Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Struggle for Freedom and Democracy Day

Today is November 17th and it is a state holiday for the Struggle for Freedom and Democracy Day (Den boje studentů za svobodu a demokracii).

Today commemorates the 20th anniversary of the start of the Velvet Revolution of 1989 which marked the beginning of the end for Czechoslovakia's communist regime.

But I found out that there's more to it. On October 28, 1939, there were anti-Nazi demonstrations and riots in Prague to protest the occupation of Czechsolovakia. One of the student protesters, Jan Opletal, was shot and later died. His funeral on November 15, turned into another anti-Nazi demonstration. As punishment, the Nazis closed all Czech universities and colleges, sent 1,200 students to concentration camps and had 9 students executed on November 17th.

Fifty years later, in 1989, there was a legal rally to commemorate Jan Opletal's death. However, it quickly turned into a demonstration demanding the resignation of the communist regime. Riot police were sent in and brutally beat the students. The public was so outraged that they went on strike. With more and more people attending the demonstrations and with governments falling in Russia, Poland, Hungary and East Germany, the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia announced it would step down on November 28th.

As a result, in June 1990, Czechoslovakia held its first democratic elections since 1946 and had its first non-communist government in over 40 years.

I found this video montage of some of the riots out on YouTube. Very powerful stuff!

1 comment:

  1. I find myself asking myself, how many of those early demonstrators 'disappeared'. It is hard to fully understand and comprehend being a young westerner, even after hearing the first-hand accounts of acquaintances from eastern countries...

    Have you ever noticed the government like buildings around town with all of the empty flag poles, with only three flags flying now? Its a strange reminder of days gone by.