’Velvet’ the 17th of November 1989?

17.11.2014 | This year we commemorate 25 years from the revolution indicated as ‘Velvet‘. It would be a mistake to assume its process was really so smooth and calm. The events surrounding the demonstration on the 17th of November 1989 have a dramatic character and they started the process that resulted in the collapse of communist regime in Czechoslovakia.

The reminder of events from November 17thin the arcade in the corner of Národní třída and Mikulanská street where the snatch squad of SNB (state national security) started beating the protestants. This place of spontaneous pieta occurred shortly after the events of November 17th (source:National Museum)

For this day, the university students planned to commemorate the death of Jan Opletal. The Municipal University Committee of SSM (Socialist Union of Youth) also participated in the event organization. The Union members were also critical as regards the existing regime at the time. Together they presented the proposal to the Municipal Committee of the Communist Party, which did not permit the realization under the existing conditions. The students then adjusted the route to avoid the centre on the way from Albertov. The students were supposed to walk towards Vyšehrad to the tomb of K. H. Mácha. After this change, the Municipal Committee accepted the proposal and permitted the manifestation. Later, the organizers were assured the members of the State National Security units would not intervene providing the students do not violate the agreed plan.

However, the members of the State National Security units were prepared for potential changes in the scenario.

The organization committee met with the opposition members and asked them to refrain from sharpening the situation and intervening in the manifestation course, so the state bodies will not have any pretence to intervene. The organizers received this assurance.

At 4 PM, the manifestation started in Albertov with the sound of the academic anthem 'Gaudeamus igitur‘. The present members of theState National Security estimated approximately ten thousand people participating in the march.More and more people kept coming. The area in Vyšehrad was completely full.The selected individuals then placed flowers on the tomb of Karel Hynek Mácha and the national anthem sounded in Slavín sung by a quire of comprising of several thousands of voices.This great mass of people worried the security bodies. Their worries grew at the moment the manifestation started openly changing into demonstration, the crowd continued from Vyšehrad to the centre.Undecided protectors of order tried to block off Vyšehrad Street.The first disturbances and arresting occurred here.The rear part of the crowd turned back and the demonstrating students headed to the centre on the riverbank. The National Security Unit had clear instructions:Prevent the crowd from walking to Wenceslas Square and to the Castle.

Demonstrating students headed to Národní třída.

Testimony of events from November 17th was published immediately in Svobodné slovo (source:National Museum - Europeana 1989)They reached the destination at half past seven. But their way was again blocked off. At first at the top at Perštýn and then the emergency department closed Mikulandská Street and Voršilka, leading from Národní třída. The members of SNB at the same time blocked the 1stMay Bridge (currently the Legion Bridge). The demonstrating students were trapped, many of them sat on the ground. The shouting of the slogans did not stop. People lit candles in front of the wall formed by the security members with shields, helmets, and sticks. From the National Theatre the unit of emergency school department started moving ahead. People were pulled from the crowd and transported to the police buses. With the move of the emergency department, the crowd was becoming denser in still reducing area.

Individuals tried to escape from the trap in the arcade, which was possible only with crude beating from the emergency department of SNB which formed a narrow street in the arcade.

The cordon of police Na Perštýně started moving too. The demonstrating students in front of them were roughly beaten and chased away. Pressure inside the crowd of the demonstrating students grew and panic arose. This was supported by a couple of armoured transporters in Mikulandská street which entered Mikulandská street. After 9 PM the demonstration was definitively scattered. After the end of the demonstration, rumour of beaten up people occurred with the frequently spelled name “Martin Šmíd.” This supposing victim was a provocateur of StB Ludvík Žifčák, which tried to motivate the crowd from the beginning to act more radically to justify tougher intervention of the emergency regiment or at least ensure easier justification. As a result, this rumour helped the regime opposition.

Demonstration was ending but the revolution beginning. However, the events after the demonstration dressed it in velvet.

The portal eSbírky provides subjects on the occasion of the November events in 1989, which people brought during the collection event Europeana 1989, which took place last year in the Czech Republic!




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