This year’s Struggle for Freedom and Democracy Day will commemorate not only the 30th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution of 1989 but also the 80th anniversary of the occupying Nazi forces executing Czech student leaders and a professor in 1939.
The capital city won’t see one central celebration on November 17. Instead, events will be spread across Prague as well as throughout the Czech Republic.
This year’s biggest celebration is organized by the umbrella group Freedom Festival (Festival svobody), which has been bringing together citizens’ initiatives since 2016. Its main events will take place on Národní třída, Wenceslas Square, and Albertov.
Albertov and Národní třída will be connected by a re-enactment of the 1989 march. It will start at Albertov around 3 pm and will last over two hours. The march, which will include actors in period costumes, will stop as it did 30 years ago at Vyšehrad and then culminate at Národní třída and Wenceslas Square.
Before the march begins, the events of 1939 and 1989 will be marked by Charles University students with a public meeting at Albertov called Free November (Svobodný listopad). The program will include speeches, panel discussions, lectures, and presentations by student associations and other civic initiatives.
Korzo Národní will again open the whole of Národní třída with a cultural and educational program. Discussions, lectures, presentations, and the popular “Václav Havel Living Room” will be complemented by a number of concerts from David Koller, Zrní, Prago Union, Dagmar Pecková, and Tata Bojs. Exhibits include one prepared in collaboration with Post Bellum that offers augmented reality in the mobile app.
Street theater, dancers, and performers will also be present. “We are trying to create a livelier and literally free atmosphere that the visitor will continue to carry with them,” program dramaturge Oskar Rejchrt said.
In the evening, there will be a large-format lighting installation and a screening of the documentary Memory of Nation: 1989 (Paměť národa: 1989).
The concert on Wenceslas Square called Concert for the Future (Koncert pro budoucnost) will start at 4:30 pm and end at 10 pm. Participating musicians include Aneta Langerová, Lenka Dusilová, Thom Artway, Buty, Vypsaná fixa, MIG 21 and Tata Bojs. And, yes, Tata Bojs is playing twice on the same day.
Tata Bojs frontman Milan Cais said the band’s large involvement is an obvious thing for them to do. “We are a band that experienced the totalitarian era, since we started performing in 1988. On November 17 we will play two different concerts in the center of Prague. On Wenceslas Square it will be our classic electric rock ’n’ roll and on Národní třída in the afternoon it will be an acoustic performance. I myself will be involved in the celebrations with two visual installations. I am going to prepare a statue above the people’s heads for Národní and for Wenceslas Square a mapping on the National Museum,” Cais said.
Speakers this year at Wenceslas Square include Michael Žantovský, Tomáš Halík, Simon Panek, Martin Mejstřík, and Hynek Čermák. Foreign guests include former US ambassador to Czechoslovakia William Luers, who significantly helped the dissident movement from 1983 to ’86.
The satirical carnival procession Velvet Feast (Sametové posvícení) will pass through Prague for the eighth time. Marchers will transform burning topics into playful and provocative forms. This year the march will reflect the disillusionment with post-revolutionary developments and global problems.
The Memory of Nations Awards will be given for the 10th time at the National Theatre to people who have shown that honor, freedom and human dignity are not just empty words. This year will also include people from Slovakia.
Post Bellum, which gives out the awards, is also involved in video projections and light installations on Národní třída and in educational projects for schools.
Across the Czech Republic at 5:11 pm (17:11 for November 17), bells at churches and town halls will ring to commemorate the value of freedom and those who fought for it.
For the first time this year, the Freedom Festival is joined by the Monument of Silence civic initiative, which prepared an exhibition called Communication 89 or the Coup d’état Without the Internet. It will be run daily October 11–November 30 from 2 pm to 6 pm at an exhibition space on Letná Plain.
“We want to draw attention to the symbolic beginning of open communication, and the fact that the November revolution brought a return to one’s own identity and freedom of speech,” exhibition organizer Pavel Štingl said.
In addition to the Prague program, more than 35 regional initiatives have already joined the Freedom Festival platform and that number is expected to double by November 17.
The organizers are also cooperating with other former Eastern-bloc countries. Important structures such as Petřín Lookout Tower and Brandenburg Gate will be lit in national colors on significant days.
Prague City Hall, which contributed to a lot of the different groups organizing the celebrations, also mounted a poster campaign using famous photographs from 1989.