Street press of the Velvet Revolution


Demonstrators pray in Wenceslas Square, November, 1989.

In the fall of 1989, a University of Ostrava student named Tomas Jane traveled a dangerous circuit between Prague and Ostrava on a secret mission to share subversive street pamphlets between student organizing groups.

He rode the Czech trains with a suitcase full of leaflets and street manifestos  — bundles with hundreds of each kind. He knew that if he was discovered he would  face imprisonment, but as the Velvet Revolution gathered steam,  he knew he was on the right side of history.

Jane decided he would save one or two of the pamphlets after every trip, and then brought the pamphlets out on a visit to the US in 1990. He was concerned that they could be confiscated in a counter-revolution. Fortunately, the counter-revolution never came.

Most of these cartoons and manifestos were run off on crude mimeograph machines — the kind that were usually used for tests and handouts at  schools and universities —  The kind that were impossible for the Soviets to control.

The cartoons and other street literature of the Velvet revolution should be seen today as examples of the way that political revolutions borrow from older communications technologies as part of the social construction of communication. They also convey something of the enduring human spirit that refuses to submit to oppression.

 This canceled postage stamp equates Ladislav Adamec, who was Prime Minister of Czechoslovakia in the fall of 1989, with Joseph Stalin, the notorious Soviet dictator of the 1930s and 40s. The stamp reads “Lide Bdete,” which means “People Awaken,” a phrase used by a Czech journalist murdered by Stalin’s government. The date refers to the repression of a student demonstration in Wenceslas Square Nov. 17, 2009. The motto of the National Theatre is ‘Narod sobe’ or ‘The Nation for Itself,’ — a reference to the long Czech struggle for cultural identity epitomized by Bedrich Smetena and Antonin Dvorak in the 19th century and Vaclav Havel (among many others) in the 20th century. In this context, Narod Sobe was meant to be ironic. Underneath the cartoon of the thug-ish policeman is this line: “School play – From Theory to Practice.” In other words, the theory of Czech cultural identity had been reduced to the practice of a policemen with a club and riot shield.
nepratel Old.constitution.xed.out
“Don’t be afraid of the enemy. Dont count their numbers.”  — Quoting a national song from the 30 Years War (c. 1420s). The X suggests canceling the 4th clause of the old constitution saying the the Communist Party is the final authority in Czechoslovakia.
 Disperse.birds Beat.them.Rudolph
“Disperse, birds!” “Beat them, Rudolph. The Nation is standing behind you.”
 anoYes, We’ll have a dialogue, but you can’t brag about it. vseobencna-declaration-txt-1Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in Czech.