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Wednesday, November 17, 1999 Published at 13:16 GMT

World: Europe

Remembering the Velvet Revolution

Hundreds of thousands took to the streets for days in 1989

Klara Pospisilova was a student in 1989 when she took part in the demonstrations in Czechoslovakia on 17 November, 1989, that led to the downfall of the communist government.

She spoke to Misha Glenny for BBC Radio 4's six-part Pushing Back the Curtain series and went back to Prague's National Street where the bloodiest events took place.

Click here to listen to the interview

Misha Glenny: Klara here we are on Narodni Trida, or National Street. Ten years ago this is where it happened, we're just by a little passage here where I believe some of the violent incidents took place.

Can you describe to me what you saw and what you experienced on that day?

Communism - the end of an era
Klara Pospisilova: I remember I was in the 10th or 11th row from the front, so about 50 meters from the policemen.

After about 30 minutes or an hour when we were quietly standing or sitting on the ground, singing some national song, the police started to move in from both sides.

There was a sort of panic among us because there was not enough space to move or even to breathe.

[ image: Vaclav Havel led the anti-Communist movement]
Vaclav Havel led the anti-Communist movement
I was standing near to a building and there were some cars parked along the street and the crowd pushed me among two cars, and because the pressure was so high the cars were moving towards me.

I was being squeezed between the two cars and some guys helped me and put me on the roof of one car.

There were people on the ground and some people were stepping on them - I mean they didn't want to step on them but there was nothing else they could do.

And if somebody else tried to help them he or she went down as well.

MG: Shall we go and have a look? We're right in the middle of Narodni at the moment. What number is it - 23 or 25 or something?

KP: Yes 23 or 25. So I looked to that house and I said: "Oh god, every day I pass through this street to get to my house or to university and it never came into my mind that I am going to die here."

So I said I am going through the policemen to that little square which was empty but I have to get out of here. So I decided to go to the cordon of the policemen and I just want to pass through them.

One of them he was the same age as me, he said: "OK, please go." But the one after him he beat me with a truncheon so afterwards I realised that one of my ribs was broken.

MG: So you were an 18-year-old woman trying to get out, you weren't doing anything aggressive or like that and this policeman smashed you with a truncheon?

KP: Yes, but on the other hand you can see that those policemen were not the same because the first one allowed me to go but the second one hit me.

[ image: Demonstrations gradually grew in size but there was little violence]
Demonstrations gradually grew in size but there was little violence
MG: We've just come into a passage, which is a pretty famous passage because quite a lot of bad things happened here if I remember rightly. Can you describe what this monument is?

KP: I think it's just hands of people, of students, of us and probably the symbol is we've got clean, free hands because it was one of the slogans we were shouting at the policemen.

"We have clean hands" because only the flowers, it was the only thing we had in our hands. And they were standing there fully armed.

I'm not sure if they had guns but they had flexi-glass in front of them, helmets and things like that.

MG: Did you come back to National Street the next day?

KP: Yes, I came back with my mum. It was Saturday afternoon and I said to my mum: "We have to go the centre because I am sure some people will be there, you cannot sit at home."

And my mother was at the time like 45 and she lived through the year 1968 so she was naturally a little bit scared.

But she went with me and when she saw the crowd of people in a moment she started to shout the same slogan and she was part of the crowd.

MG: So she lost her fear in that one moment?

KP: Yes, definitely in that one minute. And we came here there was a sort of small demonstration and I showed to my mum the place they reported the student Smid was killed.

But I didn't think that Martin Smid was killed by policemen but because of the pressure.

MG: It was the report of his death that really sent shockwaves around Czechoslovakia. Although Martin Smid didn't die, how important do you think it was that people thought he was dead in terms of getting everything going still further?

KP: I think it was extremely important for the generation of our parents. I think that was the moment for a lot of people of the older generation why they started to go to the streets and be active because they thought this was a kid and they have no rights to kill kids.

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