From Dan Savage:
The massive demonstrations in Prague in November of 1989 that came to be known as the Velvet Revolution began with protesters—students mostly—being beaten in the streets and ended with the fall of that country’s communist regime and chants of “Vaclav to the Castle.” (Prague’s castle is the seat of government and the presidential residence.) My then-boyfriend and I were living in Berlin in the fall 1989—living in West Berlin—and we’d just witnessed the impossible: the fall of the Berlin Wall.
After the first demonstration in Prague we went to a black market in downtown Berlin, exchanged the last of our money, and boarded a train for Prague. On the way into Prague we saw tanks and troops lined up outside the city, ready to roll in. The Czechoslovakian government was speaking openly of a “Tiananmen solution” to the “chaos” in the streets of the capitol.
Walking around the city the morning we arrived we were approached by three Czech students. After determining that we were not secret police—jeans, leather jackets, and American accents made us likelier to be secret police—they gave us some flyers. They implored us to carry the flyers out of the country with us when we left. They made sure we understood that we would have smuggle the flyers out. We would have to hide them from border guards. We would need to conceal them in our luggage, or rolled up and stuck in our toothpaste tubes, or in our underwear.
Would we take that risk for them?
They took us to the philosophy building at the university and showed us into a study hall with a long table down the center of the room. There were two dozen students seated around the table, each sitting in front of a typewriter. These students were typing and re-typing the flyers we’d just been given. The Czech people had no access to photocopiers—the communist government saw them as a threat—so each copy of the flyer had to be typed out by hand. The students seated at the table typed flyers until they’d produced enough copies to send small groups of students out into the city to look for foreigners who might be willing to smuggle them out of the country.
We stayed in the building and listened to students and professors give speeches in a large lecture hall. One of the students we met on the street translated from Czech to German so my boyfriend could follow along; my boyfriend translated from German to English so that I could. They were certain that a crackdown was coming—the Tiananmen solution—and that many of them would soon be dead or imprisoned. They were keenly aware that they were risking their lives and their futures. Before we left the philosophy building they asked us again to please take the flyers with us when we left Prague, to smuggle them out of the country, to deliver them to newspapers and television stations in the West. That way, weeks or months after it was all over, the world would find out what really happened in Prague.
Now the world is finding out in real time—via Twitter and YouTube—what’s really happening in Tehran right now. It’s the revolution in more ways than one. And here’s hoping that the demonstrators in Iran—like the students we met in Czechoslovakia—live to tell their own stories.
I still have the flyers.
Photo of Tehran from Newscom/UPN