Return to totalitarian rule in Eastern Europe seemed impossible in 2019 when TIME magazine published a commemorative article about the 1989 Velvet Revolution that defeated the Communists from wielding influence in what eventually became the Czech Republic and Slovakia. “Days after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the same tide of freedom that had swept Berlin seemed to have come to the Czech capital,” wrote Andy Coptsa. “Police tried to beat back the demonstrators, hoping to tamp down the demand for freedom, but the people seemed to have grown immune to the brutality of the regime; the show of force only galvanized the resistance.”
Today Democracy could easily be thwarted by right wing extremism, as seen rising (and risen) in Poland and Hungary, with rumblings throughout Eastern Europe. At a commemoration of the fall of the Berlin Wall, then–German Chancellor Angela Merkel cautioned against complacency. “The values on which Europe is founded—freedom, democracy, equality, rule of law, human rights—they are anything but self-evident,” she said, “and they have to be revitalized and defended time and time again.”
With Russia in a life-and-death invasion of and war with Ukraine, countries that had once been proscribed freedom, imprisoned behind the Iron Curtain, are now trying to bolster themselves as the bulwark of Putin’s retro-agression.
Published in 2019, but only now reaching my desk because of COVID delays, Posters of the Velvet Revolution: The Story of the Posters of November and December 1989 by Filip Blazek is a reminder that a coalition of artists and designers in concert—in a civil forum—can mean the difference between defeat and victory. Long live The Velvet Revolution.
Left: General Stike. Middle: Karel-Capeck; End Single Party Rule; designer: Ivan Král. Right: The Civic Forum; designer: Frantisek Skála. Concert in Support of Students; designer unknown. Free Elections; designer unknown. Left: Back to Europe; designer unknown. Right: For a Happier Socialism; designer: Jiri Votruba. Teacher, You Don’t Have to Lie to Us Anymore; designer: Jiri Votruba. Here Comes the Civic Forum; designer: Micheal Ritttein. Civic Forum; designer: Pavel Stastney. OF Havel; designer: Rostislav Vanek.