TRUTH AGAINST LOVE: AAAD

The title “Truth Against Love” suggests an intention to provide an unusual insight into the course of student strikes in selected art academies that took place at the end of 1989. The goal of the research is to throw a light on the significance of what happened in the given institutions and put it into the wider context of the nationwide student strike considered to be a distinctive moment of the so-called Velvet Revolution.

The take of the research shall be confessedly selective and interpretive. Instead of authentic testimonies of the participants, it shall focus rather on the “administrative” dimension of the students’ strike as mediated by period documents though acknowledging the complementary nature of these two forms of memory in the production of historical and political “truth”.

It was already in 1990 when a few of the leading actors of the student strike wrote a manifest that mentions “the stolen revolution”. They expressed this way their dissatisfaction with an insufficient investigation into events of November 17, 1989, and a frustration from moving the political struggle from the streets to the conference rooms. The Truth Against Love project does not pose a claim to “the stolen revolution” but tries to oppose what could be called the “privatisation of sense”.

It happened in Czechoslovakia and then in the Czech Republic already in the 1990s and maybe even earlier hand in hand with gradual general delegitimisation of the state-socialist regime. After the initial enthusiasm of democracy and capitalism, the ideological vacuum that appeared after the myths of Communism disappeared was filled with a state of mind that Václav Havel labelled “the stupid mood”.

Fragmented and particular explanations offer, at best, only a complicated guideline of how to perceive the contemporary world, and, at worst, frustrating half-truths. As the later development shows, “the crisis of grand narratives” is not to be overcome so easily without succumbing to naive and potentially dangerous simplifications. Privatised sense cannot be reinstated. It needs to be seized.

Vojtěch Märc

01 AAAD

Student Strike
The idea of student strike came up already on the evening of November 17 in the midst of the students of DAMU as an immediate reaction to violent repression of demonstrations. Announced on November 18, 1989, at first by the students of DAMU and then also by others, the sit-in began on Monday, November 20, 1989, by occupying the school buildings. On Sunday, November 19, 1989, a coordinating strike committee of universities was established, at first Prague-wide and then nationwide, too. As a committee of representatives of individual schools, it coordinated the unified action of the studentship. The students were determined to continue with the sit-in until their demands are met; among them were the investigation of police intervention against students, punishment of offenders and the publication of a truthful testimony, releasing of political prisoners, abolishment of censorship, abolishment of the constitutional clause on the leading role of the Czechoslovak Communist Party, resignation of the current government and free elections. The general strike on November 27, 1989, was to affirm the universal support of students and convince the general public about the necessity of changes. The strike wasn’t supported all around; the students had to continuously defend its legitimacy. Since the ideas the students had weren’t really homogenous, one can say that their announcements were fast gaining an edge and losing the socialist rhetoric. The strike ended on December 29, 1989, when Václav Havel was elected president.

 

From the School
After November 17, the students acted as the primary agents of change. As members of the studentship, it was them who were attacked by the regime security force during the peaceful demonstration. Therefore, it was up to them to stand their ground and to gain the support of the general public by spreading the truth about the violence and lies of the regime, since the mass media was at best obscuring the facts about the current affairs. Together with famous actors, the students were touring the country, visiting factories, agricultural co-operatives or schools and talking about recent events. Photographs and video material shot during the police intervention at Národní třída were being copied and spread among the recipients hungry for information and evidence.

„In the last weeks of 1989, the streets of Prague and other cities, corners, open areas, underpasses and stations turned into a live panorama of historical events. Words both written and printed, photographs and drawings called for action, civil decisiveness and non-violent acts for the sake of shared idea of democracy. The first posters that were put up were mostly just promptly typed up using typing machines or hastily written on a piece of wrapping paper or cloth. Its authors remain anonymous, but they are those who we should thank for starting up the revolution.“[1]

The public space thus became a sovereign battleground. This space was, quite understandably, entered also by the students of the Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design (VŠUP). The students of VŠUP (but also the graduates and the workshop foremen) embraced the role of technical workers and craftsmen who, thanks to their capabilities and thanks to access to tools, were able to help with the campaign. Pavel Štastný, then a first-year student in the studio of graphic design, came with an iconic contribution when he created the logo of Občanské forum.[2] Beside such privileged tasks, there was a lot of routine, not always creative, anonymous and often hastily done work. Although ephemeral and not so visible in the retrospective, even this kind of work played a significant role in the process of revolution. School workshops equipped with copy machines served the role of important nodal points of the spontaneous campaign network, and not just for the students. A strategic position was held by the bookbinding and copy workshop managed by Vladimír Urban[3] in the basement of the corner house facing Mánes. It was already on November 18 when “there were banners painted here and being immediately sent up to streets of Prague dripping wet”.[4] Produced here were also flyers, smaller printed matter and print films with slogans which were then carried over to the printing plants.[5] The posters were calling for leaving the Czechoslovak Socialist Union of Youth, inciting the support of Občanské forum and Lidové noviny but they were also warning of the lies in mass media and so on.

The students of art academies in Prague were working together also on the so-called “Student Broadcast” (Studentské vysílání). It was the way to “occupy” the air time of Czechoslovak TV. From the beginning of December 1989 to March 1990, it was broadcasted twice a week in some thirty minutes long blocks. The news show aired contributions produced by the students of FAMU. Their colleagues from DAMU provided the segues. “Student Broadcast” started with an animated intro showing human hand as it wipes away a coloured coat from the writing “Studentské vysílání”.[6] It was created by the students of VŠUP. Together with students of AVU, they created also the scenography of the studio for segues and debates.[7]

 

In the School
“Here it is! The students of all Prague universities are on strike. The shield of UMPRUM sports a large banner SIT-IN; god knows how the students managed to hang it there.”[8]

The strike was quite spontaneously joined by almost all of the students of VŠUP. Beside the official student strike committee, there is a “spare” student committee operating in case it is needed.[9] The school building itself functions as a medium of protest. The minutes produced during the meeting of the VŠUP strike committee on November 20, 1989, attests to the importance of staying in: “The only possible solution is to stay in the school building; that is our power. It is more important than to take part in a demonstration. People on the Wenceslas Square who support us would have no one to support as soon as we leave the school. Maybe we could dispatch a few students who would take part in the demonstration and who would then tell us what happened there.” The occupation of the schools was growing in importance. But there were costs. The situation during the weeks of sitting in is obvious from demands of the local strike committee addressed to the vice-chancellor:[10]

  • 1/ Free access for all students of VŠUP and their stay in the school building continuously for the duration of the strike under the surveillance of student watch.
  • 2/ Providing the supervision by the employees of the school even in the night […]
  • 3/ Providing heating, electricity, telephone available 24 hours a day
  • 4/ Clearly indicated ongoing strike on the facade of the school building + state flag
  • 5/ Providing a kitchenette and a hot plate available 24 hours a day
  • 6/ Access to video + TV
  • 7/ Ensuring the access to washing facilities

Even the handwritten notes are telling. They document the distribution of duties among the students and attest to the significance of coordination both within the school and in the larger network.

With the ongoing student strike, the school’s administration was growing restless about re-establishing the usual operation of the school. The desire to re-establish teaching probably combined an honest pragmatism with an effort to discipline the students on the strike. The talk of punishing students for taking part in demonstrations died down pretty soon. Eventually, they could be even acknowledged for their participation on strike. It was at rector’s collegium on November 18, 1989, where rector “expressed his opinion and stance, that should the student strike still be on even on Christmas holidays and in the time of final exams, the students can count on having the semester credited as successful since together they have created and printed thousands of contemporary graphics, posters, and attended tens of spontaneously organized lectures”.

There was probably no real opposition to the student strike at VŠUP. Even the Foundational Organisation of VŠUP took its side when on November 23 it sent an open letter to Central Committee of Czechoslovak Communist Party, where it claims, among other things, that „We, the communists of VŠUP are for the socialism and rebuilding in Czechoslovakia. But we cannot allow a commando to act on our, that is on communists’ behalf.“ So it is unsurprising that the reorganisation of the school proceeded peacefully. A resigned approach of the leaving rector and the resigning teachers certainly helped. One can say they collaborated with the students. The minutes from the meeting of the Academic Council from December 20, 1989, state that the chairman of the student strike committee, “Ivan Adam, thanked the incumbent rector, professor Mikula, for his work in the office. He mentioned the important changes done in the school and highlighted the indisputable role of the rector in their promotion.” This “reciprocity” is underlined also by a letter written by Mikula and addressed to the Student Strike Committee of VŠUP:

Dear Strike Committee, dear students!

Please allow me to humbly express my admiration and gratitude for the generous, just and single-minded action and the vigorous discipline in the recent and the coming weeks filled with thrill and fight.

I know you are righteous, but also materially well secured and independent.

However, there might come a time, when you aren’t just working hard on the strike, but also celebrating the Christmas and, above all, the joyful festivities of the New Year, crowned by Mr.Havel being elected president of Czechoslovak Socialist Republic.

For these unselfish reasons please accept my contribution to the collective fund that will surely be augmented also by other teachers and employees of the school. Should there be a distribution of funds among the studios, I believe that even from my share, a part shall be used to the benefit of the students of the studio of illustration.

You have helped me to fulfil my role as a rector in difficult times. Once more, I thank you all, but above all, I thank the strike committee for mutual understanding and generous facilitation of the moments when I could with clear and serene consciousness transfer the rector’s office to my elected successor.

I wish you a happy outlook on the way you have freely chosen for yourselves!

Leaving rector,

Jiří Mikula

Prague, December 22, 1989

 

Deideologisation
The school was going through a strenuous process of “deideologisation”. It was taking place on multiple registers. It was already on November 16 – a day after the announcement at DAMU – when the founding of an independent student organisation was announced.[11] Later on, it wasn’t just ZO KSČ VŠUP that got disbanded but also the local military department; according to students, its violent mission wasn’t compatible with their art production.[12] Ideologically burdened subjects disappeared from the teaching schedules. New regulations for admittance exams were created: class origin was not to decide about the results of admittance exams anymore. The influence of the Ministry of Education got pegged down. The students won a greater say in the operation of the school. Last but not least, the cadres had to be replaced, of course. In spite of rector Mikula’s accommodating stance, nobody doubted he needed to go. New teachers were to be auditioned by a committee.[13] Students organised a secret ballot to vote on confidence towards the leading teachers; out of 16, only 5 were approved. Even the “trusted” teachers had to take part in the auditions. The state of emergency, when most of the teachers were deemed untrustworthy in the eyes of the students, is documented in the meeting of the Academic Council on January 4, 1990.[14] Final exams of the winter semester were cancelled. It was up to students whether they want to keep working on the projects they had started earlier or to focus on their own, free art practice. The consultations with teachers weren’t obligatory. In an explicit courtesy towards students, the administration, as unsettled as it was, probably considered even further changes as it is suggested by a typed document entitled “Suggestions for a discussion of teachers and employees of VŠUP” which, among other things, attests to the doubts about the necessity of annual examination of students.

 

Magazines
By the end of the 1980s, the magazines that were published in an ever growing number served as important media of the independent student initiatives. Among them, there were magazines like “Em (1. LF UK), “Situace” (FF UK), “Proto” (FŽ UK), “Kavárna” A.F.F.A. (DAMU), “CAFÉ-JOURNAL” (AMU), “Revue 88” (Brno) and much more.[15] In the spring of 1989, Student Press and Information Centre was established (under the auspice of a local branch of Socialist Union of Youth); it aggregated the printed student publications. It operated as an important information node even in the beginning of student strike after November 17.[16]

Since 1983, there was a magazine of the Faculty Council of Socialist Union of Youth of VŠUP being published under the title “ŠUM” (Noise). There was obviously no effort to publish any controversial content. Though it’s worth mentioning the dispute about its 10th issue which was to be published in May 1988.  The issue got discarded by a decision of rector Mikula, who recognised himself in the caricature on the cover (created by its editor-in-chief, Kryštof Trubáček). When the time of the strike came, this over a year old wrong could be brought openly into the light again; it was done so in a written announcement from December 11, 1989, by one of the editors of “ŠUM” , Petr Šejdl.[17] He calculated the financial (4100 Kčs) and temporal (41.66 hours) loss of the stymied production of the magazine. It was the very next day when the rector apologised for destroying the issue and promised that in the future, no one will meddle in its production.[18]

 

Patronages of Enterprises
The students of universities were trying to win over the patronages of enterprises. They were to prove the affinity of workers and students and thus legitimate the students’ demands. If needed, they could also serve as an insurance of sorts. Among the enterprises that supported the VŠUP student strike with its auspice was also Keramo Praha that promised a financial support and copy machines but that it would also adopt measures should the students encounter repression. The students of VŠUP and other schools collaborated also with Public Administration of Greenery of Prague 1; they participated in their activities in order to dispel suspicion of idleness due to strike.


[1] Josef Kroutvor, Poselství ulice: Z dějin plakátu a proměn doby, Praha: COMET, 1991, p. 147.

[2] Filip Blažek, Plakáty sametové revoluce: Příběh plakátů z listopadu a prosince 1989, Praha: XYZ, 2009, p. 65.

[3] Ibid, p. 130.

[4] Ibid, p. 79–80.

[5] Ibid, p. 71.

[6] Petr Kotek, Kronika Studentského vysílání: FAMU během listopadových událostí roku 1989, Praha: Malá Skála, 2000, p. 37.

[7] Ibid, p. 39.

[8] Report in a special issue of student magazine of Faculty of Arts, Charles University Situation published in November 20, 1989. Quoted in Josef Petráň, Filozofové dělají revoluci: Filozofická fakulta Univerzity Karlovy během komunistického experimentu (1948–1968–1989, Praha: Karolinum, 2015, p. 808.

[9] Tomáš Ctibor mentions this in the book by Milan Otáhala and Miroslav Vaněk, Sto studentských revolucí: Praha: Nakladatelství Lidové noviny, 1999.

[10] DEMANDS OF THE STRIKE COMMITTEE OF THE ACADEMY OF ARTS, ARCHITECTURE AND DESIGN FOR ENSURING THE COURSE OF THE STUDENT STRIKE AT VŠUP from November 20, 1989. Unless the publisher’s details are explicitely stated, documents available in the school archive of VŠUP are being refered to.

[11] Securitas imperii 6/I, Daily situation reports of StB from November and December 1989, p. 60.

[12] The annnounecement of the VŠUP students on strike.

[13] Cf. interview with Jiří Šetlík, http://www.transformace-umprum.cz/rozhovory23.html.

[14] Zápis ze zasedání Akademické rady ze dne 4. 1. 1990.

[15] For a detailed list of student magazines by the end of the 1980s and the beginning of 1990s, see Josef Petráň, Filozofové dělají revoluci: Filozofická fakulta Univerzity Karlovy během komunistického experimentu (1948–1968–1989), Praha: Karolinum, 2015, p. 680.

[16] Ibid, p. 803.

[17] „K znovu zrozenému ŠUMU č. 10 tentokráte v originálním vydání“.

[18] „Zápis z Rozšířeného pedagogického sboru VŠUP konaného dne 12. 12. 1989“.

Foto: Martina Nevařilová.

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In the VŠUP building during the strike. Author: Jan Jindra, 1989.

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02 ŠUM, May 1988

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03 Image Gallery

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VŠUP building at Palach Square during the student strike. Courtesy of Jan Hora’s archive.

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VŠUP building at Palach Square during the student strike. Courtesy of Jan Hora’s archive.

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VŠUP building at Palach Square during the student strike. Courtesy of Jan Hora’s archive.

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Students of VŠUP handing out flyers in front of the school building. Courtesy of Jan Hora’s archive.

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Students of VŠUP handing out flyers in front of the school building. Courtesy of Jan Hora’s archive.

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Students of VŠUP in front of the school building. Courtesy of Jan Hora’s archive.

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Protest banners in the corridor of VŠUP. Courtesy of Jan Hora’s archive.

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Students of VŠUP paint banners in the studio. Courtesy of Jan Hora’s archive.

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Drawing of posters at VŠUP. Author: Martina Nevařilová, 1989.

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In the VŠUP building during the strike. Author: Martina Nevařilová, 1989.

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Students sleeping over in their studio. Author: Martina Nevařilová, 1989.

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Students sleeping over in their studio. Author: Martina Nevařilová, 1989.

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Students of VŠUP sleeping over in the studio. Courtesy of Jan Hora’s archive.

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In the studio during the strike. Author: Martina Nevařilová, 1989.

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In the studio during the strike. Author: Martina Nevařilová, 1989.

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Lecture hall during the strike. Author: Martina Nevařilová, 1989.

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Public debate. Author: Martina Nevařilová, 1989.

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Concert in the VŠUP building in the support of the student strike. Author: Martina Nevařilová, 1989.

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Concert in the VŠUP building in the support of the student strike. Author: Martina Nevařilová, 1989.

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In the studio during the strike. Author: Martina Nevařilová, 1989.

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Impromptu canteen in plaster room. Author: Martina Nevařilová, 1989.

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In the studio of textile. Author: Martina Nevařilová, 1989.

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In the studio of textile. Author: Martina Nevařilová, 1989.

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In the VŠUP building during the strike. Author: Martina Nevařilová, 1989.

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Preparation of “St. Nicolaus“ demonstration on December 5, 1989, at VŠUP. Author: Martina Nevařilová, 1989.

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In front of the closed VŠUP building during the strike. Author: Martina Nevařilová, 1989.

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“St. Nicolaus“ demonstration on December 5, 1989, taking place in today’s Palach’s Square. Author: Martina Nevařilová, 1989.

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Building of the Faculty of Arts, Charles University. Náměstí Krásnoarmějců (Square of Red Army Soldiers) renamed as náměstí Jana Palacha (Jan Palach Square) by students of the Faculty of Arts . Author: Jan Jindra, 1989.

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The VŠUP building during the strike. Author: Martina Nevařilová, 1989.

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Posters in showcases of the Václav Špála Gallery. Author: Martina Nevařilová, 1989.

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Posters in windows of the Mánes exhibition hall. Author: Martina Nevařilová, 1989.

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The building of DAMU in Karlova street. Author: Martina Nevařilová, 1989.

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Bulletin Jaro se probudilo na podzim (Spring Awakening in the Autumn) with the Civic Forum logo by Pavel Šťastný and photographies captured at AAAD by Oleg Homola. Archive: Pavel Šťastný.

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Bulletin Jaro se probudilo na podzim (Spring Awakening in the Autumn) with the Civic Forum logo by Pavel Šťastný and photographies captured at AAAD by Oleg Homola. Archive: Pavel Šťastný.

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Sketches of Pavel Šťastný for the Civic Forum. Archive: Pavel Šťastný.

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Sketches of Pavel Šťastný for the Civic Forum. Archive: Pavel Šťastný.

04 TRUTH AGAINST LOVE

“Truth Against Love” is an original project by Vojtěch Märc. It´s very title suggests an intention to abolish the existing preconceptions about the process and meaning of student strikes at the end of 1989[1], but also about their direct and indirect consequences. It doesn’t mean to announce any new, scandalous and necessarily confrontational revelations. Rather, it means to reflect on the events from an external point of view that obviously provides an advantageous distance from the participants’ perspective (though with no intention to dispute their own claim on truth).

The take of the research shall be confessedly selective and interpretive. Instead of authentic testimonies of the participants it shall focus rather on the “administrative” dimension of the students’ strike as mediated by period documents though acknowledging the complementary nature of these two forms of memory in the production of historical and political “truth.”

The individual strike committees were being founded in the schools and at the faculties and organized through a state-wide coordination by students’ strike committee.[2] Some of the specialized colleges and high schools accentuated their expertise in their announcements, demands and enterprises. For example, the students of medical schools tended to the injured protesters, the students of journalism complained about the lack of objectivity in mass media, the students of the faculty of theology bid people to pray, the strongmen from the Faculty of physical education and sport provided security to other students…

The individual parts of Truth Against Love will focus one by one on selected art academies and their operation during students’ strike at the end of 1989, on their nature as environments, their specifics and their role in the big picture. The project will focus on the film and fine art academies, i.e. the institutions that work programmatically with graphics, photography and video. These documents and others will provide a footing for the explication.

Just like the Romanian revolution is called “a revolution televised,”[3] the Czechoslovak revolution could be deemed “theatrical.” It is a known truth that not just the students of DAMU but also the symbolical meaning of the strike of the theaters played key roles in the events, not to mention that Václav Havel was a scriptwriter. All of that confirms the theatrical, somatic and affective nature of the Velvet Revolution. Following the generally recognized images, its defining media were not just the bodies of the students but also the keys, flowers and candles.[4] Our focus on reproductive, audiovisual and information technologies will be supplemented by this media register.

This viewpoint is inspired by “media historiography,” that follows two basic premises: “media cannot be thought outside their own history” and “the history cannot be thought without the media that produce it.”[5] To a certain extent, the chosen viewpoint stems also from the contemporary – and sometimes a bit anxious and naïve – techno-optimism, but also from the contemporary urge to document and archive the course of events. This urge clearly reflects on the need for information in uncertain times, the question of the influence of mass media, the options of feedback and, finally, also the heightened historical consciousness.


[1] The strike ended on 29 December 1989 when Václav Havel was elected president.

[2] The functioning of the coordinating strike committee is described also by a state security (StB) report, see  Securitas imperii 6/I, Daily situation reports of StB in November and December 1989, p. 196–197.

[3] Already in April 1990, an international symposium took place in Budapest focusing on the role of television during Romanian Revolution. See Keiko Sei (ed.), Von der Bürokratie zur Telekratie: Rumänien im Fernsehen, Berlin: Merve, 1990 and the videos of some of the lectures: http://catalog.c3.hu/index.php?page=work&id=274&lang=EN.

[4] Even the flyer of the student movement STUHA that called for a demonstration on 17 November 1989 said „Bring a flower, see Josef Petráň, Filozofové dělají revoluci, p. 768 and 769 et al. Monika Pajerová, one of the members of STUHA movement, describes in her diary how she set out to take part in the demonstration of November 17, 1989: “[…] And I forgot the flower! Even though we had written the instruction everywhere. […] I have stormed out [of the tram at Charles Square] nearly fainting – boys, girls, the whole groups of people – and all of them had a flower! It was two students of medicine who gave me a flower. They had a whole bouquet of them in the case someone had forgotten to bring one.” Monika MacDonagh-Pajerová, Vezměte s sebou květinu! Deníky a vzpomínky z let 1980–1990, Praha: Prostor, 2014, p. 243. Bring a Flower is also a title of a 30 minutes long documentary that summarizes many testimonies of 17 November events compiled by the students and graduates of FAMU (Petr Kotek, Pavel Štingl, Magda Landsmannová). It was premiered by Czechoslovak TV on 12 December (Kotek, p. 44)

[5] Lorenz Engell, in Kateřina Krtilová and Kateřina Svatoňová (eds.), Medienwissenschaft: Východiska a aktuální pozice německé filozofie a teorie médií, Praha: Academia, 2016, p. 32–33.

Acknowledgement

We are grateful to Eva Mertová, Jiřina Dejmková and Anna Rýznarová of UMPRUM library, Jana Bartošová of National Educational Museum of J. A. Komenský, Zuzana Hadravová of Studio FAMU, Pavel Beneš, Jan Hora, Jan Jindra, Martina Nevařilová, Petr Šejdl and Pavel Šťastný for providing information and materials.

05 Project credits

Author of the Project: Vojtěch Märc
Author of Texts: Vojtěch Märc
Photo: Jan Jindra, Martina Nevařilová, Pavel Šťastný, personal archive of Jan Hora and archive of of the Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design
Online Presentation Concept, Editing and Realization: Lenka Střeláková
Translated into English: Palo Fabuš
Published: 1. 9. 2017