TWENTY YEARS AFTER
Nobel Laureate Pearl S. Buck wrote, “If you want to understand today, you have to search yesterday.” The events of 1989 both transfixed and transformed the world. Twenty Years After: the Czech Experience, tells the stories of Czechs who as students, soldiers, teachers and workers, experienced life in Czechoslovakia from pre-World War Two until the summer of 2009, as the twentieth anniversary of the Velvet Revolution (November 17) nears.
“I remember one day there was a Russian soldier riding along us on a horse, and we waved to him and he came near us. And when he realized what children we are, he came and took one child after another on the horse’s saddle and rode with us around the meadow.”
Throughout history, university students of the now Czech Republic, have never been afraid to stand up for what they believe in, demonstrating for the rights of their people and their nation, at times with the loss of many lives. Of historical significance, in 1939 a medical student, Jan Opeltal, was shot by police at an Anti-Nazi Rally, and in 1969 Jan Palach, set himself on fire 30 years after Jan Opeltal, demonstrating against the Warsaw Pact invasion of Prague.
“You must help your mother with your two brothers,” were the last words Artur Radvanský’s father said to him before collapsing from starvation at the gate of Buchenwald, a concentration camp. “My father died there,” says Artur, “I myself have closed his eyes.” However, it was this last request from his father that would carry him through. In an interview with Radio Prague Artur says, “And so I said to myself: I must live, I must survive because I have promised to my father, after all.”
The Czech communist party has been working hard to change its image since 1989, when the student-led Velvet Revolution ended the forty-year reign of the communist party over Czechoslovakia. The party changed its name in 1989 to the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSČM) and began the long road to recovering support from disillusioned Czechs. Today, the communist party is the third most popular party in the Czech Republic.
“I am Czech, I was born here, but personally, maybe it will surprise you a bit, I consider myself a European. I have always hoped the Czech Republic or former Czechoslovakia was part of the European integration because we were always embraced by a common culture, religions and history. I won’t celebrate, I will be realistic. We should celebrate each day of our lives.” – Karel Misek.
“I took it into account from the very beginning that I would be shadowed by the secret police, because I attended many cultural and social events organized by western embassies. From that time on I was under surveillance,” says Mr Wolf.
Sharka Bosakova was born in Valasske Mezirici in Moravia in 1974. She was 16 during the Velvet Revolution in 1989, or the ‘November happenings’ as Czech people also call it. As a teenager, she began to discover that socialism was not all that existed. This part of the world was changing: what Winston Churchill once called the ‘Iron Curtain’ was coming down, and it was the fall of communism. The high school teacher she had at that time was a big influence on all the students in her class. “He was a huge figure to us” says Sharka.
“I can’t fathom the fact that someone whom I don’t know reports on me. I imagine that if I wanted to report something on someone, I would have to know them first, and them me.”