Environmentalism facilitated Czechoslovakia’s Velvet Revolution of 1989

A partial transcript of Episode 18 of THE ART MOVEMENT. To listen to the full radio show, CLICK HERE.

“I was talking earlier about The Velvet Revolution, which obviously occurred at the time of Gorbachev and the time of the perestroyka, aka restructuring, and glasnost, aka openness.

During this time, other former Soviet countries gained independence from what would become Russia. I love the story of the Velvet Revolution but I wouldn’t dare to call myself an expert on just about anything, so I will refrain not only from calling myself an expert on this particular historic moment.

Still, what I will say is that over the past few days, I have found myself reading about more and digging deeper to discover new things that I did not know about it and that have come to the fore through the work of contemporary and contemporary-minded researchers.

For example, I didn’t know the role that environmentalism played in the rise of democracy in Czechoslovakia but apparently, the pollution brought about by the factories in the country and the relentless efforts of the Communist party of address it worried people so much that they started to band together in their attempts to do something about it.

The protests were so big and effective that the Communists could not ignore it and towards the end of the ’80s, several of these groups were state approved, which was a huge victory for a country where such demonstrations were heavily controlled and really encourage people to stand up for their rights and for a greater and wider representation. One of the groups that caught my eyes and is talked about in the exhibition was formed by mothers, and was called Prague Mothers.

They marched through the streets of Prague with their prams, with great concern for the future of their children. And then there was also the much more famous Rainbow movement. There is a funny motto from the time that is prominently used in the exhibition, which was used by the environmentalists of the time and reads “Even Communists have to breathe.”

One of the ways in which these and other groups that eventually gave rise to democracy in Czechoslovakia were able to garner support was through petitions. Ordinary people would travel far and wide to get people to sign petitions to the point where the support for the movement could no longer be ignored.

There are also stories of groups that would travel to rural parts of the country to inform people of what was going on in the greater cities, during a time when official information was still heavily censored. Other things that played a great role was religion, workers rights but also popular culture.”

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