November 17th is a public holiday in the Czech Republic ‘Den boje za svobodu a demokraci’ and is mostly associated with the start of what is now known as the 1989 ‘Velvet Revolution’. The history goes back further than that.
On November 17th 1939, students demonstrated against the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia. Czech universities were subsequently stormed by the Nazis and many students were killed or sent to concentration camps. The day became ‘International Student’s Day’.
Exactly 50 years later, students protested against the Communist Party. Riot police stepped in and responded violently to the protest. Strikes and protests continued for a week. On November 24, 1989, the leaders of the Communist Party resigned. The revolution ended on December 29, 1989, and Czechoslovakia became a parliamentary republic, ending forty-one years of Communist rule.
Today’s commemorations were somewhat muted due to Covid restrictions. These include the closure of all bars and restaurants, plus a 9pm curfew. We took the metro to Staroměstská and it was pretty quiet – the main events happen around the National Theatre and Wenceslas Square.
The Rudolfinum Concert Hall was illuminated with the colours of the Czech flag.
As were the windows of a building just across the street.
Charles Bridge looked great as usual as we walked along the banks of the Vlatava River.
The main event was for singer Aneta Langerová to perform the song “A Prayer for Marta” from the balcony of the National Theatre at 17.11 (so 17/11 at 17.11). The song to be transmitted across Prague via a speaker system.
My hope was that the song and illumination would be synchronised, so we stood on Charles Bridge looking across to the castle waiting for the illumination to change to red, white and blue.
Sadly Prague Castle remained illuminated with just one colour.
It wasn’t so cold and the bridge wasn’t so busy – these days it’s just nice to have a reason to be outside!