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What Was the Velvet Revolution?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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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.

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.

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.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

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

Discussion Comments
By anon945371 — On Apr 12, 2014

What happened in the preliminary stage of the Velvet Revolution?

By anon936271 — On Feb 28, 2014

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.

By anon357122 — On Dec 01, 2013

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

By henniracik — On Feb 14, 2011

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.

By afterall — On Jan 29, 2011

@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.

By stolaf23 — On Jan 28, 2011

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.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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