Monday, November 17, 2008

Velvet Revolution.

I have been so consumed with the Prop 8 protests that I almost forgot about the anniversary of another protest almost 20 years ago, on November 17th, 1989, which started the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia that ultimately led to the overturning of the 40+ year old Communist regime.  I was 8 years old so I did not have a very good understanding of what was going on but I clearly remember the level of excitement and anxiety in the air.  Just reading about the events here is giving me goose bumps.  

The Socialist Union of Youth (SSM/SZM, proxy of Communist Party of Czechoslovakia) organized a mass demonstration to commemorate International Students Day (the 50th anniversary of death of Jan Opletal, a Czech student murdered by the German occupiers during World War II). Most members of SSM had privately been in opposition to the Communist leadership, but had been afraid of speaking up for fear of persecution. This demonstration gave average students an opportunity to join others and express their opinions without fear. By 16:00, about 15,000 people had joined the demonstration. They walked to Opletal's grave and - after the official end of the march - continued into downtown Prague (map), carrying banners and chanting anti-Communist slogans. At about 19:30, the demonstrators were stopped by a cordon of riot police at Národní Street. They had blocked all escape routes and beat the students. .. (on Nov 25th) The number of participants in the regular anti-governmental demonstration in Prague reached an estimated 800,000 people.
I was reminded of that electric feeling a few times in the last two weeks, first the night of Nov 4th and then during the two gay rights demonstrations last week.  

The interesting thing about the Velvet Revolution is that the protests on Nov 17th, 1989, were not the first time people demonstrated against the communist regime.  The first such event and an important step toward dismantling the regime, was the Candle Demonstration on in March of '88, which was - get this - organized by Roman Catholic groups asking for religious freedom in Slovakia.  How ironic that since then, the Christians in Slovakia have evolved from one of the key persecuted groups to the staunchest opponent of another group with the same predicament during communism, the gays.  Sympathy, it turns out, is not a particularly logical or viable disposition.

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