Sunday, 16 November 2008

The Velvet Revolution


Todayis the bank holiday in Czech Republic. On November 17, we are celebrating the Day of Students, and the beginning of the end of communist rule in then Czechoslovakia, now Czech and Slovakian Republic.

(photo by Herbert Slavík)

On November 17 1989, the students gathered in Prague to commemorate the demonstation against the Nazi occupation that happened in 1939. This gathering changed to be a demonstration against the communist governance and the November 17 became a start of the Velvet Revolution or Gentle Revolution as the Slovakian people call it. It got its name because people didn´t fight with weapons but they went towards the policemen with flowers and they struck with only ringing keys in their hands.
There were more than 500 000 students at squares in Prague every day for eleven days, sometimes there were about 1 milion people, another people also protestated at another squares all over the republic. See photos here and here.

I was just 7 years old when this happened. I don´t remember many things. But my parents and grandparents do. And sometimes when they tell me some stories how they had to queue for hours to buy some bananas, that the tangerines were able to be bought only on Christmas, and many others.. well, it seems like to be a sci-fi for me. I just cannot imagine it.
The lack of things which lasted for tens of years made us stronger and defined us as a nation. It means that we are still very good handymen, we can repair almost everything without calling for a repairer (or later for an ambulance), we are very inventive and adroit in solving problems. But some of us can be also very cunning and artful dodgers.
I won´t post here the whole story of the Velvet Revolution, but you can find it very well-written here or here. And I must say it is an interesting part and the defining moment of our history.

Here are some interesting facts about life in our country before 1989, when our state was under the communist rule:

1. Phones
To get the phone to your household, you had to wait usually for months and not everybody got it. If you displeased the government, they took away your phone and phone number.

2. Models
Everybody had to have a job. If you didn´t have any, you could be send to prison. The models as well (modelling wasn´t a job for the government). So models were formally employees of the clothing factories and modelling was just their "hobby". They made their hairdos and make-ups by themselves, they also had to wear their own shoes during the shows.

3. Liquid soap
Before 1989 there were only solid soaps, no liquid ones. In the 80s the scented and colour soaps appeared. In the shops with foreign goods, there were also some transparent soaps and they began to be the big crowd-pullers and the perfect Christmas gifts.
The only thing which was liquid and in a bottle was shampoo.

4. Hypermarkets
There were some hypermarkets before 1989, but they differed from the hypermarkets now. They reminded malls but people didn´t go there to buy a certain thing (the shops were almost empty most of the time), so they went shopping for things that was on the store.

5. Queues
About queuing for fruit I wrote above. But there were queues for almost everything (if the miracle happened and there were some goods in the shops).
Every Thursday the new books were released and in front of the bookshops there were long queues from very early morning (some people got up at about 4 in the morning). Every shop got just about 5 - 10 new books so to get one was almost miracle.
You must understand that there were no foreign goods anywhere, even in the bookshops, so to get a good new book was a bit problem. The only advantage was that in every bookcase you could find many classical authors, especially Russian, of course.

6. Carrier bags
There were no bags given or sold in the shops. People went shopping with their own linen bags.
The carrier plastic bags (with advertising pictures and letterings) were delivered from west countries and women wore them as a purse. They were really sassy those days.


Peťa said...

terrible age. So I don´t understand, why people casted their voices to communist party in this year´s election. What they want? Queues, travelling restriction... again???

PJ said...

Namnet, what a tale and what a day to remember. It must seem like sc-fi to have your recent past change so drastically. I hope you have peace in your country forever.

PJ said...

I've put a link to your blog on my post for today about your anniversary.

Namnet said...

to Peťa:
I agree with you. I don´t understand them.
Well, but I must admit I don´t have a good estimation about many politicians in our country...

to PJ:
Yes, looking at the photos of this event, or watching the documents, about this day always makes me cry. It is so moving.
And thank you for that link on your blog.