Posted on November 17, 2017
Today is the super sad anniversary of a violent response by German forces to an anti-Nazi protest by University of Prague students, in what is now Czechia. It happened in 1939.
But it is also the anniversary of the start of the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia. On the fiftieth anniversary of the anti-Nazi protest, university students organized a mass demonstration in Prague. Some 15,000 gathered and chanted anti-Communist slogans.
Unfortunately, although it sounds like the students were non-violent, the riot police sent to break up the demonstration were not, and some students were badly beaten.
Nobody died, thank goodness!
However, as all the protestors left, one man was lying in the street.
Here's where the story is tricky:
The man lying in street wasn't a student, he was an undercover police officer.
He wasn't physically hurt.
He certainly wasn't dead - and he wasn't even pretending to be dead.
I read that he was overcome with emotion.
Police officers carried the motionless man to an ambulance - and some of the students who saw this, students who WERE hurt and waiting for treatment, thought he was a dead student.
Rumors of the dead student got started, and soon all kinds of things happened:
Students and theater performers agreed to go on strike.
The demonstration of November 17 was dwarfed by 250,000 students gathering in protest a few days later, and by November 20, about 500,000 people were in the streets of Prague, protesting.
On November 24, the entire top leadership of the Communist Party resigned.
On November 27, there was a 2-hour general strike, demanding the end to a one-party state.
And on November 29, Communist rule in Czechoslovakia ended!
What we can learn from all of this is that student protests can be dangerous and violent, but they can also be non-violent, and they can also be successful! The Velvet Revolution is called "velvet" because it was largely non-violent. Even though the very first bit of the non-violent revolution was met with police brutality (riot police beating up students), the end of Communism in Czechoslovakia was mostly bloodless.
How do people celebrate International Students' Day now? In some places, students gather for demonstrations demanding free education, equal access to education, and safe campuses. In some places, students remember the Nazi repression of 1939 and the Velvet Revolution of 1989. In some places, universities have special activities honoring international students or celebrating cultural diversity.
In 2014, students from more than 40 countries coordinated demonstrations.
|International Students' Day in Rome, 2016|
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