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Tuesday, November 18, 1997 Published at 15:57 GMT

World: Analysis

The Velvet Revolution

In the space of just a few weeks in November 1989, the Communist system in Czechoslovakia was brought to its knees. Massive protests on the streets of Prague - often several hundred thousand strong - forced the resignation of the hard-line Communist Party leadership in what became known as "the velvet revolution."

One of the names the demonstrators shouted was that of Alexander Dubcek. He was the leader of the famous "Prague Spring" in 1968 when attempts at reform were crushed by Soviet tanks. He made a triumphant return to Prague after years in political oblivion.

[ image: Vacav Havel: playwright turned president]
Vacav Havel: playwright turned president
The real man of the hour, though, was Vaclav Havel, the playwright who was one of the leaders of the dissident Charter 77 movement. An outspoken critic of the Communists, he had spent time in prison for his beliefs. After the collapse of the Communists, he was unanimously elected President of Czechoslovakia.

Unlike some of its East European neighbours, Czechoslovakia was relatively successful economically following the fall of Communism. The most dramatic change has been in the transformation from a centralised state-controlled economy to a capitalist system. Almost 80% of industry and commerce is now in private hands.

1989 was a momentous year for eastern Europe. It was the year the Berlin Wall finally came down as pressure for reform grew in East Germany. And in Romania, the Ceascescu dictatorship, which had tried to resist the winds of change blowing elsewhere, was overthrown in a bloody uprising.

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