Velvet Revolution

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Poland held liberalized elections in June 1989, which resulted in the first non-communist premier in the eastern bloc. Tadeusz Mazowiecki, the new leader, flew immediately to Moscow to discuss the task before him with Mikhail S. Gorbachev. On October 18, 1989 reformist leaders in Hungry dumped communist dogmas and transformed their Communist Party into a Western Style Socialist Party. The nations legislature declared Hungry a Republic committed to both bourgeois democracy and democratic socialism.

In East Germany Egon Krenz took over from the disgraced Erich Honecker on October 18, 1989 following extensive demonstrations and the flight of tens of thousands to West Germany. On November 9, 1989 Krenz’s government authorized free travel making the Berlin Wall obsolete. However, these revolutionary changes in the above-mentioned countries, did not occur as singular events. They were the result of a domino affect triggered by all the former satellites of the once mighty Soviet Union. In fact, for example, the East German movement started outside the country, with the opening of the border between Austria and Hungry that gave the East Germans and escape route. This showed no matter where the rot set in, the Communist system collapsed very quickly. And Czechoslovakia was no exception to the rule. In the space of just a few weeks in November 1989, the Communist system in Czechoslovakia was brought to its knees. Massive protests on the streets of Prague – often several hundred thousand strong – forced the resignation of the hard-line Communist Party in what became known as “the velvet revolution.” The attack on November 17, 1989 that seemingly hastened the fall of the government was the offshoot of a peaceful student march marking the 50th anniversary of the slaying of a Czechoslovakian student, Jan Opietal, by the Nazis. White helmeted riot police attacked the students after they swerved from the government approved route for the demonstration and started marching into the center of Prague. The police used tear gas to disperse marchers chanting slogans against the hard-line Communist Party leader Milos Jakes. The attack sent 38 people to the hospital, with ten seriously injured, and there was also an announcement of one death, that of Martin Smid, which would later prove controversial. One citizen man spoke his mind about this ironic incident, “I would never believe that this regime was stupid enough to kill a student on the anniversary of the killing of a student by German fascists” (Kavan 163). Citizens of Czechoslovakia were sick of the Communist government that had now oppressed the people for over forty years. “Forty years of this government is enough. We don’t even agree with the government or the police” (Hoffman 699). The memorial rally that turned bloody on November 17,1989, served as a realization point for the young and the old of Czechoslovakia that their country’s chance to become the next European state freed of Communism was now. To say the least, Czechoslovaks clearly had been influenced by the reform movement sweeping across Eastern Europe.

As a result of the horrible happenings on November 17, 1989, a strong emotion that had been present inside of most was now ready to come alive. Czechoslovaks wanted freedom and free elections. They wanted the Communists out of their country and power for good. It was time for the dinosaurs, the nickname of the aging staff in power, to resign (Kavan 161). Remarkable changes in the political system in days or weeks were desired; months or years were no longer acceptable. It had reached that point of no return. As one demonstrator put it, “We should not only remember the past with piety, we must care for the present and even more for the future! We must fight for freedom because you cannot live without it” (Riot Police 3). This was the time, they knew they could win. The feelings and emotions present in Czechoslovakia created an active week of...
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