November 2019 marked the 30th Anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the subsequent events that brought freedom from communist domination to many countries of the former “Soviet-bloc.” In Czechoslovakia, public demonstrations, spearheaded by student movements, sparked the relatively peaceful downfall of the communist government and began the country’s “return to the West,” in what came to be known as the Velvet Revolution. A number of events took place in Washington D.C. in the fall to commemorate and assess the significance of the Velvet Revolution.
Since 2001, Friends of Slovakia (FOS) has co-sponsored the prestigious Annual Czech and Slovak Freedom Lecture at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C. Each year, the Lecture alternates between a Czech and a Slovak speaker chosen by the co-sponsors, the Czech Embassy, the Slovak Embassy, the American Friends of the Czech Republic (AFoCR), FOS, and the Wilson Center’s Global Europe Program. This year’s Freedom Lecture on November 13 commemorated the Velvet Revolution with a special double-lecture event featuring both a Czech and a Slovak lecturer. The Czech speaker was Šimon Pánek a key leader in the 1989 student movement, who subsequently went on to found an important NGO, People in Need. The Slovak speaker was Katarína Cséfalvayová, the Chairwoman of Foreign Relations Committee of the Slovak National Council (parliament).
Ms. Cséfalvayová, who was a young child in 1989, provided a perspective as an important legislator who is in a position to look back and assess the legacy of the Velvet Revolution in the context of current challenges to democracy in Slovakia and Central and East Europe generally. Mr. Pánek then provided a first-hand perspective as a key leader in the overthrow of the communist regime in Czechoslovakia. He discussed the historical events of the period and assessed the accomplishments of the Velvet Revolution and challenges democracies have subsequently faced.
The speakers were introduced with remarks by Slovak Ambassador to the U.S., Ivan Korčok, and Czech Ambassador to the U.S., Hynek Kmoníček. After the Lecture, AFoCR President Tom Dine presented the speakers with certificates of appreciation and FOS Chairman Scott Thayer presented the speakers with the FOS Medal commemorating Milan Rastislav Štefánik and the friendship of the Czech and Slovak nations.
Those interested in a contemporary perspective on Slovakia and events in Central and Eastern Europe would do well to view Ms. Cséfalvayová‘s lecture. The Wilson Center has posted a video of the full lecture event at:
More 30th Anniversary Events in Washington
The week prior to the Freedom Lecture saw additional events in Washington commemorating the legacy of the Velvet Revolution. Members of the Friends of Slovakia Board of Directors attended and participated in these events.
Forum at Georgetown University
On Tuesday, November 12, a forum was held at Georgetown University, Velvet @ 30: A Legacy to Uphold. The forum was co-sponsored by the Czech and Slovak Embassies in collaboration with the Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service. The event featured welcoming remarks by Joel Hellman, Dean of the Walsh School, as well as Slovak Ambassador Korčok and Czech Ambassador Kmoníček. Then, a discussion was held between former U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright and former Ambassador of the Czech Republic to the U.S., Martin Palouš. They discussed their experiences of the events of 1989 and provided perspective on the significance of the events.
The first panel then discussed “How the Velvet Revolution Changed Our World.” Simon Pánek, student leader during the Velvet Revolution, Martin Bútora former Slovak Ambassador to the U.S., and co-founder of the Slovak-based civic movement Public Against Violence, and Angela Stent, Georgetown Professor of Government and Foreign Service, discussed the 1989 period and its implications. Gregory Feifer, Executive Director of the Institute of Current World Affairs in Washington moderated the discussion. The second panel , “Fight for Freedom Never Ends: Velvet Revolution’s Legacy for Today and Tomorrow,” sought to view current events in light of lessons learned and point a way forward given contemporary challenges to freedom and democracy in Central and Eastern Europe and elsewhere. The panel featured Katarína Cséfalvayová, Chairwoman of the Slovak Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, Václav Bartuška, a former Velvet Revolution student leader and current Czech Ambassador for Energy Security and Jamie Fly, President of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. The panel was moderated by František Šebej, former Chairman of the Slovak Parliament Foreign Relations Committee.
A summary of the forum can be found at the Czech Embassy website here:
Roundtable Reviews Attitudes about the Velvet Revolution
The day prior, Monday, Nov 11, FOS Board members and others in the Washington foreign policy and Slovak-interest communities participated in a roundtable featuring former Slovak Ambassador Martin Bútora and his spouse, sociologist Dr. Zora Bútorová. The ambassadorial couple served in Washington from 1999-2003 and had a significant impact on Slovak- U.S. relations, as well as opening Slovakia’s new embassy building in Washington in 2001. Dr. Bútorová presented results from her recent survey research on attitudes of the Slovak and Czech populations about the Velvet Revolution and related issues. The research was conducted under the auspices of the Bratislava-based Institute for Public Affairs (IVO) a think-tank founded by the Bútoras and others. The survey results were part of a study produced by IVO, 30 years after the Velvet Revolution: Profits and Losses in the Eyes of the Public, which is available on the IVO website at:
Panel Exhibit at GWU
On October 22, the Slovak Embassy in cooperation with the Elliott School of International Affairs of the George Washington University opened a panel exhibit commemorating the 30th anniversary of Velvet Revolution, We Want Freedom: An Exhibit on the Velvet Revolution of 1989. The event was held at the Elliott School in downtown Washington. The exhibit displayed a series of panels depicting the events of the Velvet Revolution with a special focus on events in Slovakia. It is hoped that students at the Elliott School as well as the GWU student community and the general public will learn about the events of 1989 in Czechoslovakia and their significance. Slovak Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajčák opened the exhibit and was joined by the Slovak Ambassador Korčok, Acting Assistant Secretary of State, Ambassador Phillip Reeker, along with representatives of the Elliott School and Slovakia’s National Memory Institute in providing remarks about the events of 1989.
It’s fair to say that the attendees of these events gained a greater understanding of the events of 30 years ago. They also came away with a deeper perspective on the importance of maintaining and renewing the legacy of freedom and democracy in Slovakia and Central and Eastern Europe generally.