Primary sources from world and global history, including images, objects, texts, and digitally-born materials – annotations by scholars contextualize sources.
The U.S. Ambassador in Prague cabled regular reports to the State Department during the Velvet Revolution. As historical sources, these cables provide rich day-to-day accounts from an informed outsider's perspective, but with certain biases: the ambassador contextualized events within the "big picture" of U. S. foreign policy and depended on embassy resources for information.... Read More »
In communist state, a newspaper article sometimes told the reader more than just what happened yesterday. Because the party maintained strict control over what could be printed or broadcast, the way the news was reported could signal political changes as well.... Read More »
Prague Embassy cable, Czechoslovak Independents Establish New Organization and List Agenda of Demands
The established opposition reacted slowly to November 17; while students and actors began mobilizing on Saturday, it was Sunday before opposition leaders met to determine their next steps. That afternoon, independent activists created Civic Forum and drew up a list of four initial demands (see document 493). This U.S.... Read More »
Prague Embassy cable, American Woman's Account of November 17 Demonstration and the Death of a Czech Student
The experience of November 17 is difficult to recapture in all its intensity and chaos. But this testimony from an American eyewitness evokes the atmosphere. Although the story comes second-hand through this November 20 U.S. embassy cable, we can still sense the trauma of that night in the description of fleeing demonstrators forced through a police "gauntlet".... Read More »
Part of any U.S. ambassador's job involves evaluating the political situation at their post. When Ambassador Shirley Temple Black arrived in Prague in early autumn 1989, most American officials agreed that the conservative Czechoslovak leadership would be in power for a while. Only a few weeks later, Black radically revised this view, presenting her reasons in this November 20 cable.... Read More »
November 17 set in motion a dramatic train of events in Czechoslovakia. But for the first few days their direction remained unclear. This U.S. embassy report on the situation through November 20 highlighted some of the unresolved issues. To begin with, the protests lacked a definite leader.... Read More »
This November 21 U.S. embassy report demonstrates the influence of the independent student strike at the beginning of the Velvet Revolution. The students' power stemmed largely from their ability to organize quickly. On November 18, student leaders in Prague had announced an immediate university strike in addition to the general strike.... Read More »
Prague Embassy cable, November 21 Morning Demonstration At Wenceslas Square: Overheard Conversations
Just a week before the Velvet Revolution began, it was smarter to look for public opinion in a family kitchen rather than on a city sidewalk. People still monitored what they said outside their homes. By November 21, the squares in Prague were becoming open forums. This embassy report described the "word on the streets" overheard by an American official's spouse that day on Wenceslas Square.... Read More »
The Civic Forum's Exposition of its Position in Public Life with a Call for Nonviolence, Tolerance and Dialogue
Uncertainty pervaded the days after the November 17 crackdown as different groups struggled to gain control of events. The rumor that a student was killed during the demonstration exemplified the overall lack of reliable information.... Read More »
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.... Read More »