The Triumph of the Powerless

In early June 1989, Václav Havel was released from jail, full of what now seems an almost prophetic certainty. Four months later, Havel's sense of Czechoslovak communism's imminent demise was proved correct.

NEW YORK – It was early June 1989. Václav Havel had been released from jail only days before, yet he was full of what now seems an almost prophetic certainty. Thousands of his countrymen had written letters petitioning for his release, at a time when declaring solidarity with Czechoslovakia’s most famous dissident was a clear and dangerous act of civil disobedience.

“We Czechs are finally finding our courage,” he said, as if sensing the people’s new readiness to confront the guardians of their communist police state. “Sooner or later, they will make a mistake, perhaps by beating up some people. Then 40,000 people will fill Wenceslas Square!”

Four months later, one week after people power brought down the Berlin Wall, revolution came to Prague. Students organized a small rally in the old Vyšehradcemetery, the burial grounds of Smetana and Dvořák in a fortress overlooking the city. As they marched toward Wenceslas Square, bearing candles, riot police cut them off, and many – men, women, children—were brutally beaten.

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