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This Happened

This Happened — November 17: After Prague Spring, A Smoother Revolution

In the push for an end to the Communist regime, Prague's international students took to the streets to have their demands heard on November 17, 1989. It was the beginning of what would come to be known as the Velvet Revolution.

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How did the Velvet Revolution begin?

On international students day in 1989, a student demonstration against Czechoslovakia’s one party drew around 15,000 to the nation’s capital city of Prague. The demonstrators were met with force, as the protest was suppressed by riot police.

A fabricated story about a student being killed at the protests quickly made its way around, sparking the beginning of the Velvet Revolution. In the days following the initial demonstration, the number of protestors in the city rapidly increased to 500,000, demanding an end to the country’s Communist, one party rule.

By the end of the month, there was massive turnout at the largely non-violent street demonstrations that would go down in history as the Velvet Revolution.

What did the Velvet Revolution accomplish?

The protests led the government to withdraw, abolishing the parts of its Constitution that gave the Communist party complete control. In June of the following year, Czechoslovakia would hold its first democratic elections. The country would later split into the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic.

Why was it called the Velvet Revolution?

The name Velvet Revolution refers to the final protests against the Communist regime that started in November 1989. Because Czechoslovakian protests and government reaction were much more peaceful and smooth compared to the conflict 21 years earlier that put an end to the Prague Spring anti-government activism, as well as other clashes that brought an end to the Cold War.

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

How The Kremlin Has Shut Out Wagner Fighters From War Hero Status And Veteran Benefits

They were offered high salaries, promises of honor, and state welfare. But Wagner Group fighters say Russia treated them like pariahs after they returned from the war in Ukraine.

Photo of a Wagner mercenary in full military gear standing on a rooftop in the Ukrainian city of Artemovsk, near Bakhmut, back in May

A Wagner mercenary stands on a rooftop in the Ukrainian city of Artemovsk, near Bakhmut, back in May

Irina Dolinina

Reports late last month have confirmed that soldiers from the Wagner Private Military Company have returned to the frontlines in Ukraine. Inside Russia, despite the deaths of its leaders, Yevgeny Prigozhin and Dmitry Utkin, the group continues to recruit mercenaries. The new leadership of Wagner entices potential recruits with familiar tactics — offering high salaries, patriotic discourses and dreams of heroism.

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And yet a deepening disillusionment prevails among former Wagner Group fighters, who have faced difficulties obtaining the benefits they were promised. Many have returned from Ukraine with injuries and have been unable to secure disabled status, veteran's certificates, state-funded treatment, or other entitlements pledged to all war participants.

"I returned home in April,” says 38-year-old Alexander from the Bryansk region, whose name has been changed for security reasons. “I stayed at home for a month because I was afraid to go outside. I was wounded, they took out some of the shrapnel and sent me to the front again. There are still fragments in my hand, it is rotting.”

Alexander says he went to the military registration and enlistment office to explain that he had earned a medal for courage, which should give him the right to obtain a veteran’s certificate. "They told me that there are no regulations for obtaining veteran status. I asked: 'What about the presidential decree?' They told me: 'Come on, get out of here.' So I left."

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