaming, the city is in a frenzy. The air smells sweet, and we can all drink and eat for free, everyone is sharing, everyone is offering, everything is open twenty-four hours a day. Revolution does not know night or day. It is one big day that ends with achieving our goal. I am tasting the life in paradise. If nothing else, these incredible moments have already made up for the years under the communists’ despotism. The sense of giving and sharing offers me a rare opportunity to experience the uniqueness of human closeness.
On day three the crowd is even bigger with almost half a million people in the streets. We are in the Wenceslav Square again, and the Communist vice-president is trying to deliver a speech. All of a sudden I hear a key chiming. Everybody pulls out their keys and we all chime above our heads. The whole of Prague is chiming and the politician cannot finish his address. We sing instead the Czech national songs.
The days that follow are similar to each other. We gather in the square in even greater numbers, shouting, chiming and singing our Czech national songs. There are many events I happily experience and one of the episodes sticks clearly in my mind. We are walking with my friends in the Wenceslas Square and we notice a big crowd in front of a record shop. We come closer and see a small cassette player sitting on a stool playing a Christmas carol. I am so happy to hear – for the first time in my life – the Christmas carol being played publicly. We are staying for the longest time and together with others listening, singing and enjoying a sliver of already gained freedom.
Day ten of the Revolution arrives and a million people gathered in the streets of Prague. The most persecuted dissident, philosopher and playwright, Václav Havel, takes the microphone on the balcony of an old art nouveau building: “Ladies and gentlemen, the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia forfeited its power. The practices of this political party are no longer lawful and their activities are considered a violation of our Constitution.”
The Czech nation, no longer oppressed, starts crying tears of joy, tears of relief, tears of overwhelming feeling of freedom. Marta Kubisova, the beloved and twenty years persecuted singer, takes the stand and starts singing our national anthem. That day fifteen million people were singing along with her. Fifteen million were freely singing, fifteen million that have kept quiet for twenty long years since the Russian invasion in 1968. One day, all of a sudden, the nonviolent oppressed nation could not take it any longer. We simply went to the streets together and shouted at the top of our lungs for freedom.
Our Revolution is called the Velvet Revolutin. Our Revolution did not know any casualties nor suffering.
The philosophy of non-violence, love and peace that Gandhi introduced to us and the Children of Love planted in the Sixties in America, we concluded twenty years later in the heart of Europe. We achieved our freedom by throwing flowers on the policemen and singing songs about freedom.
My voice was heard there,too. I won my fight for freedom. And how proud a Czech I am is hard to convey. It is beyond all of the words of all lthe anguages in the world.