Prague, 17th of November, 1989: Slogans are shouted and bounding through the air on handwritten boards. Czechs and students alike are supporting the movement.
A student protest made its way through the streets of Prague to Wenceslas Square to commemorate the death of Jan Opletal. This man was a student shot at the Czechoslovak Independence Day rally 50 years prior, during the Nazi occupation. Though, this demonstration quickly shifted into freedom slogans and songs demanding new democratic reforms while boasting their discontent with communism.
On that day, what was meant to be a peaceful demonstration turned into brutal beatings of unarmed students. Corrupt communist riot police blockaded this student protest with immense violence on Národní Street. Little did they know, that unnecessary act would become the catalyst for Czech people to speak up and have their voices heard. After ten full days of demonstrations, the most influential and largest general strike of approximately 800,000 people was held at Letná Park. It was this rally that finally forced the Communists to step down.
Now, 30 years later: thousands of people, young and old, crowd the streets leading up Národní toward Wenceslas Square. The city is volcanic with events and energy of all kinds hold not only Czechs but expats as well; eager to celebrate the anniversary of this revolutionary overthrow.
The thundering noise of Czech rock bands playing music explodes through the air. During the day, young individuals pass newspapers to people about proceeding events. Information stands dot the city with trdelníks, mulled wine, and beer around every corner. A student parade commemorating that of what happened 30 years prior to marches through the city. Beautifully decorated memorials and children’s paintings of Czech flags add to the surreal feeling of the event.
During a funky flash mob near Národní třída, a man who looked to be in his late 60s spoke loudly, “You know… 30 years ago, we could not do this,” he grinned with appreciation. Suddenly, this man’s demeanor changed, “To me, Andrej Babiš. He’s not my Prime Minister. Just a stupid Slovak man.” He sighed deeply and continued, “I hope things will change.” Instantly, a large pin, previously under his wool scarf, was uncovered. The pin had black sketching of Andrej Babiš’s face on it, with a bold red “X” over his image. Now observing for the first time, almost every single person had this pin on their bodies.
However, there is an undercurrent of dissatisfaction with the present government. Saturday, the 16th of November, 2019, a protest demonstrating against Andrej Babiš and his party was held at Letna Park. People of all ages and status were protesting, “Truth will prevail over lies,” and “Resign!” all in unison. This was not a rally on just any day but positioned on one of the biggest weekends in Czech history. Given this, the population swamped toward Letná Park, reaching over 300,000 people.
Czechs now face a threat of right-wing populism. Andrej Babiš, the Prime Minister of the Czech Republic, Slovak-born billionaire, Czech finance minister, owner of many Czech media outlets, and leader of the ANO movement has taken control of Parliament. During the Communist regime, Andrej Babiš was a vigorous communist and cooperated with Russian occupiers. Recently announcing, he was part of the secret police, he apologized on this historical weekend. Growing concerns about his governance prevail.
Thirty years after the Velvet Revolution, the Czech Republic has, yet again, a communist in government. As the anniversary weekend portrayed, Czechs feel as if he is just as corrupt as any of the communists from 1989.
Former President of Czechoslovakia Václav Havel once said, “The salvation of this human world lies nowhere else than in the human heart, in the human power to reflect, in human meekness and human responsibility.” That is how one fights authority. That is how people unify. That is what Czechs take to heart, while once again, resisting an unruly government.
Cover image by Irina Nikolaeva