Czechoslovakia would have been a hundred years old last Sunday, and Prague spent the weekend celebrating. I’ve been to better birthday parties. The gloomy weather didn’t help – it didn’t just rain on the parades, it poured – and the centennial narratives, never simple, were complicated further by the fact they were commemorating a state that dissolved itself in 1993.
Three weeks after the Berlin Wall opened up on 9 November 1989, I made my way from London to Prague, anxious to catch a revolutionary wave that seemed about to ebb. Within days, I had decided to stay. I was 25. A publishing company, tentatively imagining that a few adventurous Westerners might one day explore Europe's post-Communist wastelands, offered me a pittance to write a guidebook. It was a deal too good to refuse, and three years of pen-chewing ensued. But writing was never the priority. The city was a party.
Around 600 protesters gathered in Prague on Saturday morning near the Old Town Square. 'No Corruption', the banners said: 'We are One'; 'Game Over. Insert CHANGE to Continue.' We marched first to the stock exchange, then on towards the Vltava River, surrounded all the way by police, who often stopped us for no obvious reason. At one of these halts a man in plain clothes took photographs, which caused some anger, but otherwise the mood was cheerful.