In world history, the idea of 'revolution' is often closely associated with violence and guerrilla warfare. Indeed many national revolutions are referred to as revolutionary "wars" for precisely that reason. Some revolutions, such as the American Revolution of the late 18th century, have involved a great deal of bloodshed, and superior military strategy has been the primary factor in deciding which side emerges victorious. However, not all revolutions have been violent, and some of the most interesting national upheavals and government overthrows have been accomplished without resorting to violence and only with peaceful agitation by the masses.
One such nonviolent revolution was the Velvet Revolution or the Gentle Revolution, which took place in 1989 in what was then Czechoslovakia. In order to understand the Velvet Revolution, it's important to have a little bit of background knowledge about the country and the region during that era.
The Communist Party of Czechoslovakia
After World War II, Czechoslovakia came under the control of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, which operated in close conjunction with communist leaders in the Soviet Union. The Communist Party came to power in 1948 and instituted many authoritarian policies, including the banning of contrarian literature and blacklisting those who had supported people or policies that the Party deemed in contrast with its own paradigm. The country operated under these policies for 40 years, leading to decreased quality of life and a poor economy.
The Decline of the Soviet Bloc
When Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in the Soviet Union in 1985, he began to institute several reform policies as leader of the Communist Party. The Soviet Union recommended that all communist nations adopt these reform policies, but the leaders in Czechoslovakia did not make any significant changes. Additionally, people in other communist states began to make changes in their governments, standing up against unfair policies and poor standards of living. These events led to unrest in Czechoslovakia, and individuals began to speak against the government more openly than they would have dared to previously.
The Berlin Wall
Towards the end of 1989, on November 9th, the government of East Germany announced that it would allow its citizens to freely visit West Germany, and vice versa. The Berlin Wall, which had previously divided the city of Berlin into East and West halves, was torn down. This was an important event that sent a message to citizens of other communist countries that a trend of openness and liberalization was underway.
On November 17th, just a few days after the fall of the Berlin wall, the Velvet Revolution began in Czechoslovakia. At first, students organized peaceful protests calling for complete restructuring of the government and demanding that the Communist Party address the country's social and economic problems. Soon, artists and art venues such as theaters began to go on strike, demanding the release of political prisoners. The country's leaders attempted to pacify the public by installing new government officials, who still supported the old ways. By November 27th, protesters were demanding that a new government be installed. A general strike occurred on that day, and a majority of the population participated, demonstrating for two hours.
During the revolution, no violence was used by the protesters or by the Communist Party. By standing together, protesting peacefully, and having patience, the people of Czechoslovakia were victorious against the Communist Party. As a result, the Communist leaders resigned and new, non-communist government was formed, led by Vaclav Havel, who acted as one of the leaders of the opposition during the revolution. Although not all of Czechoslovakia's problems were solved right away, the new democratic government led the country on a path towards economic recovery and social freedom.