Remember, Remember 17 November!

“I want to live in a democratic country, not a ‘quasi-democratic’ one!”

This Saturday the Czechs and the Slovaks are celebrating the twenty-third anniversary of …what? Or is it seventy-third? If you ask this question to the average twenty something youngster, the answers will be uncertain. It is understandable that these young people did not see the happening with their own eyes and some of them were not yet born.

Let´s summarize some facts.

During the 1980´s the inhabitants of the Eastern Bloc were becoming increasingly disatisfed with the political and economic situation. The protests varied. Everything started in the docks of Danzig in Poland. The Solidarity movement and its charismatic leader, Lech Walesa, steadily grew into a powerful opposition power. This gave a great power to back other opposition movements all across the Eastern Bloc.

Now, let´s go back in time for a minute. Why 17 November? What is it anyway? That day in 1939 during the Nazi occupation of Czech lands all universities were closed, over 1200 students sent to the concentration camps and the leaders of students movement executed. This goes even a little back in time when medical student Jan Opletal was fatally shot on 28 October by the Nazis on the street during the students protest commemorating Czechoslovak Independence Day.

The students protested again on 15 November during his funeral.

Since then, 17 November is international students day.

Now back to the future. I mean the past. You know what I mean.

The students gathered to walk to the grave of Karel Hynek Mácha (the national poet)  at Vyšehrad cemetery and after this “official” protest (acknowledged by the minders) about 15 000 protesters continued to downtown Prague to shout loud what they really thought about the regime.  It is important to say why students and why 17 November. It had been 50 years since the Nazis closed the universities. This was the real reason to protest.

Anyhow, somewhere around Národní Třída (Národní Avenue at junction with Spálená street – there is a monument today), the state police brutally stopped the protests. This was not a new thing to the students. Similar actions had taken place on Wenceslas Square a year before.

This time, however, a limp body of someone was lying on the street. It was Ludvík Žifčák, a secret police agent who acted dead, this being revealed much later with nobody knowing why he did that.

Wenceslas monument in November 1989

This resulted into a media hoax about a “dead student” who had been murdered by police. The public was horrified. “They are killing our children!” many cried that evening watching the TV news. The public got upset and very annoyed. That same evening, students and theatre actors agreed to go on strike.

In the days that followed, many went out in the cold and protested, an many went on strike. Civic Forum, the opposition force in Czechoslovakia, organized happenings and strikes in support of the protesters.

Demonstrators around Vaclav Havel with
flowers in Prague during the Velvet Revolution

This situation finally ended on 29 December when the communist members of Parliament elected Vaclav Havel as the new president of Czechoslovakia. The 40-year long period of socialism was over and a new, now “federal”, sovereignty was born. This time not from the Habsburgs, and not the Nazi terror. This time it was by the Czech and Slovaks for themselves.

The wave of new democracies had swept across the whole of Eastern Europe. Some were as velvet as was the Czechoslovak revolution. Some were violent, like as in Romania where the hated Ceaucescu with his wife met the creator himself on Christmas Eve.

You don’t have to be a historian. The writer of this article may have a birth certificate issued in “Czechoslovak Socialist Republic” (I was born in April 1989, what a coincidence), but everybody should study at least some facts and ask the older generation time to time for their opinion.

God knows, if someone much younger would come to me one day and ask me  “What were you doing on 9/11 2001?” I will be more than happy to talk with him or her.

By Joseph Novotny – TheDaily.CZ

Part 1 of this article :

Wenceslas Square today


  1. This was by no means the popular mass uprising portrayed in Slovak folklore. Huge numbers of Slovaks still fondly remember communist times and with the present corrupt judiciary, political system, lack of jobs real poverty and abject greed, who can blame them. In my opinion the people before 1989 were far nicer than they are today when it seems the worst of both systems prevail. The Anglo Germans taught the world to speak to speak English and then the rest of the world taught them how to write it; a fact acknowledged by the venerable George in his choice of the Irish writer Oscar Wilde as being one of the greatest exponents of the art.

  2. Well, I was born three years before the author of this article and have to say nothing is outstanding. If we compare these two situations or let’s say systems, current is better. But in many things we have just failed. Czechoslovakia and later Slovakia turned to be so called carpathian democracy and the very few advantages of socialism have faded away and lot of disadvantages remained.

    For example the education and healthcare. I do not mean it to be excellent during socialism, but nowadays doctors hate patients, patients hate doctors, students do not like teachers and studing just for the sake of academic degrees hoping for better future, better salary, etc.

    I must say, I think, lot of disadvantages of current world order are connected with development (or degradation) of society and probably would have occur also in case socialism had never ended.

    Although I am glad to live in current world order, still get sad by watching the documentaries of Velvet revolution: people were hopeful, full of ideals, happy.

    And the system is not guilty for this fault. I blame politicians and their voters. As it is often said, people do not know their power (to send politicans in to trash)

  3. I read that the Vatican were rowing with Slowvakia the national Bank holiday of the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, the patron saint of Slovakia, which is celebrated on September 15th. This has become a topic of a heated discussion it seems, between the Slovak Foreign Ministry and the Vatican. The Slovak Government wants to scrap two public holidays as part of money saving measures, one of them being the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows and that the holiday should be moved to the Sunday after 15th September?

    Three questions, ……what the FXXX has this to do with another State, and what days are holidays in Slowvakia …yes the Vatican is a state ?

    This is yet another, why have this day Bank holiday at all date and why fixed …why not have it over a long weekend Friday /Monday along with candle lighting for the dead day?

    Who actually wants any Bank Holiday in cold November ?

    Come on Smug, as we are going all Oscar Wilde, hit me with a witty reply .

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