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21-7-2019, 12:40 UTC
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November 17, 1989 - 15 years after
2004 is the 15th anniversary of the fall of Communism in Czechoslovakia. 1989 was a momentous year. It was a time when signs of hope were coming from the east, but while Mikhail Gorbachov was introducing sweeping reforms in the Soviet Union, the Czechoslovak government stuck stubbornly to its hard line. The year started with demonstrations in Prague to mark the twentieth anniversary of the death of Jan Palach, who had sacrificed his life in protest against the Warsaw Pact invasion of 1968. These were put down brutally by the police, leading to a wave of public anger. The situation remained tense, with a growing public awareness that something had to change. In June a group of dissidents led by Vaclav Havel issued an appeal for greater democracy, known as "Nekolik vet" - "A few sentences".
August saw further public protests, once again dispersed by the police. Nearly 400 people were arrested. In the early autumn thousands of people flocked to Prague from East Germany after the Czechoslovak authorities agreed not to prevent them from emigrating to the West via the West German Embassy in Prague. Prague was suddenly filled with hundreds of East German Trabant cars abandoned by the owners as they left. It was clear that the hardline regimes of Central and Eastern Europe were shaking at their foundations, and that, unlike in Hungary in 1956 or Prague in 1968, Moscow had no intention of halting the change. Eight days after the sudden fall of the Berlin Wall, thousands of Czech students took to the streets of Prague on 17th November 1989 to remember the student leader Jan Opletal, who was killed by the Nazis 50 years before. Again the police intervened, provoking immediate mass public protests. A chain of events had begun that culminated in the fall of communism and Czechoslovakia's first democratic elections for forty-five years.

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