November 17 is one of the most significant days in the history of the Czech Republic that rotated its politics by 180 degrees and opened the doors to a bright future full of freedom and independence from the communist regime. Most of the Czechs are incredibly proud and, at the same time, thrilled by the sequence of events that took place on the fateful date of November 17, 1989. 

Discover the Czechs’ brave hearts and how their strong spirit transformed the country into a better place to live, build a family, and plant a tree.

History corner: events before November 17, 1989

The time travel takes us to October 28, 1918, another significant date we celebrated a couple of weeks ago. It was the independence of Czechoslovakia, the country officially free from the reign of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Sadly, the country’s independence did not last long enough to enjoy life and live it to the fullest – Hitler had another plan for Czechoslovakia. 

Just twenty years after the independence of Czechoslovakia was proclaimed and the country became solid and autonomous, Nazi forces invaded Czechoslovakia and occupied its territories in 1938. These were challenging times for the Czechs (and Slovaks) who fought so long for their independence, but all their efforts were neglected and went to the “pending” folder. 

November 17: the tragedy and violence 

On November 17, 1939, another sequence of events shook the Czech people and broke their hearts, like the ceramics that are impossible to restore. On this day, Nazi forces stormed most of the Czech University, including Charles University, one of the oldest schools in Europe, where they organized demonstrations and killed Jan Opletal and worker Václav Sedláček unemotionally. Yet, it was just the beginning of the violence. 

On the same day, nine of the Czech students and some of their professors were executed. More than 1,200 students and teachers were sent to concentration camps without any explanation, whether they did something wrong, broke the law, or were simply the victims of the violent attacks. 

The following year, Czechoslovak forces in England commemorated the tragedy with remembrance and dignity. November 17 became a national holiday in Czechoslovakia and some neighboring countries, known as International Student’s Day. 

Communism and the post-war atmosphere

After the end of World War II and the violent era of the Nazis, Czechoslovakia decided to fight for its freedom, even though it was weak and vulnerable. This was the year 1948—tough, challenging, but promising. 

At that time, the communist party was still ruling the country, in which there was no such thing as freedom of speech as the government controlled all the media, schools, businesses, and anything. Every citizen could become a traitor to their country if they take the wrong step, say something without thinking it through, or have relatives and friends outside the land beyond the Iron Curtain. 

In the 1960s, the Czechs had a fresh breath of freedom, something they had been dreaming about since the first day of the independence of Czechoslovakia in 1918. A more liberated leader took power, the Prague Spring occurred, and Soviet troops made an entrance to Prague.

November 17, 1989

One of the influential people to promote freedom was Michail Gorbachev, the liberal leader of the Soviet Union and a fighter for democracy and pluralism. In 1985, he helped numerous countries that were under communist rule enjoy freedom again. It led to the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989, when thousands of Germans saw their loved ones again. 

At the same time, hundreds, if not thousands, of students gathered together to celebrate International Student Day and commemorate the warm memories of those who died under the reign of Hitler in the most violent way possible. Students marched through the city center of Prague, making some noise and expressing their controversial opinions. The police did not like such rebellious behavior, and many students were beaten up. 

The following day, the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague could not resist calling for a strike to support student movements across the country. Vaclav Havel, one of the critical members of the Civic Forum and the last president of Czechoslovakia, took part in the strike by defending innocent students and political prisoners. 

This led to one of the most significant meetings of the 1980s. Havel met Prime Minister Ladislav Adamec on November 26, where they discussed current problems in the country and agreed to offer more liberties to the people. On December 29, Vaclav Havel became the last president of Czechoslovakia, where he promoted freedom in all forms.

Sofia Chesnokova

Sofia Chesnokova

Passionate about digital marketing, copywriting, and Prague! Let's connect 🙂
Sofia Chesnokova
Sofia Chesnokova
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