A little bit of history that hits pretty close to home

November 17th this year was quite a day to be in Prague. That day was the 25th anniversary of the start of the Velvet Revolution, the citizens’ actions that led to the end of Communist rule in Czechoslovakia.
On the evening of November 17, 1989, my husband, then 20 years old, went with some of his Charles University classmates to join what was to be a peaceful but, to the Communists, defiant act of commemorating International Students’ Day. They knew they were risking possible ejection from school for gathering, but they felt it was worth the risk. When their planned marching route was unexpectedly blocked by police, they re-routed. Their numbers grew to the thousands – adults joining them in the march and people cheering them on from windows above.
When the group approached the center of Prague, they were stopped at a wall of police officers decked out in full riot gear. Tom and his friends decided that this peaceful protest of theirs was not going to be allowed to proceed, so they turned to go home. It was then that they discovered the police had surrounded them. There was no way to leave. The group had been lighting candles, singing songs, and chanting phrases such as “We have no weapons”, but the police seemed determined to teach them a lesson.
The students were violently beaten that night. Nobody left the area without passing through an arcade lined on both sides by police. They beat the students with their billy clubs as they ran through trying to reach safety. One former colleague of Tom’s walks with a limp to this day from injuries he received that night.
University students from Prague traveled all over the country in the days that followed, sharing their stories and showing videos of this terrible event. This helped to unify the Czechoslovaks against their criminal government. Demonstrations and strikes took place all over the country, including a 2 hour nation-wide general strike on November 24. Ten days after the students’ march, the Communist Party leaders resigned. By the end of December, playwright Vaclav Havel was president and a new, brighter era began for the country.

People visiting the memorial to the 1989 student protesters that lies in the passage where they were violently attacked by police.

Visiting the memorial to the student protesters in the passage where they were violently attacked by police in 1989.

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