Yesterday, it was 25 years ago that the Velvet Revolution got underway in Czechoslovakia. Protesters in Prague marched from Albertov to the city center, where they were confronted by police. One of the latest dominoes in the Soviet Bloc to come down, Czechoslovakia had not seen any of the political shifts that neighboring countries such as East-Germany, Poland, and Hungary had seen. All of that was to prove to be the calm before the storm. On 17 November, the end began.
So what did Communist Party newspaper Rudé Právo write on 18 November? I thought I’d check it out and thankfully, the Institute for Czech Literature has four decades’ worth of Rudé Právo available on-line. You can check out this astonishing resource here.
On Saturday 18 November, as the Civic Forum was forming and plans were being made for new protests, RP did report on the protests. On the front page, in the bottom right-hand corner, a short piece described some of the events in a casual, business-as-usual kind of tone. It concludes by stating that ‘By 10 PM, it was calm in the city center’. The full article reads as follows (my translation):
Demonstration of Students
Prague (from our reporters) – On Albertov in Prague 2, about 15 thousand college students from Prague schools for higher education gathered at 4PM, to honor the memory of Jan Opletal, who was murdered by fascists [in 1939]. The collective action of the city’s college councils as well as unorganized students had an unorderly character. It showed how much the students want to speak out loud and openly about their problem, that they demand faster social change and also, how easily they let themselves be turn onto radicalism. That became clear already from the disruptive reactions to the speeches, especially by representative from the college councils. After the gathering on Albertov ended, its participants headed over to the Slavín cemetery on Vyšehrad, where they were to lay flowers at the grave of Karel Hynek Mácha.
Already on Albertov and later during the march, slogans and chants attacking representatives of the Communist Party, the leading role of the Communist Party, demanding the abolition of the People’s Militia, the resignation of the government, free elections, and the like. On Vyšehrad, the gathering had little left to do with the solemn ceremony that had been supposed to take place. More and more voices dominated that demanded heading over to the city center. In the evening hours, the crowd went over to the National Theatre and along National Avenue.
Police were called upon to maintain public order in the city center. They verified the identity of the participants in the demonstration and about a hundred persons were taken to the local police department. By 10 PM, it was calm in the city center.