The Bulgarian woman from the shop downstairs is trying to get me to teach English to her son. I said yes, not because I particularly want the work but because it seemed impolite not to. Especially as it had taken ten minutes for her to communicate to me the salient points of her proposal. Her English is even worse than my Czech. She is lovely though – “Ciao Jamesei” every time I go in there to buy 4 rolls, two eggs and a packet of petra lights. I feel so very very guilty when I go to the other shop with the miserable suspicious Vietnamese woman, though I really have to if I want to buy anything I don’t know the word for.
Her son isn’t so keen though. He’s a fourteen year old basketball kid with near perfect English and a bizarre Eastern European undercut on his head. I could tell when we were talking about it that he would rather be shooting some hoops than learning about the present subjunctive. But I went along there today at the allotted time anyway and was thankful that he hadn’t turned up. So I bought 4 rolls instead.
There’s an archived article about the velvet revolution on The Guardian website today. Not of interest to most, sadly, so I have investigated the mysterious art of lj cuts for the first time.
Joy as Czech leaders quit
Little-known figure becomes new party boss – Jakes admits he underestimated problems
By Michael Simmons in Prague
Saturday November 25, 1989
A new leader was in power in Czechoslovakia last night after the resignation of the ruling Communist Party’s general secretary, Mr Milos Jakes, and the entire politburo.
The election of Mr Karel Urbanek, a relatively obscure regional leader of the Czech Communist Party, came at a crisis meeting of the central committee hours after Mr Alexander Dubcek, the author of the Prague Spring crushed by Russian tanks in 1968, appeared in triumph on Wenceslas Square to address ecstatic crowds.
Mr Urbanek was a member of the resigning politburo, which is likely to anger anti-government protesters who had been demanding a clean sweep of the country’s discredited leadership.
At the stormy central committee meeting, Mr Jakes said: ‘We have underestimated completely the processes taking place in Poland, Hungary and especially recently in East Germany and their effect and influence on our society.’
The resignations of the ruling politburo and party secretariat on the first day of a critical two-day meeting of the committee was the latest triumph for people power in East Europe hot on the heels of victories in Poland, Hungary, East Germany and Bulgaria.
In Wenceslas Square, where crowds gathered for the eighth evening in succession to demand reform, a huge graffito in English on the back of a newspaper kiosk in the heart of the square said it all: ‘It’s over! The Czechs are free!’
The central committee’s actions came as an extraordinary climax to the most extraordinary week Czechs can remember since the trauma of 1968.
The most fantastic moment came in Wenceslas Square, where demonstrations have gained in confidence with every minute of the week, when the tragic hero of 1968, Mr Dubcek, appeared on a balcony urging hundreds of thousands below to join him once again in the march to freedom and democracy.
What role he will have in the new administration – and it is certain to be substantial – was not clear last night, but there was no doubting the euphoria and the emotion which has greeted him.
‘He has come, he has come,’ the crowd shouted, adding ‘Long live Dubcek, long live Dubcek.’ His message was as succinct as it was historic but it was more than enough. No one in that vast sea of people was not with him.
‘Everyone is responsible for the future of this country and for the future of our children. We must find a way to democracy and we must fight for it, because it will not be easy.’
Mr Dubcek and leading dissidents were holding a news conference in a theatre when someone walked in and announced news of the resignations. ‘Hurrah,’ shouted Dubcek and the others, leaping to their feet, hugged joyously.
The only gloomy notes were a reference to the party men, now confined to oblivion, who have brought Czechoslovakia to what he called its present disastrous situation and to the invasions which the country had suffered over the years.
‘This country has experienced many military interventions and we will not be frightened this time,’ he said. But within hours, the sackings of the Jakes team had rendered this part of his message irrelevant.
Turning then to a generation which had not even been born at the time of the Prague Spring, he declared that the people of this city had set a perfect example by showing what could be done.
‘It is only a dream perhaps that everybody – the people, the workers and the army – should stand together but I am sure we are still able to make our dreams come true… our beloved Czechoslovakia will be free again.’
At this, there was a huge eruption of ‘good-bye Milos’, a mocking reference to the now anachronistic Mr Jakes. The official Czech news agency, CTK, said that after submitting his resignation, ‘Mr Jakes said he hoped the newly elected organs of the party will contribute to a more resolute implementation of the process of restructuring and democratisation.’
Mr Jakes had told the meeting that the country was at a ‘fatal crossroads,’ CTK reported. ‘The public justifiably had the impression that our restructuring was and is accompanied by great words, without necessary deeds,’ he told the meeting.
The central committee meeting which led to the resignations was stormy and even vitriolic at times. The tension inside the closed committee room was in contrast to the joy that was unconfined outside.
The comparatively reformist Mr Ladislav Adamec, who is himself a politburo member – and who remains for the moment as prime minister – led with some searing criticism of Mr Jakes, the party leader and the most hated man in Czechoslovakia today.
Other speakers at the meeting were angry because Mr Jakes and the hated Prague party leader, Mr Miroslav Stepan – who goes with him – had not been willing to entertain dialogue with the political opposition and had refused to initiate urgently needed reforms. By the time Mr Dubcek spoke, Prague was already awash with rumours that the bogeymen had stepped down.
The news from Moscow that even Pravda, the Communist Party newspaper was saying that the people of Czechoslovakia had lost faith in its leaders was the final writing on the wall.
In the streets, the people had taken power already. References to the bankrupt leadership brought only mass cat calls and whistling. When a helicopter passed overhead, nobody turned a hair.
The still proliferating notices and slogans pasted on nearly every wall showed that the workers had now come over. Whether the strike planned for Monday now takes place remains to be seen.