On 17 November 1989, police in Prague cracked down on a student demonstration, triggering 10 days of mass protest and political action that peacefully brought down Czechoslovakia’s communist regime. To mark the anniversary, all this week TOL features prominent Czechs offering their recollections of the Velvet Revolution. Today: photographer Jaroslav Kucera.
I was living in a little flat near Narodni trida with my partner, Marketa. On 17 November and we were walking nearby when we saw a big demonstration. My partner wanted to go over, but I said, “No, I’ve seen all of this before, I know what it’s like.”
In 1969 I was at a demonstration on the one-year anniversary of the Soviet occupation when I was arrested by the secret police. First they took us to the police station, and then to Pankrac prison. The guards lined both sides of a passage with truncheons, and we were made to run through while they clubbed us. They repeated it five times, and many of the other prisoners broke down mentally or physically. Then they tried to make us name names. Continue reading …
By Natalia O’Hara On 17 November 1989, police in Prague cracked down on a student demonstration, triggering 10 days of mass protest and political action that peacefully brought down Czechoslovakia’s communist regime. To mark the anniversary, all this week TOL features prominent Czechs offering their recollections of the Velvet Revolution. Today: National Theater ballerina Adela Pollertova.
When it happened I was at home alone. The 17th of November began like a normal day, but when I got home from school no one was there. My mother was always at home in the evenings, and usually my father, too. I wondered what could have happened.
My parents and older brother returned late. They said that they had been to a demonstration in Narodni trida [National Street in Prague]. My parents were talking about what had happened but I didn’t understand, because I didn’t know the first thing about politics. Continue reading …
Czech singer and icon of anti-communist dissent, 1942
Popular music played a significant role in the Czech dissident movement, and it was the return of a beloved singer from the 1960s that gave musical affirmation to the events of November 1989. “Let peace continue with this land/ Let wrath, envy, hate, and fear vanish/ Now the lost reign over your affairs will return to you, people, it will return.” These lines from “Modlitba pro Martu” (“Prayer for Marta”), ringing out from a balcony on Prague’s Wenceslas Square, marked Marta Kubisova’sreturn to public life.
Two decades earlier those lyrics brought the communist government’s wrath down on the popular pop, rock, and chanson singer. In the ’60s Kubisova enjoyed great success in Czechoslovakia and neighboring countries as part of the pop trio Golden Kids, singing alongside Helena Vondrackova and Vaclav Neckar, and appeared in a handful of films. But “Prayer for Marta,” written by Petr Rada and Jindrich Brabec and recorded just days after the Soviet-led invasion of 21 August 1968, made her an icon. The song’s references to regaining lost freedoms evoked a deep emotional response, and it remained a symbol of defiance until the fall of communism.
But Kubisova’s triumph came at a high price. Her 1969 album Songs and Ballads was immediately banned. In 1970 she was falsely accused of producing pornographic photos and barred from performing. In 1977, she was one of the first signatories of Charter 77, but publicly little was heard of her until 1989. For several years she worked in a junior office position.
Kubisova and her anthem returned to the fore when, standing next to Vaclav Havel (a longtime friend and the godfather of Kubisova’s daughter), she sang “Prayer for Marta” to the Wenceslas Square crowd on 21 November 1989. “I felt like I was in a dream,” she has recalled in numerous interviews. She resumed recording and performing, establishing a residency at Prague’s Ungelt Theater and occasionally reuniting with her fellow Golden Kids. (The trio has recently returned to the media spotlight in a less happy light, with Vondrackova filing suit against Kubisova for pulling out of a planned tour.)
“The first seven years after the revolution were wild. I had to learn all about show business,” Kubisova says on her website. “But then I was invited to sing at the Ungelt Theater, and there I found my safe haven and have stayed since.”
In 1995 then-President Havel made her one of the initial recipients of the state Medal of Merit, and three years later the Czech Academy of Popular Music inducted her into its hall of fame. She also resumed acting, winning the prestigious Thalia award in 2002 for her role in the Czech adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical Tell Me on a Sunday.
In the early 1990s Kubisova became associated with a new cause: animal rights. For 17 years she has hosted a television program that pairs abandoned animals with viewers for adoption.