17 November 1989: The Velvet Revolution begins in Czechoslovakia

On this day in 1989, the Velvet Revolution got underway in Czechoslovakia when a peaceful student demonstration demanding reform turned violent.

In the autumn of 1989, change was sweeping through communist Europe. The fall of the Berlin Wall on 9 November made it easier for Czechoslovakians, eager to escape the political repression in their country, to flee to West Germany.

Just over a week later on International Students' Day, thousands of students assembled in Prague to protest against the government of Milo Jake. On Narodni Street, the police attacked the crowds. Thankfully, nobody was killed. Many Czechoslovakians recalled the Prague Spring of 1968, when protests had led to Soviet tanks rolling in. This time around, however, the tanks stayed put, and the Velvet Revolution had begun.

The brutality of the police did nothing to stem the mounting protests and strike action that followed. Within days, Jake stood down as general secretary of the Communist Party and the government collapsed. By the end of December, the dissident playwright and leader of opposition group Civic Forum, Vaclav Havel, had become Czechoslovakia's first democratically elected president in 44 years.

The new government lost no time in reforming the economy under the direction of the prime minister, Vaclav Klaus. Prices were liberalised, the market was opened up to foreign trade and investment, state-owned enterprises were privatised,and the tax system was reformed.

However, it soon became apparent that the Slovak economy had suffered more from direct communist control. Its mineral wealth meant that Slovakia had been made into a major armaments producer to the Eastern Bloc. As such, its economy was overly rigid and reliant on a single industry. By contrast, the Czech economy was nimbler and more diversified. It was this two-speed Czechoslovak economy that would eventually lead to the rupture of the country into the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1993. Yet in the years since, both countries have prospered. For 2015, the European Union (of which they are both now members) forecasts GDP growth of 2.5% for each.

As for 17 November 1989, that date is commemorated every year in the Czech Republic and Slovakia as “Struggle for Freedom and Democracy Day” – the date on which the students first took to the streets, demanding freedom.

Recommended

High street giant HSBC to close 114 branches
Personal finance

High street giant HSBC to close 114 branches

HSBC is to shut the doors of 114 branches as more customers switch to online banking.
30 Nov 2022
House prices expected to fall by 5% in 2023
House prices

House prices expected to fall by 5% in 2023

House prices could fall by 5% next year as rising mortgage rates weigh on buyer demand.
30 Nov 2022
The best offers for switching banks – get up to £200 free cash
Personal finance

The best offers for switching banks – get up to £200 free cash

Looking to move bank accounts? You can now bag as much as £200 for switching current accounts from two major banks
30 Nov 2022
Stock market crash? This time it’s (slightly) different
Stockmarkets

Stock market crash? This time it’s (slightly) different

The bears expecting a stock market crash have got it wrong, says Max King.
30 Nov 2022

Most Popular

Wood-burning stove vs central heating ‒ which is cheapest?
Personal finance

Wood-burning stove vs central heating ‒ which is cheapest?

Demand for wood-burning stoves has surged as households try to reduce their heating costs this winter. But how does a wood burner compare with central…
29 Nov 2022
Fan heater vs oil heater – which is cheaper?
Personal finance

Fan heater vs oil heater – which is cheaper?

Sales of portable heaters have soared, as households look to cut their energy costs. But which is better: a fan heater or an oil heater? We put them t…
21 Nov 2022
Best regular savings accounts – November 2022
Savings

Best regular savings accounts – November 2022

You can earn an attractive rate on the best regular savings accounts. We tell you the best on the market to take advantage of right now
29 Nov 2022