‘1989’ photo exhibit unveiled in Instituto Cervantes Manila
DESPITE differences in culture, geography and race, the Czech Republic and the Philippines share a unique similarity in their political history. The Czech Republic and the rest of Eastern and Central Europe staged their own revolution in 1989 to end the dictatorship of a communist government, which is likened to the Philippines’ EDSA Revolution in 1985.
It is with much pride and nostalgia that the Embassy of Czech Republic in Manila, in partnership with the Spanish Embassy, organized the photo exhibit 1989 as Seen by Photographers, which opened on November 17 at the Gallery of Instituto Cervantes in Kalaw, Manila.
In commemoration of 25 years of freedom from communism in Central and Eastern Europe, the Czech Republic hopes that the exhibit will give Filipinos an insight on what they call “Year of Miracles” as shown through black and white photographs during the demonstrations that took place in different parts of Europe.
In an interview with The Manila Times, the Czech Republic’s deputy ambassador to the Philippines Jan Vytopil related, “Filipinos have their own experience of a revolution after the Marcos regime, so people here can immediately see the connection between the two countries. Filipinos can understand well what we were feeling in this symbolic year.”
The photographs, each accompanied by a short caption, provide vivid accounts of the struggle between the Communist government and the European people. Through the culmination of key events across several European countries—the independent elections in Hungary and Poland; the fall of the Berlin Wall in Germany; the Velvet Revolution in what was then Czechoslovakia; and the end of the Ceausescu regime in Romania—the Socialist Bloc gradually collapsed and the promise of unity in Europe unfolded.
‘Politics is personal’
Speaking from personal experience, Vytopil shared how people grew tired of the oppressive government in the ‘80s, and how student-activists acted as catalysts for the swift and successful fight for democracy, which eventually led to the success of Czech Republic’s Velvet Revolution.
“I was part of the student movement in my university, and during the 1980s when I started studying at the university, there was a feeling that people already had enough of the dictatorship,” he recalled.
“There was one day of massive demonstration in Prague on November 17, 1989. This was officially organized as a movement against the Nazi occupation, but it turned into a manifestation against communism.
“The communists’ oppression became the inspiration for this manifestation, and the government accused the people of treason, which they thought would be enough to stop the students from this manifestation.
“But after the news spread around the whole country, people went out and fought against the oppression. Everything happened quickly. From the time the revolution began on November 17, the Communist government was taken down after 41 years the following week. It was primarily the students who came out, but then other members of society also participated.”
Similar to accounts of Filipino activists who fought against Martial Law and the dictatorship of the late President Ferdinand Marcos, the deputy ambassador also talked about the fear of his peers during the historic fight.
“It was very difficult because we knew what would happen to us if we were not successful and the movement is oppressed. We would certainly be expelled from our university, and wouldn’t be able to continue living dignified lives. So it was a little risky, but from my point of view, since I already had run-ins with the secret police and Communist government we felt that if we didn’t succeed, then we’d have to face the consequences,” he related.
“I myself was investigated by the Czech secret police just before the fall of the [Berlin] wall, and my feeling was that if this revolution had not happened I would probably end up on the street,” Vytopil admitted.
Nevertheless, he did what he knew was right and to this day is proud to have taken an active role in fighting for the freedom his country enjoys today.
As the only embassy in the Philippines from the former Soviet bloc, Vytopil rightly believed it was fitting for the Czech Republic to spearhead the photo exhibit in the Philippines on the revolution’s 25th anniversary.
Also present at the commemorative event was European Union (EU) Ambassador Guy Ledoux, who acknowledged that the revolutions against communism in 1989, which led to the fall of the Iron Curtain—an ideological divide between the Soviet Union and the rest of Europe—is an important event in European history.
“The fall of Iron Curtain marks the end of the ideological war between communism and capitalism. It is the most important event of the last quarter of the 20th century in Europe.
“Since then, we embarked on a journey, which has been difficult in both political and economic reforms. We started accession negotiations that lasted for 15 years, until all the countries came together in what is now known as the EU.
“It took an enormous amount of work to adjust all the political and economic frameworks of all the countries to adapt to what was already in place in the European legislation. It was all very heavy and complicated, but all the countries successfully achieved that,” the EU ambassador said.
Meanwhile, Spanish Ambassador Luis Calvo related Spain’s own experience in government reform, transitioning too from dictatorship to democracy. He recognized how such events cultivated pride and solidarity among European countries as well as Filipinos.
To formally open the exhibit, Czech Republic Ambassador Jaroslav Olsa expressed gratitude for the support of the Spanish and EU embassies that continue to promote the friendship and unity of Europe.
Symbolically, in place of the traditional ribbon cutting ceremony, Olsa invited guests to light a candle, which represented peace in the Czech Republic during the time of the Velvet Revolution.
The 1989 as Seen by Photographers is ongoing until December 20 at the Gallery of Instituto Cervantes on 855 T.M. Kalaw, Ermita, Manila. Entrance is free. For more information, log on to www.manila.cervantes.es or call 526-1482; as well as the Embassy of the Czech Republic in the Philippines’ website at www.mzv.cz/manila or call 811-1155.