Rising Up Against Communism: Memories of the Velvet Revolution

“Velvet Revolution,” or “Gentle Revolution,” is the name given to a period in 1989 during which Czechs and Slovaks rose up against communism, effectively ending 41 years of Communist rule in what was then Czechoslovakia. Beginning in November of that year, hundreds of thousands of citizens staged historic demonstrations in Bratislava and Prague, driving the non-violent transition of power to a parliamentary republic.

Many Slovaks remember November 16, 1989, when Slovak high-school and university students organized a peaceful demonstration in the center of Bratislava, the Slovak capital city. On the next day, November 17, riot police suppressed another large student demonstration, in Prague.

(Ironically, November 17 is also International Students’ Day, a worldwide commemoration of the Nazis’ storming of the University of Prague in 1939. The Nazis executed nine student leaders, sent 1,200 students to concentration camps, and closed all colleges and universities in Czechoslovakia. International Students’ Day memorializes student activism worldwide.)

Over the next couple of days in 1989, the number of demonstrators in Prague grew from 200,000 to an estimated 500,000. On November 27, the entire top leadership of the Communist Party resigned.

About the “Velvet Revolution”

The term Velvet Revolution was coined by Czech dissident Rita Klímová, whose command of English (she spent some childhood years in the United States) enabled her to serve as the protestors’ spokesperson during the 1989 demonstrations. Klímová’s good friend, rebel playwright and human rights activist Václav Havel, was elected president of Czechoslovakia on December 29, 1989. Thereafter, Klímová was named Czechoslovakia’s ambassador to the United States. She served from 1990 to 1992, stepping down just four months before the division of the Czech and Slovak republics, to receive treatment for leukemia. Klímová died in Prague in 1993.

In observance of the 25th anniversary of the “Gentle Revolution” (as it is called in Slovakia), the Center for Christian Education—including the Lutheran Academy in Martin—held a student worship service. This special time, with musical accompaniment provided by the school’s band, included the playing of songs once banned during Communist rule.

We are reminded of the precious gifts of freedom of religion and freedom of speech, movement, and assembly, all of which became ours again after 1989.

Most of all, we remember the freedom of religion because, as we learn in John 8:36, “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed!”

In her sermon that day, Lutheran Academy pastor Janka Bosáková pointed out that freedom brings a choice: the choice to do what we want (or don’t want) to do. We also have moral responsibility for our actions. Yet, in some situations, people have no such freedom—for example, those enslaved, imprisoned, captured, or manipulated. Pastor Bosáková also reminded us about the modern slavery found in addictions to drugs, alcohol, or other things. In such situations, she said, we cannot control our life; rather, our addictions control us.

Still, the freedom we regained through the events of the Gentle Revolution do not guarantee freedom from sin, a violation of God’s rule. Real freedom comes to us, as Christians, through the salvation of Jesus Christ: a freedom that no one can take away from us.

The Lutheran Academy nurtures the development of some of Slovakia’s most gifted young men and women, preparing them to serve where God directs them. To learn more about supporting this work, contact CCE’s Director of Development, Sisa Schudichova, at sisa.schudichova@gmail.com.

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