The Czech Embassy got its groove on June 24 with 1980s disco vibes, a laser show, and refugees’ poignant stories, to celebrate the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989.
Guests dressed like Iron Maiden, Run DMC, AC-DC, Depeche Mode, Madonna, or faux Eurotrash flocked to the Embassy of the Czech Republic to pay tribute to the Velvet Revolution, which ended almost 45 years of Communist rule in the former Czechoslovakia.
“Communism forbade heavy metal and fun,” said Daniel Kostoval, the embassy’s Deputy Chief of Mission. “People who listened to it were prosecuted.” And some rockers who played it were imprisoned.
The embassy’s photo exhibition, “The Stories of the Iron Curtain”, shows “how terrible this regime was,” Kostoval added.
Czech Embassy communications official Andrea Pohl told about her family’s escape in the middle of the night in 1986. “It had tragic consequences for our grandmother, who stayed behind.”
Pohl, then eight years old, her four-year-old brother, and their mother spent four months in a UN refugee hotel that was filled with mice and bugs, said Pohl, dressed in snug jeans and high heels.
“We arrived here Thanksgiving Day 25 years ago. We were lucky – not everyone was so lucky.”
She mentioned other refugees, portrayed in the photo exhibit, who did not make it to freedom. When she told of one refugee who died while trying to escape in a diving suit – the audience laughed!
Suddenly, a performance artist started banging on a piano, and declared, “That’s the sound of freedom. That’s the sound of life”.
The actor threw down tapes of Pink Floyd and Ozzy Osbourne. “If you take away arts, you take away hope.”
Another performance artist handed out yellow and white carnations. She explained that students gave flowers to riot police and told them, “I don’t want violence. I want peace.”
Many in the audience joined her in chanting, in Czech, “It has arrived” as she handed out small Czech flags.
One of the Velvet Revolution’s triggers was the imprisonment of the Czech rock band “Plastic People of the Universe”, convicted for “organized disturbance of the peace”.
(Here’s one of their lyrics — “Peace, peace, peace, just like toilet paper.”)
Still playing after all these years, the Plastic People’s keyboard player Josef Janicek told “The New York Times” after a 2009 concert in Prague, “We were unwilling heroes who just wanted to play rock ’n’ roll.”
Janicek added, “The Bolsheviks understood that culture and music ha(ve) a strong influence on people, and our refusal to compromise drove them insane.”
The revolution was led by music-loving playwright-dissident Vaclav Havel, who credited the band’s conviction and imprisonment with inspiring “Charter 77”. The charter criticized the regime for not implementing human rights provisions of documents it had signed. Charter 77, published in 1977, laid the foundation for the Velvet Revolution.
Havel became the last President of Czechoslovakia in 1989, and was elected the first President of the Czech Republic in June 1990 — its first democartic elections since 1946, the embassy noted.
But back to the present: DJ Tom from Prague flashed lasers in time to the 1980s-onward rock music — including the Plastic People of the Universe’s one-year-old album, whose title fit the evening — “Magical Nights”.
For more info: Embassy of the Czech Republic, www.mzv.cz/washington/, 3900 Spring of Freedom Street, NW (near Connecticut Avenue, off Tilden Street, NW), Washington, DC. 202-274-9100. [email protected] . Composer Antonin Dvorak’s 170th birthday September 8 will be celebrated in the Mutual Inspirations Festival www.mutualinspirations.org through October 28, Czech Independence Day, with about 20 events. Dvorak spent many years in the US, and his most famous composition, the “New World” Symphony, was listened to by Neil Armstrong during the first moon landing.