November 17 marks the 25th anniversary since the start of the Velvet Revolution. A peaceful student march in Prague on International Students Day ended with a violent response by riot police. Outrage, and the rumor that a student had been killed, sparked the general population into action and a series of demonstrations were held in the following days. By November 20, 1989 the number of protestors grew to an estimated 500,000. November 24 saw the Communist Party’s leaders step down and events continued to spiral in the weeks to follow, influenced by the changes that had already taken place in neighboring communist countries. The beginning of December saw the border barriers with West Germany and Austria taken down and Václav Havel was elected the President of Czechoslovakia on December 29.
There are some commemorative events happening in the days leading up to the anniversary and there are other more permanent things to do if you need a brush-up on Czechoslovak history or want an insight into life under Communism.
At the beginning of October, the Velvet Center opened in Malá Strana specifically to host events leading up to the 25th anniversary of the end of communism. Events through November 17 include art exhibitions, film events, a German choir performance, book launch, discussions and more. The full program (Czech only) can be found here. The Velvet Center’s big event will be their Velvet Feast held on November 17. Masked marchers accompanied by live music will satirically trek through the center of Prague sharing information from participating organizations concerned with social issues and current events.
In photos and texts, 12 uncertain weeks for East German citizens looking to get into Western Germany unfolds. The plight of thousands of refugees camping in Prague’s West German embassy is depicted from August 23, 1989, when the embassy closed under the onslaught of people through to the fall of the Berlin Wall on the night of November 9.
National Memorial on Vítkov Hill, through November 2, 2014
Kino Atlas screens a new (2014) film about Lech Walesa by the well-regarded Polish director Andrzej Wajda. Walsea is the symbol of the fall of the totalitarian regime in Poland and the film’s main focus is the Solidarity trade union led by Walsea and others.
November 2, 2014
The Festival of Freedom, organized by the Václav Havel library and Palac Lucerna, will be held in the Lucerna Pasáž from November 14-16. Events include books readings, a night dedicated to theater and revolution, the premiere of Andrea Sedláčková’s film Life According to Václav Havel and a photo exhibition (see below).
Don’t miss this black and white photo exhibition in the Lucerna Pasáž by Pavel Hroch. His photos captured not only 1989’s demonstrations and revolution, but you’ll also see glimpses of Czechoslovakia in the early ‘90s with all its hopes and dreams punctuated with massive political and social change.
November 14-December 14, 2014
The Berlin Philharmoniker will be playing a special concert at Obecní dům. The program includes parts of Martinů’s Piano Concerto No. 4 and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9.
November 15, 2014
Music as a form of protest, or propaganda, is nothing new. This exhibition incorporates not only more recent forms of musical dissent, but also goes deep into history to examine the connection between power and music during the revolutions of 1848 all the way to how music is used in contemporary political campaigns.
National Memorial on Vítkov Hill, through March 29, 2015
This interesting permanent exhibition inside the National Memorial on Vítkov Hill focuses solely on the history of Czechoslovakia; starting from its founding in 1918 through to the end of communism in 1989.
A special evening of words and performance commemorating the events of a quarter century ago, led by Dr. Gabriel Paletz, a writer and lecturer at the Prague Film School.
November 17, 19:30, Napa bar and art gallery, Prokopská 8
The Václav Havel Library presents another in a series of talks with colleagues of the Czech president Naegele was Voice of America’s correspondent for Central and Eastern Europe from 1984 to 1994, during which he interviewed Havel on numerous occasions, and covered Charter 77 and the demonstrations in Prague and Bratislava.
November 21, 19:00, Václav Havel Library
If the Cold War intrigues you, you can check out the Cold War Museum located in a former fallout shelter beneath the Jalta Hotel on Wenceslas Square. Also in Prague is the Museum of Communism and the KGB Museum which I have not yet had the pleasure of visiting but has received a mix of reviews via those trusty TripAdvisor posters. Further afield is the Atom Museum located in a former Soviet nuclear warhead shelter (looking at the Cold War and the American and Soviet nuclear programs of the time) as well as an Iron Curtain Museum located in a former border station on the Austrian border with photos, uniforms, maps and more detailing how tightly the border was guarded.
How will you commemorate this monumental occasion?