November '89 remembered

SLOVAKS commemorated the 21st anniversary of the Velvet Revolution, a series of historical events that ended the communist regime in former Czechoslovakia, on November 17. The date is now celebrated as a national holiday called the Day of the Fight for Freedom and Democracy. Unlike in 2009, events this year were fully embraced and supported by leading officials of the Slovak government.

SLOVAKS commemorated the 21st anniversary of the Velvet Revolution, a series of historical events that ended the communist regime in former Czechoslovakia, on November 17. The date is now celebrated as a national holiday called the Day of the Fight for Freedom and Democracy. Unlike in 2009, events this year were fully embraced and supported by leading officials of the Slovak government.

Then-prime minister Robert Fico garnered heavy criticism last year for his lukewarm attitude towards the 20th anniversary of the revolution, generally considered the most important milestone in Slovakia’s modern history. This year the government organised various celebrations for the 21st anniversary including an open house at the parliament building and an extraordinary session of the cabinet held on the national holiday.

“The government will uncompromisingly push through the principles of the rule of law,” the cabinet wrote in its statement issued on the occasion of the national holiday.

“We are obliged to do that by the will of citizens after the change from 21 years ago as well as by the ethos of November 1989, which is also the ethos of our government.”

The cabinet said that the government is aware of the discontent among citizens because of rising corruption, cronyism, inequality of opportunity and disrespect towards the law in Slovakia and stated that the government will never let the country turn into an isolated island fenced in by an iron wall of lawlessness.

At the occasion of the anniversary, Prime Minister Iveta Radičová met Lech Wałęsa, the leader of the Polish Solidarity trade union movement which challenged communism in Poland in the 1980s, who subsequently became Poland’s first president after the fall of communism. Wałęsa visited Slovakia to mark the anniversary of the Velvet Revolution and attended a ceremony in the Slovak National Theatre along with Slovak state officials. All the VIPs then moved to Hviezdoslavovo Square to address the gathered audience where 21 years ago people defied the communist regime.

During his address Wałęsa thanked the Public Against Violence (VPN) movement which emerged in November 1989 to represent several groupings and thousands of individuals who rejected communism as the country’s ruling ideology. Wałęsa said at his meeting with the formers leaders of VPN that it was hard to say how the struggle for democracy in central Europe would have ended up more than twenty years ago if VPN had not taken up the challenge.

Walesa said that the events of 1989 should serve as encouragement today.

“So that our grandchildren do not say that we were [only] good at demolition but also at building something new,” he said, as quoted by the SITA newswire.

The Slovak Ministry of Culture, which is located a few metres from the centre of events of November 1989, hosted the meeting of leading representatives of the VPN who had addressed the protesting crowds during the Velvet Revolution 21 years ago. Participants at this year’s meeting adopted a declaration entitled 20+ in which they presented their vision for future years.

“Looking back, we again assure ourselves that none of the recent problems cannot be counterbalanced by the freedom we won,” the declaration states.

The leaders from November 1989 at the same time noted that problems brought about by the dramatic social changes in the past two decades cannot be overlooked, stating that the years after the Velvet Revolution brought substantial weakening of social cohesion, growth of nationalism and intolerance, new forms of misuse of power, corruption, and the new threats to democracy. The group’s statement invites citizens and political parties to engage in an open dialogue on critical issues facing democracy in Slovakia.

The Public Against Violence (VPN) movement was the leading democratic force that advanced the political changes in Slovakia between November 1989 and 1992. Its founders were Milan Kňažko, Ján Budaj, Fedor Gál, Peter Zajac, Martin Bútora and Josef Kučerák, among others. It was the governing party in Slovakia from 1990 to 1992 but in the election in 1992 it did not reach the 5-percent threshold to enter parliament.

The festivities associated with the November 1989 celebrations continued well into the night, particularly on the north bank of the Danube River at the Culture and Leisure Park (PKO) where the third edition of the Concert for the Aware (Koncert pre všímavých) was held.


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