GP Insights

GP Insights # 192, 23 November 2019

30 years since the Velvet Revolution: Czechs want the PM to resign
Harini Madhusudhan

What happened?
The year 2019 marks 30 years since the Velvet Revolution had swept the city of Prague. Existing allegations were confirmed by a court decision this week, that the Czech prime minister collaborated with the StB who were the Communist-era secret police. This led to a dramatic turn to the anniversary celebrations. One day before the anniversary, the police stated that 250,000 attended anti-government demonstrations in Prague on Saturday, when a non-violent demonstration led by students motivated the nation to rise up against Communism.
The demonstrations are demanding the resignation of PM Andrej Babis. Babis is a business tycoon who is listed as an StB agent in its official archives but has consistently denied cooperating with the StB knowingly, saying he has been wrongly identified in the documents.

What is the background?
17 November 1989 eight days after the fall of the Berlin Wall, student protesters filled the streets of Prague, the tide of freedom that had swept Berlin had reached the Czech capital. Soon, these students were joined by Czechoslovak citizens of all ages. By 20 November 1989, a half-million Czechs and Slovaks filled Prague’s streets and took over Wenceslas Square. The Communists were forced out. By the end of 1989, Czechoslovakia was on its way to having an elected President for the first time since 1948. 

The Czechs and Slovaks have taken to the streets. The threat is no longer Communism but right-wing populism. Last year, protests erupted in Slovakia after the murder of a journalist of Jan Kuciak. In June 2019, an estimated 200,000 Czechs are known to have flooded the streets demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Andrej Babis. Babis’ rise to power came partly due to his promise to crack down on corruption, but he has been accused of inappropriate use of E.U. funds. 2019 spring, Czech police said they recommended fraud charges against him. Come fall, he is accused of cooperating with StB. 

What does it mean?
The 30 years anniversary of the Velvet revolution seems like a bittersweet moment for the people of Czech. Pensioners Miloslava and Pavel Šimáček who took part in the mass protests 30 years ago, came back on Saturday because they were opposed to Babis being Prime Minister. The organizers of this week's protests Million Moments for Democracy, a student group, carefully chose the 30 years anniversary as a symbol to show without the Velvet Revolution they wouldn’t even have had the chance to try to change things. The organizers said,  "How else shall we celebrate the anniversary than by raising our voices in defense of democracy?"

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