Thirty years have passed since the Velvet Revolution, which started on the 17th of November 1989. This is a truly important milestone and our Bulletin is therefore covering the topic more extensively in this issue. News of the protest that took place on Prague’s Narodni Street on the 17th of November made foreign headlines at the time and, quite unexpectedly, set in motion other events that spread like wildfire throughout the country and finally freed it from the communist dictatorship.
Let us go over why the spontaneous protest march actually took place on that very date.
The 17th of November has been marked as the International Student Day since 1941. The reason, surprisingly perhaps, lies in our little country.
In 1939, following the autumn student demonstrations against Nazi occupation, Czech universities were shut down on the 17th of November, as decreed by the Reichsprotektor. Students and teachers alike were arrested, nine students were shot dead, 1,200 students were subsequently transported to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp.
Jan Opletal, a student who was shot during the protests and died 14 days later, became the symbol of these tough times. His funeral took place in Albertov, Prague. Fifty years later, on the 17th of November 1989, this was where people decided to meet to commemorate the evil deeds of the Nazi occupation. A peaceful march set out from Albertov towards Národní Street, where, however, the demonstrators clashed with the State Police and the peaceful protest was broken up. The harsh intervention of the police, however, no longer had the power to keep things under control. Demonstrations would take place on a daily basis from this point forward. This was the beginning of the Velvet Revolution, which led to the final elimination of Communist rule in Czechoslovakia and, after forty years of oppression, opened the door for the first democratic election of the Czechoslovak President – Václav Havel.
As chance would have it, the ECCB’s Synod was taking place on that very same Friday, the 17th of November. Later that night, young Protestants who had been beaten by the police arrived at the Synod to inform those present about how brutally the demonstration had been crushed at Národní Street. The Synodal Senior at the time, Josef Hromádka, immediately drew up a protest memorandum addressed to the Prime Minister, Ladislav Adamec. It was in fact the first official protest in the country, however it did not yield any tangible results. The ECCB remained one of the focal points of the Velvet Revolution’s events also in the days, months and weeks to come, and it definitely contributed to the rise of a democratic society in our country.
Since we are celebrating the 30th anniversary of these events, the ECCB’s central office has prepared a webpage called Thirty Years of Freedom, where we intend to commemorate the history that is worth being noted down. The webpage collects written, audio and video records, memories, photos, anything that brings to mind these difficult times and that is worth having a look at. We want to draw attention to how the transition to a free society actually happened within the ECCB’s churches. We have been receiving contributions from Protestant churches all over the Czech Republic: pastors who were serving at the given locations in 1989 have been sending us messages, as have members of individual churches. Such important moments in our history are not easily forgotten.
Back in these turbulent times, Professor Jan Heller, an important Protestant theologian, said: „The fact that nobody died during those revolutionary days, to me, is the sign of a true miracle.“
Jana Plíšková, photos Pavel Capoušek