Vaclav Havel attacks Russia on anniversary of Velvet Revolution
Vaclav Havel, the dissident who led Czechoslovakia’s Velvet Revolution, has used the 20th anniversary to warn Russia remains a threat despite the demise of the Soviet Union.
The 73-year-old who played a pivotal role in freeing his country from communist rule in 1989, said that the Russian government had mastered the art of manipulating its population while maintaining democratic façade.
“The era of dictatorships and totalitarian systems has not ended at all,” he said.
“It may have ended in a traditional form as we know it from the 20th century, but new, far more sophisticated ways of controlling society are being born.
“It requires alertness, carefulness, caution, study and a detached view.”
His warning came as Czechs took to the streets of Prague in their thousands to celebrate the Velvet Revolution that swept the socialist state into the history books in a few weeks.
Thousands of people retraced the path taken by a student demonstration in 1989 that proved to be a turning point in the country’s history.
On the night of November 17, 1989 about 15,000 students, emboldened by the collapse of the Berlin Wall two weeks before and demanding change, found themselves penned in and attacked by hundreds of riot police.
The savage assault that left scores injured galvanised the Czech people and triggered a series of mass demonstrations.
On November 25 an estimated 800,000 protesters poured onto Prague’s streets in a massive show of strength of defiance against a government that had little authority over its people by that stage.
Two days later a two-hour general strike supported by around 75 per cent of the population prompted the resignation of the government and the end to 41 years of communist rule in the then Czechoslovakia.
It was soon labelled the “Velvet Revolution”, the peaceful overthrow of communism is still an immense source of pride for Czechs.
“I think it was an important moment in our history,” said Kristyna Bartorova, a 24-year-old student participating in the celebrations. “It had a big influence on our lives and I’m happy that our parents’ generation did this. I want to say thank you to them.” Hundreds of people queued to light candles at a memorial on the street where the students had been attacked, while on Wenceslas Square, the scene of many of the mass demonstration, Czechs both young and old waited in silence to put candles and flowers on the site marking the spot where in 1969 Jan Palach, a 21-year-old student, burned himself alive in protest of the 1968 Soviet invasion.
For those who took part in the demonstration 20 years ago, the anniversary has provided an opportunity to look back on an extraordinary night.
“It was a time of change and expectations.
Nobody knew what would happen next but it was a time to say something,” said Petr Stastny, who, as a 17-year-old, had joined the demonstration with a group of school friends. “We had all seen the East Germans passing through Prague as they went west. We saw their abandoned cars. We knew that something was going to happen.” But along with the heady excitement fear of violent backlash by the communist state permeated the demonstration.
“People were afraid of what could happen next,” said Petr Janis. “Nobody knew what the government might do. I remember a classmate of mine crying because she was so afraid. She thought that people would die.” In a speech on the eve of the anniversary, Vaclav Klaus, the Czech president, said that communism would never return but warned the Czech public of other “isms” such as “environmentalism”.
from 17 Nov 2009 UK Telegraph