Czechs and Slovakians Celebrate 20th Anniversary of the Velvet Revolution

November 18, 2009 Updated: November 18, 2009
People light candles on the Velvet Revolution memorial plaque, where police beat students on Nov. 17, 1989, in Prague. (Milan Kajinek/The Epoch Times )
People light candles on the Velvet Revolution memorial plaque, where police beat students on Nov. 17, 1989, in Prague. (Milan Kajinek/The Epoch Times )

BRATISLAVA, Slovakia—Thousands of people in both the Czech Republic and Slovakia went to the streets in recent days to commemorate the so-called "Velvet Revolution”: the non-violent movement that 20 years ago caused the fall of the communist regime in then Czechoslovakia.

The revolution was labeled as "velvet" by a Czech journalist and the term quickly spread in foreign media. It was called as such due to its non-violent nature, since no one was killed during the overthrow of the communist rule.

In Prague, tens of thousands gathered on Nov. 17 to commemorate the Velvet Revolution. A concert called "20 Years Without Curtain" launched the career of former dissident and the first post-communist President Vaclav Havel.

Concerts, rallies, and re-enactments of the communist state were organized to recall the events in 1989, when student demonstrations in Prague, suppressed by the riot police, sparked other mass protests on the streets, ultimately leading to the collapse of the Communist Party's power.

Concert on the 20th anniversary without a totalitarian regime on the Narodni Trida in Prague, Tuesday. (Milan Kajinek/The Epoch Times )
Concert on the 20th anniversary without a totalitarian regime on the Narodni Trida in Prague, Tuesday. (Milan Kajinek/The Epoch Times )
In February 1948 the Communist Party seized power in the former Czechoslovakia with the help of a state coup. In the 1950s, the communists intimidated Czech society using Stalinist practices, where critics of the communist regime were put into forced labor camps in Uranium mines or jailed.

The first attempt by reformist members of the Communist Party to improve the regime was called "Socialism with a human face," and it was violently suppressed in 1968 by the armed forces of the Soviet-led Warsaw pact.

Purges followed in the Communist Party and in a period called "normalization," the regime maintained its power for another 20 years. During this time, the opposition in the Czech Republic was formed under the informal lead of Vaclav Havel, playwright and essayist. In Slovakia, most dissidents were members of the Catholic Church or environmentalists.

People commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution, on the Narodni Trida, Prague, Tuesday. (Milan Kajinek/The Epoch Times )
People commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution, on the Narodni Trida, Prague, Tuesday. (Milan Kajinek/The Epoch Times )
After the Velvet Revolution in November 1989, Czechoslovakia began its bumpy path toward democracy. On 1993, by a decision of the then political leaders, the Czechoslovak Federation was peacefully divided into two independent countries, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Both countries are currently members of the European Union and NATO.

During the 40 long years of Communist rule in then Czechoslovakia, more than 205,000 people were put in jail and around 20,000 were held in forced labor camps for political reasons. More than 170,000 people escaped Czechoslovakia during this period. During this period 248 people were sentenced as the enemies of the state, around 4,500 people died in jails as political prisoners, and at least 282 were killed during their attempts to escape the "Iron Curtain."