Today is the 20th anniversary of Czechoslovakia’s velvet revolution, which in the end resulted in the replacement of the Communist government by a democracy.
Actually the disturbances started slightly earlier, when we were in Prague.*
October 28th was the anniversary of the foundation of Czechoslovakia as an independent state in 1918. In the main square as I recall, they were putting up a viewing stand or something similar, as we strolled through the main square on October 27th 1989 – my husband and younger daughter, then aged 14, and myself. We left the next morning for another part of the country, which was probably just as well.
Here is an extract of a letter I wrote to my mother on Sunday the 29th October, after we returned to our home in Vienna.
We are safely back in Wien, having missed out on the riots yesterday (much to T’s disgust.) Looking at T.V last night here in Wien, I think the shots of the demonstrations and the police bludgeoning people into submission was taken from our hotel window – the very room – overlooking Wenceslas Square. Those young people are so brave; Czechoslovakia is an unforgiving country.
I was a great admirer of Vaslav Havel then, and later too, when he negotiated the splitting of the country without the horrors that were to come in Yugoslavia**.
I think my first real inkling of what the fall of the Berlin wall really meant to people was a few weeks later. I walked down to the tram stop in Nussdorf and caught a tram to Heiligenstadt U-bahn station. And there, in the station, was parked a train of a strange colour. I stared at the writing on the side and my jaw dropped. It was from Czechoslovakia.
For the first time – in how many years? – a train had crossed into Austria. And Vienna was full of people with no money but a boundless joy in at last being able to catch a train, or drive their noisy little Trabants and Ladas, to visit their neighbour.
*which gave more fuel to the rumour that my husband dragged revolution and mayhem in his wake whenever he travelled. Either that, or he lost his luggage – and yours too, if you travelled with him. That expression “to be noramlyed” was not lightly earned.
**NOTE: I originally used the expression “when freedom came to Yugoslavia”. It has been rightly pointed out to me that Yugoslavia did not lack freedom. The country was non-aligned and in no way comparable to iron curtain countries in its politics, economics or liberalism. My sincere apologies for my moment of careless thoughtlessness. Not sure what I was thinking, as I did know this, having been living next door. Sigh. Sometimes I wonder what, um, doesn’t go on in my head…