Monday, November 17, 2008

A Reluctant History Lesson in Velvet

 id=I am listening to the church bells peel from Kostol Nanebovzatia Panny Márie which may or may not commemorate the assumption of the Virgin Mary into heaven - although I'm not really certain as my Slovak is still pretty much elementary non-existent. My language skills seem to have plateaued at being able to order a beer.

But I digress.

I am listening
to the church bells peel from Kostol Nanebovzatia Panny Márie up the street here on Blumentálska, and I am mindful that today is November 17th (very important) and a holiday (very very important). I thank the gods for that.

Indeed, if I were any sort of sensitive and
sentient human being, especially a sensitive and sentient human being who spent far too much of her prolonged student days drinking at various Student Union Buildings, I'd be taking advantage of today's date and blogging about International Students' Day and the Velvet Revolution. Yes, today marks the 19th anniversary of the peaceful (hence "velvet") student protests that triggered the unraveling and ultimate fall of Communism in Central/Eastern Europe.

But I have other plans.

Let me just say, by way of an aside, that 50 years prior to the Velvet Revolution, a
Czech medical student by the name of Jan Opletal was shot and killed in an anti-Nazi demonstration by - not surprisingly - the Nazis. His funeral on November 15th sparked further anti-Nazi demonstrations, the result of which was that all Czech universities and colleges were closed, nine students executed on the 17th of November, and 1200 students sent to concentration camps.

Time passes. In 1941, i
n commemoration of these events, November 17th is designated "International Students Day" by the Internal Students' Council in London - an organization rife with political refugees.

Time passes. In 1946, much of the country is liberated by the Red Army and grateful Czechoslovakians vote in the Communist Party
; within 2 years - and as the result of a coup d'état - the country becomes a Communist-ruled state.

Time passes. By 1968, the honeymoon phase has long fizzled out. Dissatisfied dissenter and country leader Alexander Dubček
tries to reform the Communist regime by suggesting that the media be allowed more latitude and that additional human rights (including the freedom to free speech and travel) be guaranteed by law - a sure-fire way to losing your Communist Party membership card. Which he does. The Soviet Union also responds by sending in the tanks. They stay for twenty-one years.

Time passes. In 1989, students in Prague choose November 17th - this politically-charged day - to march against those Communist visitors who had dropped by in 1968 and forgot to leave. To be fair, on the previous day, students here in Bratislava organized a similar event but possibly because it was Bratislava rather than Prague or the fact that they picked the wrong date, no one seemed to have paid too much attention. In Prague, the peaceful protesters are dispersed - no one is killed but radios erroneously broadcast that one student is dead, giving the movement added momentum and sympathy - and within days labour strikes begin to erupt across the country.

In the days that followed, a
ctors in theatres read the students' proclamation rather than their scripts, propelling playwright Václav Havel - who would become the last President of Czechoslovakia and the first President of the Czech Republic - into the international spotlight. (Dubček who lost his key to the Executive Communist bathroom back in '68 over his insistence for silly human rights would become the elected speaker of the federal parliament.) Within 2 weeks, Communist-dominated Parliament removes the nasty little article entrenching Marxism-Leninism as the country's state ideology and the country's leadership a prerogative of the Communist Party.

The rest, as they say, is history - although a heartfelt huzzah! goes to the Czech Republic and Slovakia for their peaceful separation in 1993 - sparing countless children the necessity of learning how to spell

Damn! I wasn't going to talk about this at all. I was going to talk about our latest adventures at the Police Station. Damn, damn, damn! Perhaps,
International Students Day isn't the proper forum in which to talk about my low esteem issues with the Slovakian police. Or perhaps it is. In retrospect, I wish I were in Prague today - not just because the city is so stunning or the bagels authentic or the beer fabulous (although those are all truly valid reasons) - because students and people from all walks of life will gather at Jan Opletal's memorial and pay fitting tribute to this day. I've asked dozens of people in my classes - most of whom are fresh out of university - what's on the agenda in Bratislava - beyond the church bells which have long ceased ringing - and so far all I've gotten is I don't know. We're going to the cottage for the long weekend.



Frisco said...

I really like long weekends!!!!

Snowflake said...

Police Station? You do keep me coming back for more.

Mačka in Slovak said...

Suspense is all I have.