Czechoslovak Ministry of Interior Memorandum, "Information Regarding the Development of the Security Situation During the Period of the 17 November Anniversary"
Despite the growing pressure for change in the autumn of 1989, Czechoslovak officials did not automatically view the November 17 commemoration as a major security risk. Unlike the other politically-charged anniversaries that had increasingly become beacons for protest, this date did not ideologically threaten communism. In fact, it had been officially recognized since World War II and in 1989, the student-organized commemoration was actually co-sponsored by the Prague communist youth organization. The fateful police crackdown on demonstrators that Friday night resulted more from errors and miscommunication than the deliberate intent to suppress the students, who until recently had comprised a relatively conservative group. Most key officials even left Prague beforehand for the weekend, only to be called back to work when strike committees started appearing. The government's surprise at the turn of events was apparent in the subdued response of security forces to the eruption of protests: police allowed students, actors and others to organize without any significant interference. Instead, agents gathered extensive information on the emerging movement through the security service's network of informers, a summary of which was presented in this November 20 report by Ministry of the Interior operations chief Vaclav Novotny.
Czechoslovak Ministry of Interior Memorandum, “Information Regarding the
Development of the Security Situation During the Period of the 17 November
20 November 1989
The Secretariat of the FMI (Federal Ministry of the Interior) operation staff
Information regarding the development of the security situation during the period of the
17 November anniversary
Internal and external enemy forces, with the aim of eliciting unrest, emotion,
chaos, and mass protests in order to destabilize the internal political situation, have
recently been growing in intensity and peaked between 17-19 November in Prague. Most
notable has been the misuse of a student gathering on 17 November during the occasion
of the fiftieth anniversary of the burial of Jan Opletal. Western media, including
broadcasters from Radio Free Europe and Voice of America, generated wide publicity for
both the demonstration preparations as well as the demonstration itself. The goal was to
provoke a mass showing patterned after the demonstrations in the GDR and thereby
create strenuous pressure on Party and State organs.
In connection with the preparations for the commemoration of Jan Opletal’s
death, there has been a notably significant radicalization of some of the university
students in Prague. At the center of the political activation of students has been the
Theatrical Academy of Performing Arts (TAPA) whose supporters, in collaboration with
the Cultural Front, have orchestrated the main role in the organization of pressure tactics.
The TAPA student rally, held on 15 November, cancelled, as part of its conclusion, the
activities of the Socialist Youth League (SSM) with the justification that it does not have
the right to represent the youth as a whole. In addition, there were demands to entertain
questions regarding the role of CPCz leaders in society. An analogous situation presented
itself at a gathering of University of Industrial Arts students in Prague on 16 November.
Additional student gatherings, planned for this week, are intended to utilize the situation
to establish a new student organization—the Independent Student Association, which is
to generate activities along the lines of the National Front.
Additional sources of the student political activation are the so-called Independent
Youth Society, headed by Tomas VODICKA and Matous RAJMONT (both are
secondary school students), and the so-called Independent Student Society, centered on
university students, headed by Milan RUZICKA (Technical University, VUT Brno),
Radek VANA (Faculty of Philosophy, Charles’s University, Prague) and Petr FIALA
(Faculty of Pedagogy, Charles’s University, Prague). Both initiatives, in terms of subject
matter, began with a policy-statement, from an appeal for a “few sentences,” and
proposed preparations to misuse the commemoration of Jan Opletal’s death as an
opportunity to denounce the role of the CPCz, as well as the activities of the SSM, and
the political system of the CSSR.
In order to thwart this design, associative and academic organs took measures to
divert crowds from the original rout from the Albertov Pedagogical Institute via Charles’s
bridge, Stepanska (St.), Opletalova (St.), to the Main Train Station and the J. Opletal
monument, to a rout from Albertov to Vysehrad and made a public announcement that
the crowd was the result of a joint activity between the SSM and unorganized students. In
consideration of the situation, the associative organs brokered a compromise to the effect
that the executive member of the so-called Circle of Independent Intellectuals, an
academic named KATETOV, would make an appearance on behalf of the independent
initiatives. His address at Albertov did not go beyond a policy-statement and was not an
openly aimed attack against the socialist structure in the CSSR.
The official program was effectively disrupted by whistling and the chanting of
unfriendly slogans such as “Destroy the CPCz monopoly,” “We want a different
government,” “String up all the communists,” “Destroy the army, State Security, and the
Peoples’ Militia”, “We don’t want Jakes,” “We don’t want Stepan,” We want a charter,”
etc. Organizers, in light of the development of the situation, did not have the opportunity
to establish order and secure the proper course of the demonstration. After the rally at
Albertov ended, the participants broke up and reassembled at Slavin 23 [cemetary in
Vysehrad], where the official mourning portion of the commemoration concluded.
Afterwards, approximately 5,000 individuals continued in a procession into the center of
Prague along the B. Engels embankment, up Narodni trida (St.) to Wenceslas Square. In
response, Narodni trida and the neighboring streets were closed by IS (Internal Security)
By around 10:00 p.m., approximately 3,000 people had assembled within the
confines of Narodni trida, of which only about 1,000 acknowledged the call to disperse
and leave the area. Those remaining lingered in the area and began sitting down on the
pavement in demonstration fashion and continued to chant unfriendly slogans. Over 15
calls to disperse went unheeded and the participants of the demonstration had over an
hour to restore order to the area. After the calls went unheeded, measures were taken to
suppress the crowd. During the course of those measures, a skirmish ensued with some of
the more aggressive participants in the demonstration. After intervening, 179 individuals
were detained, of whom approximately 145 were held for aggressive behavior directed at
the IS department. Shortly after 11:00 p.m., public order was restored. During
intervention a total of 38 individuals were injured including one member of the SNB
(National Security Committee) and one US citizen.
On Saturday, 11 November 1989, a group of students, primarily from TAPA and
[VSE]25 Prague, issued a declaration condemning the intervention of peace-keeping
units and proposed a weekly strike consisting of university students and pedagogues to
push for the creation of a special government commission to investigate the intervention
as well as other demands. In the effort to call on students to implement a general strike at
all theaters in the —SSR on 11 November, in excess of 400 individuals gathered at a
production at the Realisticky Theater in Prague.
In response to the call to theater performers, actress Milena DVORSKA walked
out at the E.F. Burian theater on Wenceslas Square on the afternoon of 11 November
1989. All Prague theaters and a few elsewhere in the CSSR (in Liberec and Datec)
responded by suspending their performances and reading the invitation to the audience.
During the afternoon hours on Saturday 18 November 1989 a gathering of around
700 people gradually formed on Narodní trida, which had been closed. After calls to
disperse, the crowd broke-up prior to 6:00 p.m., with intervention being carried out by
peace-keeping units. Ninety-six individuals were detained, of whom nine made displays
against the SNB department.
Elsewhere around the CSSR there have been no reports of peace disturbances or
In the effort to incite emotion, particularly among young people, and to elicit
additional protests, information has been distributed by means of internal antagonists and
Western communications regarding the death of Martin ŠMÍD, of the Charles’s
University Mathematics Faculty, from injuries sustained as a result of a confrontation
with peace-keeping units. This information was disclosed by “Charter 77” signatory Petr
UHL to Radio Free Europe which repeatedly aired the information on Sunday, 19
November 1989. Leaflets were then subsequently distributed providing information about
the death with a call for a general strike on 27 November 1989. Similar leaflets were
discovered in the northern Bohemian, eastern Bohemian, and southern Bohemian regions.
A further attempt to instigate anti-socialist protests and provoke the intervention
of peace-keeping units came to a head on Sunday, 11 November 1989 during the
afternoon and evening hours in downtown Prague. In implementing the security
measures, only the accessibility and safety of the highway thoroughfare was secured;
peace-keeping units were not attacked.
On 19 November 1989, National Theater play-actor Boris ROSNER and head
actor Milan LUKEŠ instigated the reading of a resolution to the audience during the
afternoon performance on the new stage at the National Theater in Prague, in which they
expressed their disagreement with the Security intervention on 17 November 1989. At the
urging of LUKES, the theater choir and those in attendance sang a theater hymn.
Afterwards they promptly dispersed. National Theater director Jiri PAUER responded by
closing the premises of the historical building and the new stage of the National Theater
and cancelled evening performances with the justification that the National Theater
would not serve to organize illegal gatherings. After director PAUER’s decision, actors
from the National Theater began to assemble in the National Theater club where they
decided to strike.
During the evening hours, CSSR cultural minister Milan KYMLICKA visited the
National Theater. In an interview with the National Theater employees, he indicated that
the CST (Czechoslovak Television) news would address the establishment of a
government commission to investigate the SNB intervention on 17 November 1989.
Those present promised that as long as the commission was established, the National
Theater actors’ club would rescind their decision to strike. At 7:30 p.m. all closely
followed the CST television broadcast. Because no announcement was made about the
creation of a government commission, National Theater actors, at the urging of Boris
ROSNER, undertook additional initiatives. ROSNER, as the spokesman for the National
Theater actors, along with three other individuals, proceeded to the front of the theater
building where, after only a short time, he was able to organize a crowd of approximately
500 people. ROSNER announced that the National Theater would strike continuously
until it was called off, the crowd chanted the slogan “OUT WITH PAUER.”
On 19 November 1989, shortly after 10:00 p.m., at the Jiri Wolker Theater, at the
location originally determined for the performance, theater employees read a declaration
to the audience explaining that the theater had joined the protest strike as an expression of
their disagreement with the Security intervention on 17 November 1989. 17 December
was determined as a substitute date for the original performance. Patrons then quietly
A petition denouncing the SNB intervention was also read at the Komorni Theater
in Plzen, where [OBRODA] branch members Stanislav NEDVED and Frantisek
JURICKA were seated in the auditorium. Similarly, the planned performance did not
During the evening hours of the same day, a “public discussion forum” took place
in the actors’ club in Prague involving the most important opposition group supporters,
representatives of the Cultural Front, and university students. The actors’ club was filled
to capacity, including the vestibule, where others followed the course of the forum on a
video display monitor. Included among the viewers in the vestibule were well-known
actors such as HANZLIK, BREJCHOVA, KANYZA, Josef DVORAK, and others.
The goal of this forum was to unify the independent initiatives and compose joint
declarations, which are to be presented to the government of the CSSR by 10
representatives on 20 November 1989. The forum was conducted by Vaclav HAVEL
who addressed the declaration and put the various alternatives to a vote, and he then read
and spoke favorably of the outcome. During the course of the discussion, appearances
were also made by well-known independent group advocates including BATTEK,
KANTUREK, HRADILEK, VONDRA, and others.
Similarly, an unidentified TAPA student emerged to read a declaration from the
TAPA students. The declaration amounted to an ultimatum for the removal of the CSSR
minister of the interior, the investigation and prosecution of subordinates who were
involved in the intervention of 17 November 1989, the abolition of stipulations regarding
the leadership role of the Party in the system, and the resignation of the current
representatives of the Party and State. On 20 November 1989 a coordinating student body
is to be created at the TAPA faculty, which is supposed to guarantee the distribution of
this declaration and thereby aid in the actualization of the general strike on 27 November.
Vaclav HAVEL supported the student declaration by suggesting that the
coordinating committee supporting the forum should meet daily in some of the Prague
theaters in order to direct and organize the student strikes; theaters, which are to similarly
strike, would be open, however, discussion clubs would be held in place of the
The aim of university students in the next few days is to travel around to various
locations around the CSSR to publicize and popularize the stated declaration in the effort
to convert the youth in secondary and vocational schools.
The forum was essentially divided by two differing opinions. A significantly
smaller camp asserted the opinion that in essence a dialogue with the current government
could be entertained provided certain changes were made, the most important of which
they considered to be the resignation of comrades Jakes, Stepan, Zavadil, Hoffmann,
Indra, and Fojtik. A notably stronger group represented by HAVEL, BATTEK, and
KANTUREK and the university student representatives, was against dialogue in any
form and supported an open confrontation with the powers of the State. Both groups
decided on the unconditional abolition of the principle of a leading role of the Party,
anchored in the institution.
The forum culminated with a declaration read and submitted for approval by
Vaclav HAVEL. This declaration, filled with comments from the discussion forum, will
be submitted to the State organs. After singing a state hymn the participants of the forum
The development of events proves that internal enemies, with foreign support,
have crossed-over to a frontal, and from their perspective, decisive attack in the effort to
further their own political goals after the pattern exhibited by Poland and Hungary. To
this end, it has been decided to actualize and utilize all reasonable means, primarily
abusing the youth for pressure tactics. These events, according to the plans of the enemy,
together with the expected economic difficulties and foreign pressure for political change,
should be the beginning of a quick series of successive events resulting in principle
political change in the CSSR.
Chief of the Secretariat of the FMI Operation Staff
To be obtained by:
RA (Regional Administration) SNB Chiefs – Ceske Budejovice, Plzeo,Usti nad
Labem, Hradec Kralove, Brno, Ostrava, Banska Bystrica, Kosice; S (Slovak) SNB Chief
main m. Bratislava, XII. S SNB; (Ministry of the Interior and Environment CSR, SSR.
[Source: UDV Archive. Documentation in connection with DMM (Defense Mobilization
Measures) announce-ments at the occasion of the17 November 1989 celebra-tions.
Collection list corresponding to OV-00174/S-89.— Type-written copy. Translation for
CWIHP by Vance Whitby.]
Czechoslovak Ministry of Interior, "Information Regarding the Development of the Security Situation During the Period of the 17 November Anniversary," 20 November 1989, trans. Vance Whitby, Cold War International History Project, Documents and Papers, CWIHP (accessed May 14, 2008).