A Look Back At The Velvet Revolution, 25 Years Later
Published 17 November 2014
On November 17, Slovakia and the Czech Republic remember 25 years since the Velvet Revolution. Eight days after the fall of the Berlin Wall, a student protest against communist rule was violently put down in Prague. The following day, theaters went on strike and students occupied university campuses. Within days hundreds of thousands of people were on the streets, and by the end of the month the Communist Party agreed to hold free elections. In December, dissident playwright Vaclav Havel was elected president by the country's Federal Assembly and democracy was restored.
The first demonstrations took place in January 1989. Protesters marking 20 years since Czech student Jan Palach self-immolated in protest against the Soviet-led invasion of 1968 were brutally dispersed by police.
There were more demonstrations in August, marking the actual anniversary of the 1968 invasion. The first cracks were appearing in communist rule.
The next protest was held on October 28, 1989, the anniversary of the founding of Czechoslovakia in 1918. Demonstrators flashed victory signs as they demanded freedom and democracy on Wenceslas Square in Prague.
The turning point came on November 17, 1989, with the biggest protest for 20 years. Thousands of students marched peacefuly through the city center until they were stopped at Narodni (National) Street by a cordon of riot police.
The students lit candles and chanted ''We have bare hands'' -- i.e. that they were unarmed. But riot police sealed off escape routes before attacking them.
The demonstrations grew rapidly. On November 19, riot police blocked a bridge to prevent protesters marching to Prague Castle, the seat of the Czechoslovak president.
In this photo, also taken on November 19, protesters kneel as they face riot police in downtown Prague. The police again responded with violence.
On November 21, more than 200,000 demonstrators took to the streets of Prague for a fifth consecutive day of protests.
On November 24, the crowds had grown to 300,000. Vaclav Havel, a dissident playwright and former political prisoner, addressed the massive crowd from a balcony overlooking Wenceslas Square.
On November 26, the protests had to move to a large park to accommodate the numbers. Half a million people came to listen to speeches from Havel and other opposition leaders.
A bust of Soviet leader Josef Stalin, with a caption reading "Nothing lasts forever," is seen on Prague's Wenceslas Square on the 10th day of demonstrations and the first day of a general strike, November 27.
Leaders of the ''Obcanske forum'' (Civic Forum) opposition group made their headquarters in a Prague theater. Vaclav Havel is seated second from the right.
Huge crowds continued to gather after the communists backed down and agreed to free elections. At this protest, on Wenceslas Square on December 19, 1989, a banner reads "Havel na Hrad" (Havel to the Castle), a popular slogan of the time in support of Havel becoming president.
On December 29, 1989, Vaclav Havel and his wife, Olga, greeted citizens at Prague Castle after being appointed by the Federal Assembly as the new president of Czechoslovakia.
On December 31, 1989, champagne corks pop in celebration of the new year and a new democracy.