The brutal suppression by Czechoslovak Communist authorities of commemorative ceremonies for "Palach Week" 20 years ago this month marked the beginning of the end of the regime in the annus mirabilis 1989, according to secret police, Communist Party, and dissident documents posted today on the Web by the Czechoslovak Documentation Centre (Prague) and the National Security Archive at George Washington University (Washington, D.C.).
Various independent civic initiatives (also known in the official Communist press as "anti-state" and "anti-socialist forces") had planned to lay wreaths at the site in Prague's main Wenceslas Square where the student Jan Palach in January 1969 had burned himself to death in protest against the repression that followed the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia in August 1968. Also planned was a pilgrimage to the rural cemetery where Palach's ashes were interred.
But the Communist secret police cracked down with beatings, tear gas, and mass arrests, including the dissident playwright and future Czechoslovak president Václav Havel. The repression occurred at the exact moment in January 1989 that the signatory countries to the Helsinki Final Act (the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, or CSCE) were meeting in Vienna, and drew widespread protests from abroad, including from U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz, leading Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov, and perhaps most eloquently, American playwright Arthur Miller.
Today's Web posting includes never-before-published documents from Czechoslovak archives, including the secret police reports on the demonstrations in January 1989 and the internal Communist Party briefings and instructions (the Party line) to cadres about the events of January. Also included are key Charter 77 and other dissident and samizdat statements, and several international protests of the time.
The posting republishes the detailed chronology of events in January and February 1989, originally written by the Czechoslovak Documentation Centre for its quarterly publication Acta (Vol. 3, No. 9-12), compiled and edited by Jan Vladislav in collaboration with Vilém Prečan, titled "Czechoslovakia: Heat in January 1989" and ultimately printed in December 1989 just as the "velvet revolution" toppled the Communist regime and put former prisoner Havel in the presidential office in Prague Castle.
Visit the Web site of the National Security Archive for more information.