Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A toast to twenty

 
Twenty years ago yesterday, students gathered in downtown Prague and marched through the city in honor of the fiftieth anniversary of International Students Day.* The police and the students clashed, one thing led to another and in a few days there were more than students demonstrating - the unions were out in force, the people were in the streets and democracy was in the air. By the end of 1989, the first free elections in more than forty years were held and Vaclav Havel voted President of Czechoslovakia.

Yesterday 10,000 people marched the route again. We walked parts of it earlier in the afternoon, but when the crowds got thick, veered off with the children towards home. It was an odd, uneven celebration, one that didn't feel weighty enough for the event. In the end, the best bits of the day were the personal stories told by our friends as we walked through downtown and talked about what used to be here, what used to be there, and especially about the march twenty years back; how no one knew just what would happen afterwards, and how much has changed since then.

* International Students Day marks the day in 1939 when the Nazis shut down Czech universities and sent more than a thousand students to concentration camps over protests and anti-Nazi demonstrations. Nine students and professors were executed without trial.

3 comments:

Barrett Bonden said...

It seems a horrible thing to say but if people had been killed back then there would now be the need for a greater, more forceful act of remembrance. Let's take heart from the comparatively civilised behaviour on both sides and the fact that the Velvet Revolution justified its name. If the event itself proved somewhat anti-climactic then this is something the Czechs (and the rest of us) can reflect on in tranquillity and take pride in.

I didn't realise that the march twenty years ago was in recognition of something far more terrible. I'm almost tempted to repeat one of my granny's endless supply of truisms about living and learning except I fear that velvet revolutions are the exception.

Julia said...

Not to speculate too much, but my guess is that the celebrations were slightly muted because the Czech government is in such disarray and discord no one could pull off the successful organization of a citywide event. Also, the current president, Vaclav Klaus, and the most celebrated star of the revolution, Vaclav Havel, don't always see eye to eye shall we say.

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