Instructions of the Coordinating Center of the Civic Forum for the Local Forums with a Recommendation for Policy Toward the Communists
The name "Velvet Revolution" was an oxymoron: revolutions were traditionally violent overthrows wiping away the old regime in order to build a new society. The Communist Party followed this model in Eastern Europe, and opposition groups rejected it in 1989 with their strategy of non-violence. But could this strategy successfully remove power from a totalitarian regime? The problem emerged….
The Czechoslovak Communist Party faced some unpleasant realities on November 28. The previous day's general strike had seriously weakened its hand. That day's negotiations with opposition leader Civic Forum forced it to accept several devastating conditions, including the removal of its constitutionally-guaranteed domination of state and society. Party members had not yet resigned themselves to….
Teleprint from Jozef Lenart, Secretary of CC CPCz, to Regional Committees and Municipal Commitees in Prague and Bratislava
The battle for public opinion occupied both government and opposition at the beginning of the Velvet Revolution. In this November 23 communique, Central Committee member Jozef Lenart reported on the party's measures to sway the public against the opposition. His argument echoed the conservative leadership's refusal to compromise with the protesters, maintaining instead that local communists….
Anti-state demonstrations have traditionally taken place in the heart of Prague on Wenceslas Square. After the November 17 police crackdown, it was no accident that the Square became the central point for people to get information, meet others and, from November 21 on, to attend the daily "meetings" when opposition groups addressed citizens from the balcony of the Melantrich publishing house.….
The Civic Forum's Position on the Negotiations of its Representatives with Prime Minister Ladislav Adamec
Civic Forum's original demands included "round-table" negotiations between itself and the government following the model used in Poland and Hungary. Unlike the party leadership in those countries, however, the Czechoslovak communists refused to open dialogue with the opposition until their hand was forced by the explosion of protest after November 17. Despite continued conservative resistance,….
Czechoslovak Ministry of Interior Memorandum, "Information Regarding the Development of the Security Situation During the Period of the 17 November Anniversary"
Despite the growing pressure for change in the autumn of 1989, Czechoslovak officials did not automatically view the November 17 commemoration as a major security risk. Unlike the other politically-charged anniversaries that had increasingly become beacons for protest, this date did not ideologically threaten communism. In fact, it had been officially recognized since World War II and in 1989,….
Prague Embassy cable, November 21 Morning Demonstration At Wenceslas Square: Overheard Conversations
Just a week before the Velvet Revolution began, it was smarter to look for public opinion in a family kitchen rather than on a city sidewalk. People still monitored what they said outside their homes. By November 21, the squares in Prague were becoming open forums. This embassy report described the "word on the streets" overheard by an American official's spouse that day on Wenceslas Square.….
This November 21 U.S. embassy report demonstrates the influence of the independent student strike at the beginning of the Velvet Revolution. The students' power stemmed largely from their ability to organize quickly. On November 18, student leaders in Prague had announced an immediate university strike in addition to the general strike. That Monday, thousands of students refused to attend….
November 17 set in motion a dramatic train of events in Czechoslovakia. But for the first few days their direction remained unclear. This U.S. embassy report on the situation through November 20 highlighted some of the unresolved issues. To begin with, the protests lacked a definite leader. By mid-week Civic Forum would claim that right, but on Monday several candidates were vying for the….
Part of any U.S. ambassador's job involves evaluating the political situation at their post. When Ambassador Shirley Temple Black arrived in Prague in early autumn 1989, most American officials agreed that the conservative Czechoslovak leadership would be in power for a while. Only a few weeks later, Black radically revised this view, presenting her reasons in this November 20 cable. She cited….
Prague Embassy cable, American Woman's Account of November 17 Demonstration and the Death of a Czech Student
The experience of November 17 is difficult to recapture in all its intensity and chaos. But this testimony from an American eyewitness evokes the atmosphere. Although the story comes second-hand through this November 20 U.S. embassy cable, we can still sense the trauma of that night in the description of fleeing demonstrators forced through a police "gauntlet". November 17 was the first….
Prague Embassy cable, Czechoslovak Independents Establish New Organization and List Agenda of Demands
The established opposition reacted slowly to November 17; while students and actors began mobilizing on Saturday, it was Sunday before opposition leaders met to determine their next steps. That afternoon, independent activists created Civic Forum and drew up a list of four initial demands (see document 493). This U.S. embassy cable reported on the press conference announcing Civic Forum's….
In communist state, a newspaper article sometimes told the reader more than just what happened yesterday. Because the party maintained strict control over what could be printed or broadcast, the way the news was reported could signal political changes as well. One such instance appears in this November 20 cable from the American Embassy in Prague, which compared local coverage of the November….
The U.S. Ambassador in Prague cabled regular reports to the State Department during the Velvet Revolution. As historical sources, these cables provide rich day-to-day accounts from an informed outsider's perspective, but with certain biases: the ambassador contextualized events within the "big picture" of U. S. foreign policy and depended on embassy resources for information. Ambassador Shirley….
In this November 20 cable to the State Department, the U.S. Embassy in Prague reported its formal protest of the assault on American journalists during the November 17 demonstration. Western media coverage of independent and anti-state activity had increased during 1989. By autumn, foreign media correspondents were expected at demonstrations. Dozens of international journalists covered the….
For many years, opposition in Czechoslovakia was represented mainly by Charter 77, a group advocating human rights and peaceful, evolutionary change. By autumn 1989, the opposition community had grown and diversified so much that discussions were underway to unite the different groups into a common organization. This finally happened two days after the fateful November 17 demonstration, when….
Teleprint from CC CPCz to First Secretary CC CPS and Secretaries of Regional and District Committees
The Velvet Revolution was named for the remarkably non-violent end to communism in Czechoslovakia. Yet as Milos Jakes and his conservative government scrambled to respond to the aftermath of November 17, they were considering all options. In this November 19 directive to local party committee leaders, Jakes demonstrated his belief that the communists could maintain power with force if….
This official cable sets forth the reaction of the U.S. Embassy in Czechoslovakia to the events of November 17, 1989. Prague university students obtained official permission to commemorate this anniversary of the 1939 Nazi assault on Czech students, but they were forbidden to enter Wenceslas Square, the traditional site of anti-state protest. On that chilly evening, when peaceful demonstrators….
Czechoslovak Ministry of Interior Memorandum, The Security Situation in the CSSR in the Period Before 28 October
October 28 holds a special place on the Czechoslovak political calendar because on that day the First Czechoslovak Republic was established in 1918. This liberal bourgeois state, symbolized by its founding father and President Tomas Garrigue Masaryk, was a powerful counter-example to socialist Czechoslovakia and a magnet for anti-communist protest. This 1989 report from the Ministry of the….
In October 1989, the situation was growing dire for the Czechoslovak communists. Increasing unrest and change in other Eastern Bloc countries was quickly isolating conservatives and emboldening the domestic opposition. In the analysis presented here, Federal Minister of the Interior Frantisek Kincl details a number of domestic security threats. The first was the opposition's increased level of….