The author is a PhD student in social psychology
When I started interviewing senior members of Public Against Violence in January 2021, I had no idea how that would change my life. Fourteen VPN members gradually told me their stories. It started with questions about their initial reaction to the police intervention against students in Národní třída in Prague, and continued by setting up a VPN and organizing meetings in Bratislava so that they would still meet as friends from time to time. I managed to become a part of their amazing experiences for a while, which rarely happens in history. Many of them indicated that they had never tried anything like this before.
I am not a historian. I didn’t try to make a historical trip. I was particularly interested in their statements about how they were able to organize successful mass events that were peaceful and full of optimism and solidarity. It is inconceivable that memories of November 1989 can evoke positive feelings and hope for change in society even today.
It can be said that this legacy of hope and justice, which arose in November 1989, is something deeply rooted in us and to which we still return today, for example in the form of marches for a decent Slovakia, but even in vaccination. The campaign that uses the 89 narrative. Fighting for freedom and feeling like we’re all in this together and even the “cover” symbol can still be used thanks to some great decisions. It is no coincidence that this “Guide to Community Mobilization” still appears all over the world, but it is a feature of the amazing team of people who organized gatherings in squares at the time in a way that still works today.
In my research, my colleagues and I in Britain are trying to understand how leadership works, because leaders can mobilize society and influence a large number of people and situations. Leadership is not a one-sided relationship, because leaders always have people behind them who give them credibility. The more supporters, the stronger the leader. This hypothesis was as valid in November 89 as it is today when we analyze the way Donald Trump mobilizes people or anyone else.
That is why I decided to go back in time and use the pleasant events of the revolution in Slovakia to help us understand the different aspects of leadership. This may not sound exceptional, but scientists will not be able to communicate directly with the leaders and ask directly about their tactics and strategic decisions that will ensure the success of the mobilization and even that people take something from it. At least it feels good that they are part of the whole.
We know how leadership works primarily from analyzes that use leaders’ speeches or interviews and questionnaires that we give out to their supporters. However, it is almost impossible to reach leaders directly, let alone leaders who have been able to change society. That’s why I focused my research on VPN executives, who have been able to talk about the events of November 89 relatively openly, perhaps because years have passed since then.
I wanted to know who the leaders were and how they made their decisions. In this way, I was able to basically understand what the organization of gatherings in the squares consisted of. I was not interested in historical facts or what exactly happened on Saturday 20 November or Sunday in The Artist, because these were stories that the participants had repeated many times before, and I think they were a little pleased with my conversations with them that did not go away. Just this classic method.
I wanted to understand how they were able to organize demonstrations that were able to evoke such strong positive feelings, solidarity with others and often unique experiences in people in the squares. One of the key decisions about the organization of meetings, which I understood from the interviews, was the logistics, such as who will provide the sound system, build the platform, and organize the venue as such.
No demonstrations had taken place before, so it was not at all common to set up a platform in the square and invite people. Perhaps that is why a good division of roles between the representatives of the VPN – who will be the speakers in the stands – the so-called bearer, who will write scripts, and who will walk around the areas and discuss with people outside Bratislava – was so important.
Just because the leaders realized that writing was an entirely different activity than their speech was an excellent step in ensuring that the meetings were meaningful to people. When we think about it, it is not uncommon, however, for actors elsewhere in the world to become objects of social change. In our country, this was a brilliant idea at the time of the fall of communism, because during communism, few dissidents were in a position to speak in front of the masses. The opposite was true,
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