On the eve of the Day for the Fight For Freedom and Democracy, the November 17 national holiday when Slovaks remember the 1989 Velvet Revolution, thousands of people came out to the squares of Slovak towns to continue the wave of protests that started in the country in March 2018.
The 29th anniversary of student protests that brought down the totalitarian regime in 1989 found both Czechs and Slovaks protesting again.
On November 15, a massive protest gathering took place in Prague in reaction to the latest revelations about the reported corruption affairs of the Czech PM Andrej Babiš. For Slovaks, the November 16 gatherings were the tenth in the series of the For a Decent Slovakia protests that started in March, following the murder of investigative journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kušnírová.
"We are here because this is where we need to be," Zuzana Mistríková, one of the leaders of the 1989 student movement, told the crowd.
November 1989 legacy
The biggest gathering took place in Bratislava, where the crowd was estimated at up to 18,000, according to the Sme daily.
Faces of the Velvet Revolution stood on stage at the SNP Square once again. People responded by chanting the slogans of the revolution, like "This is it!" and ringing their keys. The iconic song of November 1989, Modlitba pro Martu (Prayer for Marta), also sounded on the square.
"We will win when corrupt power is definitively defeated," Zajac said in his address to the crowd, adding that the process has already started as shown in the recent municipal elections.
Gál told the crowd that when he returns back home to Prague, where he lives, he will be able to say that he met a gathering of citizens rather than just a crowd in Bratislava.What we didn't know about our freedom Read more
"Our mission is to bring down fences that divide nations and states, rather than build barriers with empty talk," Gál told the protest-goers, and reminded them not to forget those "who do not sit at full tables".
"They are us too," Gál said.
Protesters called on Pellegrini
The Bratislava gathering took place after the atmosphere in Slovakia escalated once again over the past week.
The Denník N daily published an analysis of the doctoral thesis of Andrej Danko, detailing how it was copied from other authors and calling Danko a plagiarist.
Organisers of the For a Decent Slovakia protests described the investigation they were subject to by the police, based on an anonymous criminal complaint against them for organising an alleged coup and being paid from abroad.
These issues, as well as the recent verbal attack the former prime minister launched against journalists, were mentioned repeatedly on the stage in Bratislava.We refuse Fico's attacks against journalists Read more
The protest organisers Karolína Farská and Juraj Šeliga called on Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini not to let his predecessor drag Slovakia into the direction that Viktor Orbán is dragging Hungary.
"Finally send the Ficos and the Kaliňáks into political oblivion," Šeliga said.
Remembering Ján Kuciak
A group of journalists also appeared on the stage to stress the need for free media in a democracy, and to pay respect to their murdered colleague. Czech journalist and close collaborator of Ján Kuciak, Pavla Holcová, addressed the gathering. She told the people how the murder hit her.
"You helped us to get over our trauma by coming out to the squares," Holcová told the protesters, and pledged on behalf of her colleagues to finish the work Kuciak started.
Leading Hungarian intellectual, former dissident and former OSCE high representative for media freedom Miklós Harszti came to Bratislava to speak to the gathering too. He reminded Slovaks that the nations of Central Europe won freedom 30 years ago, but now they need to fight for it once again because those in power in all the Visegrad Group (Slovakia, Czechia, Hungary, Poland) want to take it away from the people.
Haraszti thanked the people of Slovakia that they are protecting the values of democracy.