PRAGUE (Reuters) – Czechs celebrated the 30th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution on Sunday, flocking to central Prague for concerts and speeches to mark the end of communist rule.
The festivities took place one day after a quarter of a million Czechs rallied against Prime Minister Andrej Babis and President Milos Zeman over concerns that the pair are chipping away at democracy in the nation 10.7 million people.
The two political leaders kept a low profile during the events, though Babis paid an early-morning visit to a memorial where police beat up student protesters in 1989 – a crackdown that sparked the wider rallies against the totalitarian regime.
Babis struck a non-confrontational tone after a short visit when about a dozen protesters confronted the billionaire businessman.
“As you know, I was a member of the Communist party,” Babis said in a speech later the National Museum. “I am not proud of that.”
“And thanks to those of you who express their opinion and care about what country we live in. Although we can differ in our opinions – and we do differ – that is what political opinions are for.”
The events on Sunday offered Czechs more of a party, with the unseasonably warm weather bringing out families and offering others a chance to sip beers outside while listening to the concerts and speeches.
A reenactment of the student march wound its way through the city and allowed people to hear from dissidents who participated in the protests that ended communist rule peacefully in Czechoslovakia weeks after the Berlin Wall fell and brought dissident poet Vaclav Havel to office.
(Reporting by Michael Kahn and Jan Lopatka, Editing by Angus MacSwan)