ORF reporter: I was surprised by how many Slovaks had such courage

Foreign reporters recall events of the Candle Manifestation of March 25, 1988, eighteen months before the Velvet Revolution.

The communist police cars among protesters at the Candle Protest in Bratislava, March 25, 1988.The communist police cars among protesters at the Candle Protest in Bratislava, March 25, 1988. (Source: The Čas Svitania / Time of Dawn booklet, Ján Šimulčík)

Cars of the communist-era police, called Public Security (Verejná Bezpečnosť), raided the crowded Hviezdoslavovo Square in Bratislava and started hitting people. The protesters with candles were sprinkled by raindrops, and later by the torrents of water from cars of the city technical services.

People said prayers while police dogs barked in the background. A dozen foreign reporters from western media watched this mad show, too, with astonishment and fear. The date was March 25, 1988.

“Bratislava seemed very far from Vienna, and all of Czechoslovakia looked like a hermetically closed dead-house,” Karl Stipsicz, who at that time worked as reporter of the Austrian state TV ORF for eastern and southern Europe, recalled the events from 30 years ago.

Read also:Candle Manifestation 1988: We went into it like innocent children Read more 

“It was thrilling,” he says. “I worked a lot with Barbara Coudenhove-Kalergi, who was already a very famous reporter. This bigger demonstration in Bratislava was a kind of life sign that something eventually starts moving here, that there are citizens under the surface who want to express their dissatisfaction, probably partially encouraged by what was happening in Hungary and Poland, or by what they were able to watch on Austrian and Hungarian TV,” explains Stipsicz, who later settled in Hungary and is currently the chief editor of the Haszon magazine.

Bratislava seemed very far from Vienna, and all of Czechoslovakia looked like a hermetically closed dead-house.

Karl Stipsicz, ORF reporter

He claims that the brutal intervention of security forces against protesters did not surprise him too much.

“At that time, Czechoslovakia was a strong police country,” the journalist recalls. “We often had to wait for hours at the border, foreigners were watched here all the time – at least that was how we felt. We guessed what scenario we could expect. What surprised me rather was the resolution of protesters. I talked with Barbara that this is typical with Catholic believers. Barbara Coudenhove, my colleague, was born in Czechoslovakia, and spoke Czech well. However, Czechs did not show much resistance. That’s why I was so surprised by how many Slovaks had such courage. But this is just my subjective feeling.”

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