Today Slovakia celebrates, with a national holiday, the 20th anniversary of the beginning of the end of Communist rule in what was then Czechoslovakia. The Gentle Revolution, more widely known by it’s Czech name, the Velvet Revolution, began on November 17, 1989 when a group of students gathered to commemorate the murder of Slovak students (50 years earlier) on International Students Day. The Communist government responded harshly and their use of force catalyzed a sentiment that had long been brewing. In the following weeks peaceful protests and mass strikes led to the resignation of the regime and the first democratic government in over 40 years.
During our time here in Slovakia people have shared with us what it was like before the revolution – the secret police, the informers, the shortages, the air raid sirens, the hiding of faith. They have also shared with us what it was like to stand in the main square of Bratislava in 1989 and sing songs, join hands with people, waive flags: what it was like to change history. The look on people’s faces – the refusal to actually let the tear run down their cheek – as they describe what it was like to sing songs about Jesus publicly for the first time in their lives.
As a Canadian it is a reminder that freedom is precious.
Today the Slovak Central Bank issued a unique 2 Euro coin bearing the words “17 November. Freedom. Democracy. Slovakia.” with a picture of keys on it. During the protests people jingled their keys to symbolize the unlocking of freedom.