What made the Velvet Revolution so peaceful?
While, in surrounding countries, violent and drawn out overthrows were occurring, the Velvet Revolution lasted only a week and was entirely peaceful.
"I think the difference was in the leadership. The leader of the revolution was their first president, Vaclav Havel and he was the next best thing to the Dalai Lama from Tibet. That’s why they befriended each other, and I think their thinking is very similar...
The organizers of the demonstrations said to them, stay away from storefronts, so nobody pushes you and blames you that you broke the storefront glass and someone came up with the idea that the best way to express their feelings is to ring their key rings like bells, so it was very peaceful... Although the opposition may be peaceful, but the ruling people are not peaceful. As they say it takes two to tango. I think the communist party tried to suppress the demonstrations.. There was strong police actions against the demonstrations, but under the leadership of Havel, the demonstrators did not allow themselves to be provoked into any adverse action... Vaclav Havel became one of the moral leaders of the world. So, he is admired, I was just on the website of the Czech embassy in Moscow yesterday because the ambassador is a friend of mine, and it is amazing what people like Gorbachev said about Vaclav Havel. He was a moral leader, nonviolent, moral leader. And he went from being a dissident, spending a lot of time in jail, to becoming the president of the country."
Prague Spring -- Click to enlarge
Mr. Rafaeli has concluded that the reason that the Velvet Revolution was so peaceful was that its leaders were strong leaders and those leaders were able to lead their followers through a peaceful approach to revolution. It was clear to every protester in every city what the goals of their demonstrations were and it was clear to them all that to achieve complete success, they must not act out or be provoked.
Another token of good leadership was the opposition to the Velvet Revolution. In the late '60's, there was a movement for reform in Czechoslovakia. When they heard of what was going on there, the Soviets gathered up their five Warsaw Pact allies and instituted an invasion and military occupation to shut down the Prague Spring. There was very little to stand in the way of a second Russian retaliation when the Velvet Revolution was taking place. It was only due to the relaxed and open minded leadership of Gorbachev that the Velvet Revolution was able to occur.
In addition to the leadership which allowed the Velvet Revolution to blossom, many agree left over sentiments from the Prague Spring made the Velvet Revolution what it was. During the Prague Spring, which was around 1968, the hippie movement was very strong in Czechoslovakia. While communist leader Alexander Dubcek eased censorship and tried to give his country more freedom, music and fashion began to seep in from the west. Unlike in the US, this movement didn't just settle down and go away like a trend. It was shut down by the Soviets, and thus never fully left the people. The memory of those times was fondly recalled and was a symbol of anti-communism and rebellion for the next two decades. Peace was a method of resistance, so naturally, when they resisted, it was peaceful.