Stage 24: Prague Spring and Velvet Revolution

The history of democratic protests will undoubtedly be an essential part of the Future Center in Jena. We will also be confronted with this topic again and again on our journey through Central and Eastern Europe. In this context, the stories are condensed in Prague’s center like in hardly any other place.

Wenceslas Square is historically as well as currently a place of democratic protest. For the citizens of the GDR, the Prague Spring of 1968 was an event that initially raised countless hopes for a liberalization of the state systems in the Warsaw Pact and then, after its bloody suppression, led to general lethargy.

Today, the traces at the place of the events are connected mainly with the name of Jan Palach. The Czech student, some five months after the invasion of the Red Army and the reversal of the reforms, chose an extreme form of protest when, on the morning of January 19, 1969, he doused himself with gasoline on the steps of the National Museum, set himself on fire and ran into Wenceslas Square. Just a few hours later, some 200,000 people spontaneously gathered for a demonstration. Palach became a martyr figure of the resistance.

Democratic protests as an important element

Twenty years after the events, Wenceslas Square once again became the center of protest during the Velvet Revolution. At the height of the demonstrations, around 800,000 people gathered here at the end of November 1989 to demand the resignation of the Politburo.

Visiting the site gives us an impression of what happened, and it reminds us of the numerous sites of historical protest in East Germany, as well as beyond, that will be linked in the Jena Future Center network.

The reference to the history of Jan Palach was made by Vojtěch Kyncl, a historian who studied in Jena, among other places, and is now an employee at the Academy of Sciences in Prague, which is to be part of the Future Center network. In the preliminary discussion with him, it became clear how important it is to expand these connections in order to also preserve the independence of scientific work. In the Czech Republic, Vojtech explains, this freedom has recently been massively threatened.

Text und Photos: Christian Faludi