Velvet Revolution: Definitely the magical moment

But not the symbol of human salvation.

Question:

What has left from the ideals of Velvet Revolution and were they fulfilled?

Answers:

Janusz Bugajski, Lavrentiadis Chair, New European Democracies, Center for Strategic and International Studies

We should not excessively glorify the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia or the fall of the Berlin Wall in Germany or the Solidarity Revolution in Poland as the embodiments of human salvation. These were historically important events that ended the communist monopoly of power in a peaceful way and heralded the birth of democratic pluralism. But human societies are by nature imperfect and prone to abuse and disappointment as no ideal can be fully realized in practice. Fortunately, unlike under communism the ideal was not turned into a nightmare as the essential objectives of the Velvet Revolution were met. In particular, the country became fully independent and its voters could decide on the future composition of their governments through elections and other forms of participation in the democratic process.

Bruce Jackson, President, Project on Transitional Democracies, Washington, DC

In retrospective, the Velvet Revolution looks like the high water mark of democratic change in Central and Eastern Europe. However, as much as many people hoped that the model of popular democratic change associated with Charter 77, Prague and Bratislava would become the model for the democratization of post-Yugoslav and post-Soviet states, this has not proven to be the case. As a consequence, the Velvet Revolution looks rarer and even more exceptional in historical terms. Many of us are still trying to figure out why popular protest in Prague did not degenerate into populism as it did elsewhere. Or why the Czech and Slovak enthusiasm for democracy did not result in the chaotic politics we can see in Ukraine today. Or why large numbers of opposition could remain united in a common purpose in a way we do not see today in Ukraine, Georgia, Serbia or Bosnia. Even though the Velvet Revolution has lost its value for social scientists as a paradigm and predictor of how democratic change will occur, it remains one of the most magical moments in modern European history.

Edward Lucas, Deputy Editor, International Section, Central and Eastern Europe correspondent, The Economist

The great hope of the Velvet revolution was “Zpet do Evropy” and that has been largely achieved. Although the Czech Republic and Slovakia have not yet caught up with “old Europe” in terms of living standards, the other gaps have vanished: EU & NATO membership, Schengen, and in Slovakia’s case the euro too. Central Europe is once again the centre of Europe, rather than being a frontier or a backwater.

The main sadness at least in my eyes is that the StB were not properly brought to justice, that the Communist Party was able to get so much of its own (and fraternal) money out of the country and use it in the years ahead, and that the issue of lustrace has been mishandled. I would have liked to have seen a “truth and reconciliation” arrangement on South African lines, trading truth for immunity from prosecution.

Robin Shepherd, Director, International Affairs, the Henry Jackson Society, London

Every post-communist country faced the historically unprecedented challenge of building democracy and a functioning market economy out of the ruins of communist totalitarianism. Czechoslovakia faced the additional challenge of peacefully splitting the Federation into two distinct nations. We do not live in a world of ideal outcomes. Everyone can point to shortcomings. But Slovakia in particular has done a great job of putting the core ideals of the Velvet Revolution into practice. Compare the situation here with what has transpired in Russia, for example, where democracy has all but disappeared after a brief flowering in the 1990s, where corruption is endemic across society and where the economy is sustained almost entirely by the purely fortuitous fact that Russia has vast amounts of oil and gas. Slovaks and Czechs know that they do not live in a post-communist paradise. But I think there is still an enormous amount to celebrate and be proud of.

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