1989-2019: “You will be the generation to suffer the consequences of these changes.”

By Maeva Chargros

The story is known – some would even say simple: on November 17, 1989, a large demonstration in Prague triggered the Velvet Revolution, that would peacefully end four decades of Communist rule in Czechoslovakia; Václav Havel would be the President of the new federal Republic, which would split between the Czech and Slovak Republics in 1993. Then, both countries would join NATO and the European Union, keeping close diplomatic ties. Czechia would constantly be confused with Chechnya, and Slovak diplomats in Brussels would have to organise regular mail-swapping meetings with their Slovenian counterparts. Meanwhile, everyone would keep talking about Czechoslovakia as if these two countries only made sense when together.

Nonetheless, if you sit down and listen to Czechs and Slovaks, you realise the story is not that simple: for them, the Velvet Revolution cannot be reduced to just one demonstration, one election, and one painful breakup.

Therefore, instead of a banal memo about various events organised around the Czech Republic to celebrate the 30th anniversary of this major historical milestone, here is an attempt to help international readers to see the events from a Czech, or actually Czechoslovak perspective, through the eyes of people who actually saw the events as they happened – on TV, in the newspapers, or on the main square of their city or village. I interviewed three historians, who were in very different locations in November 1989. They were between 7 and 19 years old, thus each gives a very different perspective on the events that unfolded thirty years ago. All of them are now part of the Euroculture team at the Department of History of Palacký University in Olomouc. You will find more information about them at the end of this article; their age at the time of the Velvet Revolution is given next to their names in the article. Continue reading “1989-2019: “You will be the generation to suffer the consequences of these changes.””

Professor Jařab & the Velvet Revolution: “Freedom is a Sleeping Beauty”

By Lauren Rogers

As students of Europe, we like to believe we have a good grasp on the history and political development of the continent. Too often, however, we have been educated from a singular perspective, one that rarely includes the perspective of what we have labeled “the East”. The tragedy of Central Europe, as Milan Kundera once called it, is not that the Soviet Union gobbled up so much of the continent after World War II, but rather that “the West” allowed such a massive piece of its cultural heritage to slip away. One of the most common things Euroculture students say after spending a semester in Olomouc is, “I never knew.”
“I never knew about Václav Havel.”
“I never knew about the Prague Spring.”
“I never knew about Tomáš Masaryk.”

The Euroculture program, however, is fortunate enough to have among its professors Josef Jařab, a person with a keen memory and a knack for being around at the turning points of history. Professor Jařab, or JJ as he is more commonly known among Euroculturers, is a professor, former rector and dissident who calls Olomouc his home. We sat down with JJ to speak to him about his life, the Velvet Revolution, and lessons we should be taking from Central Europe.

A Central European Story

Born in 1937 in the Silesian region of what was then known as Czechoslovakia, JJ’s life has been studded with academic and literary accomplishment. He glibly refers to his birth as his first major achievement; he somehow managed to be born full term only three months after his parents’ marriage: “It usually takes nine months! My first surprising sort of record was to make it in three or four months.” This, he told me, is why he is so famous in Olomouc.

All joking aside, JJ’s reputation in Olomouc – and throughout Central Europe – truly does precede him. At the risk of turning this article into a listicle of defining moments, I would like to mention a few that stand out. Throughout the Soviet occupation of then-Czechoslovakia, JJ worked to bring Western culture beyond the Iron Curtain. When the Velvet Revolution began in Prague, he led the students in Olomouc to a similar revolution. On the day he was officially fired by Palacký University, he became its first freely elected Rector. He was a close friend to Olga and Václav Havel, served as rector of the Central European University and as a Senator of the Czech Parliament and pursues, to this day, his passion for poetry, literature and jazz. This, too, is a fitting profile for a Czech revolutionary; the Prague Spring and Velvet Revolution were, after all, not driven by activists or the overtly politically minded, but by the writers, the students, the poets, the actors. Continue reading “Professor Jařab & the Velvet Revolution: “Freedom is a Sleeping Beauty””