17 November 2012 – 23 years since the Velvet Revolution

23 years ago I was a 17-year old high school student living the time of his life… It’s very difficult to describe that feeling when we saw the communist regime crumble before our eyes. The hated regime, which prevented people from freely realising themselves, which massaged our brains with communist propaganda on a daily basis, which lied to you, which sent dissidents to jail, which employed an army of spies to grass on you…. But in those cold November days in 1989 we suddenly saw the unthinkable happen. It was not a complete surprise – there had been signs of the regime becoming weaker and weaker – but it was still incredible to see it fall like a house of cards.

With hindsight, we must have looked like a nation under drugs. The sense of excitement and infatuation was palpable. In those few weeks in November and December 1989 we were different people. On the way back from the daily demonstrations against the regime, as the participants were taking public transport, everybody shared jokes, people were being nice and friendly. The feeling that we were fighting for our freedom was like manna from heaven, it was a collective opiate that we all rushed to devour.


No more communist education at schools, the borders were about to be opened, we were to see the mythical “West” with our own eyes. Vienna, a forbidden city for a long time, was to become accessible to all of us. A number of interesting people, that few of us had heard about before, alighted from their underground hideaways. Poets, philosophers, writers, activists…


The grey, ugly country was becoming more colourful day by day. We were astonished to see how many talented people there were who could not express themselves. When we heard that Václav Havel, the dissident playwright and philosopher, the arch-enemy of the state who spent several years in a political prison, became the official candidate for the President of the country, it was like out of Alice in Wonderland. When we saw him giving speech in the US Congress the next spring, we cried.


Of course, while we were enjoying our collective ecstasy, the vultures were already flying high above, surveilling the territory, looking for the preys, scheming… While the fellowship of the ring was engaged in long discussions about what to do next with their task, the orcs were joining forces and planning the counter-attack. Our naiveness was only our fault and nobody elses, though there were no manuals of how to behave in those unprecedented times….

23 years on, it’s a completely different world we live in. The challenges have changed. But I feel that the story of the Velvet revolution in November 1989 in Czechoslovakia is still inspiring.


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