Sunday, November 22, 2009

17 Listopadu

I've been trying to write more than post photos in this blog, but I think that Tuesday warrants a photo-heavy post. Tuesday, the 17th of November, was the 20th anniversary of the student marches that led to the end of communism in what was then Czechoslovakia. On that day 20 years ago, about 30,000 students took to the streets of Prague in a march that was sanctioned by the government because it was officially honoring a student who had been killed by the Nazis fifty years earlier. The protest turned rebellious and the state police assaulted the students, but they just continued to march.

On Tuesday, I met my friend Erin in Wenceslas Square where we saw the beginnings of the day's festivities. Czech flags were everywhere.

We walked to Albertov, the starting place of the 1989 march and where we would listen to (albeit without any understanding) speakers talk about democracy. When we got there an hour before the speakers would begin, there was no one there. We were a bit wary that this might not be as big of a deal as we had been hoping. As we neared 3:00, more and more people came.

This is the "Sweet! We aren't the only people here anymore!" pose.

They came with their flags and their signs, most of which I could not even begin to read. Many of them had to do with the unpopularity of the current Czech president, Vaclav Klaus. It reminded me of all the peace rallies I used to go to in high school, how many variations of "impeach Bush" I had seen. But growing up in a country that celebrated the 200th anniversary of being rebellious crusaders for liberty and democracy before I was even born, it is strange to imagine that in my own lifetime, the country I currently think of as home was not a place where one could even hold such a sign.

After the speakers, we followed the path that the students took in 1989. On the way, we saw performances of all kinds on the street corners.

The march took over two hours as we walked from Albertov to Narodni.

I felt like quite an outsider here. What have I done to earn my place in this crowd? Thanks to America's fear of teaching students anything about communism, I barely even know anything about the history. But this march wasn't just about honoring the people who helped spur democracy in the Czech Republic, it was also about bringing democracy and freedom to other parts of the world where people still live in fear of their government. And hey, that's something I can get behind.

Along the route, we saw many people sticking their heads out their windows to watch the march.

But by far the best was guy-without-a-shirt-wearing-a-gold-chain. That is the sign of freedom: being able to watch a march from your own flat topless if you want.

At first, we thought this was a group of police actually attacking marchers. Then, we realized that they were re-enacting the events of 1989. Way to be cool and scary at the same time, in true Czech fashion. Nevertheless, there were lots of riot police on hand just in case things got a little too spirited, but they wore friendly yellow vests instead of helmets!

One of the biggest symbols of the Velvet Revolution was the jingling of keys by students to represent unlocking the doors to freedom. The whole march, we could hear the gentle jingling of keys in the background.

And so, we rang ours too. Keys have always held such symbolism in my life. I worked as a locksmith's assistant one summer and learned so much about them and their history. I wear a key, that I found in a drawer in my dad's house, around my neck so that I always have home close to my heart. But now, I will never touch one without a momentary thought of how students, people my age and younger, used them to peacefully change the world.

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