The Irish Times view on the Velvet Revolution 30 years on: the new resistance

Events to commemorate the peaceful 1989 uprising will mingle with a new round of protests in defence of liberal democracy

 In this file photo taken on November 22nd, 1989, young Czechoslovak students shout in support of Vaclav Havel for the presidency during  a protest rally at Wenceslas Square in Prague. Photograph: Lubomir Kotek/AFP via Getty Images

In this file photo taken on November 22nd, 1989, young Czechoslovak students shout in support of Vaclav Havel for the presidency during a protest rally at Wenceslas Square in Prague. Photograph: Lubomir Kotek/AFP via Getty Images

 

Amid street parties and concerts to mark 30 years since the Velvet Revolution, Czechs and Slovaks will deliver a sobering verdict on the health of their democracies this weekend. Anti-government activists in Prague hope to hold the city’s biggest rally since 1989 at Letna park, where half a million people demonstrated three decades ago against Czechoslovakia’s communist regime.

Now the protesters’ main target is Czech prime minister Andrej Babis, a billionaire who denies allegations of fraud and collaborating with the communist-era secret police, but is still seen by many compatriots as the embodiment of crony capitalism. Babis is backed by Czech president Milos Zeman, who shares his anti-immigration outlook and derides the European Union while advocating closer ties with autocrats in China and Russia.

In Slovakia, meanwhile, events to commemorate the peaceful 1989 uprising will mingle with a new round of protests that were triggered by the 2018 murder of investigative reporter Jan Kuciak and his girlfriend Martina Kusnirova.

A wealthy entrepreneur who allegedly threatened Kuciak has been charged with ordering the murders, but revelations about the businessman’s links with senior political and judicial figures continue to shake the nation. The shooting of Kuciak and Kusnirova sparked the largest protests seen in Slovakia since 1989, and triggered a crisis which prompted the reluctant resignation of prime minister Robert Fico and several allies. Fico still leads the ruling party and exerts huge influence on government from the wings, however.

A civic movement called For a Decent Slovakia will hold rallies across the nation this weekend, while a group named A Million Moments for Democracy is organising the protests in Czech towns and cities. The twenty-something founders of both movements never experienced communism, but they are now defending the liberal democracy that was so hard-won in 1989, while their political leaders – and those in neighbouring Hungary and Poland – indulge in populism and pursue personal power at the expense of the rule of law.

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