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What Was the Velvet Revolution?

The Velvet Revolution was a non-violent uprising in 1989 that led to the end of communist rule in Czechoslovakia. It stands as a powerful testament to the strength of peaceful protest and civic activism. This pivotal moment reshaped an entire nation's destiny. How did ordinary citizens achieve such extraordinary change? Join us as we unravel the threads of this historic transformation.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

The Velvet Revolution was a non-violent revolution in Czechoslovakia which led to the overthrow of the Communist government which had ruled in that nation for over 40 years. It is often commemorated along with other protests, demonstrations, and marches held in former Soviet nations in the late 1980s. The history of this revolution is actually in dispute, as it has historically been presented as a series of spontaneous national protests, but it may have been supported or at least allowed by the Communist government.

The spark which started the Velvet Revolution happened on 17 November 1989, when riot police shut down a peaceful student demonstration in Prague. The suppression of the demonstration led to a flowering of similar demonstrations all over the country. At the same time, other Eastern Bloc countries were starting to experience political instability, as the Communist governments of these nations began to collapse one by one. The dismantling of the Berlin Wall in Germany on 9 November 1989 is a particularly iconic example of the changing political mood in Eastern Europe during this period.

Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic, was home to many of the intellectuals who were involved in the Velvet Revolution.
Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic, was home to many of the intellectuals who were involved in the Velvet Revolution.

The demonstrations of the Velvet Revolution appeared to take the government by surprise. Students and other workers began to strike across Czechoslovakia, and they started to meet with members of the government in an attempt to reach an agreement which would satisfy all parties. On 24 November 1989, the government experienced a shakeup when the General Secretary of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia was replaced, but this was not enough to shore up the failing government.

Formerly combined with the Czech Republic into Czechoslovakia, Slovakia became independent in 1993.
Formerly combined with the Czech Republic into Czechoslovakia, Slovakia became independent in 1993.

On 29 November, the Parliament began to dismantle the political framework which had supported the Communist Party as primary political power in Czechoslovakia. By 10 December, the President had resigned after appointing a new cabinet, paving the way to democratically held elections in January 1990. On 29 December, it became readily apparent that the Velvet Revolution had succeeded in effecting a bloodless change of government in Czechoslovakia, and the populace ended their strikes and demonstrations. Three years later, the country was peaceably split into two nations, Slovakia and the Czech Republic.

Some historians call the Velvet Revolution the Gentle Revolution, especially within Slovakia. The revolution demonstrated that it was in fact possible to change a government without violence. The social disruption caused by the strikes and demonstrations of the Velvet Revolution led the government to recognize a need for change, especially when it was viewed in the context of the collapse of Communism throughout the Eastern Bloc.

Frequently Asked Questions

What was the Velvet Revolution and when did it occur?

The Velvet Revolution was a non-violent transition of power in Czechoslovakia, marking the end of Communist rule in the country. It took place from November 17 to December 29, 1989, culminating in the election of Václav Havel as the first president of post-communist Czechoslovakia. This peaceful uprising was characterized by large demonstrations and civil resistance, ultimately leading to the restoration of democracy.

Why is it called the Velvet Revolution?

The term "Velvet Revolution" reflects the smooth and peaceful nature of the political change, akin to the softness of velvet fabric. There was no bloodshed or violent upheaval, which was a significant aspect given the turbulent changes occurring in other parts of Eastern Europe at the time. The name emphasizes the gentle yet profound transformation that reshaped Czechoslovakia's political landscape.

Who were the key figures in the Velvet Revolution?

Key figures in the Velvet Revolution included Václav Havel, a playwright and dissident who became the face of the movement and the first president of the post-communist Czechoslovakia. Other notable leaders were Alexander Dubček, the former leader during the Prague Spring of 1968, and the students and intellectuals who initiated the protests. Civic Forum, a coalition of opposition groups led by Havel, played a central role in coordinating the revolution.

What were the main causes of the Velvet Revolution?

The Velvet Revolution was driven by widespread discontent with the authoritarian Communist regime, economic stagnation, and a desire for political reform and human rights. The immediate catalyst was a brutal police crackdown on a peaceful student demonstration on November 17, 1989. This event galvanized public support for change and sparked a series of protests and strikes across the country, leading to the eventual collapse of the Communist government.

What were the outcomes of the Velvet Revolution?

The Velvet Revolution resulted in the dismantling of the one-party Communist system in Czechoslovakia and the establishment of a parliamentary democracy. The Communist Party's monopoly on power was abolished, leading to free elections in June 1990. The revolution also paved the way for the peaceful split of Czechoslovakia into the Czech Republic and Slovakia on January 1, 1993, an event often referred to as the "Velvet Divorce."

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a HistoricalIndex researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a HistoricalIndex researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...

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Discussion Comments

anon945371

What happened in the preliminary stage of the Velvet Revolution?

anon936271

The velvet revolution was organized and planned by the secret services of Czechoslovakia, USSR and even USA. Do not think it was people's revolution. I am Slovak.

Look up Dr. Gene Sharp. Almost all revolutions in recent history have been organized according to his research of nonviolent action.

anon357122

The velvet revolution was funded by Soros and his open society foundation, and at times it was anything but peaceful.

henniracik

I presently reside in Slovakia capital Bratislava, and find the mentality still quite sterile, but the young generation is starting to wake up. Life in fact is about intelligence and these young minds have been studying more then other cultures about the world. They are starting to think for themselves and express their individuality.

afterall

@stolaf23, I think that is true, to some extent, for many former Soviet countries. I have a friend who taught in the Czech Republic and experienced many of the same things. A tendency towards dressing the same, wanting to eat the same foods, and so on. She and her colleagues also faced occasional confusion at outright oddities like vegetarianism, not drinking alcohol, even being left handed, things that might be uncommon enough in the United States but probably would not raise more than an occasional comment. I think that people there really are no less creative or free thinking as anyone else, there are just some who aren't used to the concept anymore.

stolaf23

I currently live in Slovakia, and it is true that here they generally refer to it as the "Gentle Revolution". However that does not, by any means, suggest that the attitudes of the older generations towards Soviet rule are gentle.

Many people remember Soviet rule as, if nothing else, a time when people were not allowed to express their feelings about things or be different from one another. Even now, that tentativeness towards standing out from the crowd still is an issue in socialization, and hard for people to over. Even people who were not old enough at the time to really remember it have been influenced by parents and other older influences; in some ways, the "gentle" revolution is still going on, and still somewhat gently.

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    • Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic, was home to many of the intellectuals who were involved in the Velvet Revolution.
      By: Nataliya Hora
      Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic, was home to many of the intellectuals who were involved in the Velvet Revolution.
    • Formerly combined with the Czech Republic into Czechoslovakia, Slovakia became independent in 1993.
      By: r-o-x-o-r
      Formerly combined with the Czech Republic into Czechoslovakia, Slovakia became independent in 1993.