Sunday, November 19th, 2017
November 17th, 1989
Two days ago, we had a national holiday, one of the most important in
our country - commemorating November 17, 1989, when communist regime
in then Czechoslovakia wrote the last chapter of its existence.
Peaceful student demonstration was brutally stopped by police forces,
people beaten to blood. Communist media were silent about the
violence, but in just few days quite everybody knew, protests started
in every larger city and in the beginning of December it was all over
- after 41 years.
S ince the end of WWII all right-wing parties were banned in
Czechoslovakia as they supposedly collaborated with Nazi regime, so
even in the period between 1945 and 1948, which is now considered as
being more-or-less democratic, we had only four legal political
parties and all of them had "people's", "social" or "communist" in the
name. Most of industry was nationalized without compensation. More
than 2.5 million of Germans, who lived here for half a millennium and
were the second largest nationality in pre-war Czechoslovakia (after
Czechs and before Slovaks), were permanently expelled, their
citizenship was revoked and property confiscated. Not a very good era
to live, but the worst was yet to start.
In February 1948, communists used constitutional crisis to get rid of
two of the other parties and absorbed the third, creating a
single-party government. Soon constitution was amended and Communist
party of Czechoslovakia was constituted as "the only leading force in
the state". Political trials begun, more than two hundred people were
executed, thousands sentenced to decades in prison or forced to work
in uranium mines (almost all of our uranium was exported to USSR, to
be used in atomic bombs). Farmers were forced to give all their
property to collective farms, private entrepreneurs were at first not
allowed to have employees (only state-owned companies could employ
people) and then completely banned within few years. Borders were
closed and on the west side of the country "enhanced" with electric
fences, mine fields and men with dogs and sub-machine guns.
Nothing could be done without consent of the Communist party. People
were forced to cooperate or brainwashed by state propaganda to do so
voluntarily. You couldn't hope for a good job or for your kids to
study, if you weren't loyal citizen of your socialist motherland or
even better - member of the party. That's why there were one and half
million party members in a ten million nation.
The only reform movement - in 1968 - was suppressed by five armies of
fellow socialist countries and after that yet another round of purges
started. This time nobody was executed, people even didn't go to
prison, but they lost their jobs or were thrown out of universities.
And since everybody was supposed to work, both usually meant much
In the November days, 28 years ago, I was six years old. I remember
just few things from the era before, like calling kindergarten
teachers "comrade teacher" or being frequently told not to say things
I heard at home to anyone outside the family. I know most of the stuff
from my family members or from history books. And I'm quite happy the
world today is the way it is - without November 17, 1989 it would be
much different and certainly not better.