The Velvet Revolution a Journey to Freedom of Czechs and Slovaks

Speach of the Head of the Czech Embassy in Prishtina ambassador Pavel Bilek on 30th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution

Distinguished Prime Minister,
Distinguished Deputy Prime Minister,
Dear friends of the Czech Embassy
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I want to thank you all for joining us here today. Together with our colleagues and friends from the Liaison Office of the Slovak Republic in Pristina we are commemorating the 30th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution. It was this Revolution, which ended communism in the former Czechoslovakia, and opened to the Czechs and Slovaks the journey to freedom, back to the family of European democratic states.

The events in Czechoslovakia at the time were, of course, not isolated and fit into the wider context of our region in the second half of 1989. At the beginning of November that year, the Berlin Wall fell. In Hungary and Poland, the democratic changes had already begun. We, the Czechs and Slovaks were hoping to follow our neighbours.

The exact moment that started the Velvet Revolution was the demonstration of students on November 17, 1989 in Prague. The brutal way the police intervened against the students outraged the vast majority of society.

Immediately thereafter, the illegal opposition gathered around Václav Havel and began to organize the Civic Forum – as a broad, spontaneous platform of civic independent activities. In Slovakia, similar movement was created.

The developments in the few days following November the 17 were impressive. Citizens mobilized quickly and massive demonstrations began. First in Bratislava and Prague, where the daily demonstrations were increasingly numerous – the largest of them was attended by 800 thousand people. A characteristic feature of those days’ demonstrations was the jingling of the keys, signalling the end of the old regime.

At the end of November, a general strike took place throughout Czechoslovakia. These developments quickly resulted in the resignation of the Communist Party´s leadership, the fall of the government and the resignation of the President. By the end of 1989, Václav Havel was elected the new president.

If you would ask me, what were the main characteristics of those days – the answer is simple: HOPE. Above all, it was a hope for a change that brought the Czechs and Slovaks to the streets. The huge unity in the demonstrations gave the people the power and hope that they would be able to overthrow the communist regime.

People hoped they could live better. To live freer lives. To live in a democratic society.

Maybe at that moment not everyone had the same idea about what it all meant. However, the main idea was the desire for change. Living better also meant hope for the improvement of living standards, of economic development and of prosperity. And of course people wanted to be free to travel.

The years that followed the Revolution can be characterized by rapid changes. In particular, by the launch of major economic and social reforms. People were learning how to live in a life in the free market, with economic competition that we were not used to.

They also learnt to enjoy the newly found freedom and democracy. The period of the revolution and the following years also showed a high degree of tolerance in society, which is why the revolution in Czechoslovakia, was called the Velvet Revolution.

Events in 1989 started a process of change, which brought us today´s freedom and prosperity. The Czech Republic has grown into one of the most developed countries. Our commitment to democracy and cooperation has enabled us to become members of both NATO and the European Union.

To the exhibition, which we are presenting to, you tonight contributed both the Czech Embassy and Slovak Liaison office. Our part brings together photographs by 15 leading Czech photographers capturing ground-breaking moments in modern Czech history as the communist dictatorship ended after 40 years: the early demonstrations against the totalitarian regime in 1988 and in January of 1989, moments from November the 17, and the thrilling atmosphere that followed.

The exhibition also includes a set of photographs from the departure of the Soviet troops from Czechoslovakia in 1990-1991, which brought the Velvet Revolution to its conclusion.

Thank you for your attention and thank you for being here with us today!

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