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Europe

Czech Velvet Revolution Lives On

Fifteen years after the Velvet Revolution of November 1989 rid their country of communist dictatorship, Czech students are still demonstrating against the ghosts of the past, whose influence has far from disappeared.

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Thousands supported the leaders of the 1989 revolution

"With an incomplete memory, we risk seeing a day when what existed here before 1989 will be repeated," warned Jan Hron, a student leader from Prague's Charles University. "We undoubtedly live in a standard democracy today, but interest in public affairs is fading in favor of the private sphere."

Above all, Hron and his friends want to ensure that the demonstrations of their predecessors are not forgotten. Thanks to their initiative, the citizens of Prague can on Wednesday listen to speeches from leaders of the Velvet Revolution, and then retrace the exact route taken by student demonstrators on Nov. 17, 1989.

Brutally suppressed

Samtenen Revolution - Studentendemonstration 1989

The march was brutally suppressed by police and a special unit of "red beret" communists in Narodni (national) Street in the center of the capital. The repression gave way to a wave of protests by Czechs and Slovaks, which sounded the death knell for totalitarianism.

Some six weeks later, Prague's communists, who were among the least open to reform throughout the Soviet bloc, ceded power without any resistance. On Dec. 29, the dissident Vaclav Havel, who had been imprisoned just a few months earlier, was elected president of Czechoslovakia.

Unlike other post-communist countries that joined the European Union in May, the Czech communist party KSCM would change neither its name nor its ideology. It is currently the second most popular party in the country, largely due to nostalgia among older citizens. According to a poll published last week, one in five Czechs wants to return to the communist system.

Wednesday's demonstrations are part of a project dubbed "Autumn Without Communists," involving many artists, particularly musicians, who have already staged several anti-communist concerts in recent weeks.

"I am happy that today there are people who reject a little the idea that the communists could be a normal part of society," said organizer Petr Placak. A former dissident, Placak is fiercely opposed to the KSCM, which he would like to see banned.

Critical of nostalgia

Prag - Wenzelsplatz

"A group that denies the system and violates laws should be excluded from the democratic competition. No one could of course have something against the existence of a left-wing party, even one with a communist tendency, but it cannot follow the doctrine of Stalin and Lenin," he said.

Placak is also very strongly critical of nostalgia for the communist regime. He said he grew up during the 1980s, and that people had forgotten how bad things were back then. He listed the omnipresent political oppression at work and at home, as well as everyday woes such as difficulties buying things you needed.

"I am afraid that many young people today know absolutely nothing about it. At school, history lessons often stop at 1945 or sometimes at World War I. One of the biggest mistakes after 1989 was that we did not explain very well to the young generation what it was about then," Placak said.

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