March to Narodni Square, November 17

The central tribute to the November 17 Prague events that propelled the Velvet Revolution was an organized march that re-traced the precise steps of the 1989 student march, planned and orchestrated by the NGO Opona. The march began with an opening ceremony at Albertov, the site of the Medical Faculty of Charles University, and ending at Narodní Square. Several generations were represented by the crowd, and the numbers grew as the multi-hour march approached its goal.

The spirit of the crowd was celebratory, and even at times, humorous. Stationed along the path was an individual shrouded in a white sheet, holding sign that read, “don’t give up” – at the point where the students had originally planned to turn around, since they were concerned that they would not be allowed into central Prague. This chant reportedly encouraged them to continue. A sign that this march was taking place in a completely different era was the occasional overheard conversation in the crowd, such as one about going to the hairdresser, and cell-phone calls to friends in other spots of the march. As the crowd turned into the center of the city by the National Theater, a young man dressed in a 1980s-era police uniform yelled stern warnings from a megaphone from an upper-floor window; this re-enactment drew smiles. Several colorful candle-powered mini-hot-air balloons were released into the air, labeled “balloons of peace.”

As the march drew to a conclusion at Narodní Square, organizers announced that the media was taking a photo, at which point the crowd dangled its keys just as the original marchers had done. They estimated the crowds to be approximately 45,000. As they drew close to the conclusion, the marchers sang the Czech national anthem, and before them was a white “curtain” of fireworks to symbolize the disintegrated Iron Curtain.

At the conclusion of the march was an outdoor stage where a series of performers, including Czech performers and Joan Baez, offered tributes. Baez sang “we shall overcome,” and Vaclav Havel addressed the crowd. Following the concert was a DJ, who played songs from the era, as well as protest songs from the 1960s, and concluded with U2’s song, “One.” The reveling crowd appeared to be predominantly the age of the children of the 1989 protesters, but nevertheless physically “owning” the moment somehow as their own. Appropriate, one observer has asked, for a site that is revered as a solemn place to remember the brutal police beatings that took place against the students in 1989?

The Autonomous Nationalists were not successful at disrupting this event, and eventually retreated.

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