During the 1989 Velvet Revolution, the sound of jingling keys and empowering anthems could be heard throughout squares in the former Czechoslovakia. Emboldened by the actions of courageous students and dissidents, Slovaks and Czechs toppled the communist regime through peaceful protests, the infamous Iron Curtain falling to the ground. Freedom, democracy and inclusivity were no longer pipe dreams for the people of Czechoslovakia, who had lived in a limited world for so long.
Thirty years later, the bells of freedom still ring. I heard them loud and clear on Nov. 17, when Slovak inhabitants celebrated the 30th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution. Over 100 commemorative events took place across the country, including concerts, organized runs along the former Iron Curtain (which had been composed of charged barbed wire), photography exhibits and protests akin to those that led to such monumental change 30 years ago. I attended one organized by For a Decent Slovakia, the civic organization formed following the murders of investigative journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancee Martina Kušnírová, in Bratislava’s Freedom Square.
Although the numerous speeches given on stage by some of the students that led the protests back in 1989 were in Slovak, the message of the night needed no translation: Slovaks, along with their Czech brothers and sisters, will never stop fighting for the freedom and democracy they sought 30 years ago.
As I rang my keys in the crowded square that night, amazed by the peaceful yet determined spirit that inhabits the next generation of Slovaks — the generation that has only learned about 1989 through history books — I realized how vital it is to acknowledge that hard-earned freedoms, those that the generation before 1989 associated with the once-unreachable Western world, must be protected. Democracy needs to be cared for and nourished to remain alive and flourish.
In early 2020, the four people who have been officially charged with the murders of Ján Kuciak and Martina Kušnírová will be put on trial. The evidence against them, which includes hundreds of decoded text messages detailing murder preparations, is damning. However, several Constitutional Court judges and top politicians have also been implicated in those text messages, showing an association with businessman Marian Kočner, who’s accused of ordering the murder. Some of those judges and politicians have since resigned, while others remain in their posts. A few corrupt untouchables still have power over the people of Slovakia, proving democracy is not a guarantee. Slovakia has come a long way but it still has a long way to go.
However, each time my keys jingle in my purse as I walk past the memorial dedicated to Ján and Martina, I am reminded of an indisputable fact: In 1989, Slovaks and Czechs tore down the infamous Iron Curtain and everything it represented without violence or corruption. Thirty years later, a new generation is determined not to let that freedom go.