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Slovakia marks Candlelit Demonstration anniversary

THOUSANDS of people gathered in Bratislava on March 25 to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Candlelit Demonstration, which is considered the beginning of the end of the communist regime in the country. About 2,000 people met in front of the small church in Hviezdoslavovo Square in Bratislava, where one of the largest protest rallies against communism and for religious freedom and human rights took place on March 25, 1988, the Hospodárske Noviny daily wrote.

THOUSANDS of people gathered in Bratislava on March 25 to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Candlelit Demonstration, which is considered the beginning of the end of the communist regime in the country. About 2,000 people met in front of the small church in Hviezdoslavovo Square in Bratislava, where one of the largest protest rallies against communism and for religious freedom and human rights took place on March 25, 1988, the Hospodárske Noviny daily wrote.

Exactly 20 years before, thousands of people had rallied at the square, bearing candles and praying for religious and civil rights and freedoms. Even though the protest rally was peaceful, police used batons and water cannons to disperse the crowds and jailed dozens of people. The Candlelit Demonstration foreshadowed the fall of the totalitarian regime in November 1989.

To mark the rally, a ceremonial holy mass took place in St. Martin's cathedral in Bratislava. Afterwards, people marched with candles in their hands to the site of the Candlelit Demonstration, where a monument marking the event was unveiled.

"It is necessary to recall the Candlelit Demonstration because people in general have a feeling that civic initiative is useless and that it makes no sense to fight the state's power," said Peter Smolník, one of the organisers of the commemorative event, the daily reported. "This is one of the few events which prove that it makes sense to fight the power."

One of the organisers of the protest rally, MP František Mikloško, said that the anti-communist protest in 1988 was the beginning of a new path that led to the fall of the communist regime. It was he who informed the Bratislava Old Town authority on March 10, 1988, that the rally would take place on March 25, to demand the appointment of Catholic bishops, full religious freedom and complete observance of civil rights in Czechoslovakia. At its twentieth anniversary Mikloško said that the demonstration's message is that common people and believers can write history through their bravery.

The top representatives of the state did not attend the commemoration. Prime Minister Robert Fico and Speaker of Parliament Pavol Paška had other plans, the daily wrote. Silvia Glendová, the prime minister's spokesperson, said that Fico's diary was completely full with working meetings and negotiations. Jozef Plško, spokesperson for the speaker of parliament, said that Paška was otherwise engaged, but that the following day, when the Slovak Parliament began its new session, a statement marking the anniversary of the peaceful protest rally would be on the agenda.

President Ivan Gašparovič symbolically lit a candle on the balcony of the presidential palace on March 25 with the words that "thanks to these democratic changes an opportunity to live in a free and democratic state opened for our citizens".

Deputy Prime Minister Dušan Čaplovič was the only representative of the present Slovak government at the commemoration in Hviezdoslavovo Square. He said in a speech that the protest significantly contributed to the rise of democratic society in Slovakia. He also remarked that even though the Slovak Republic is now a fully fledged member of the international community, and based on democratic values and observance of human rights, commemorating such events still makes sense.

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