Memory of Nation


Marek Benda (1968)

  Marek Benda (1968)
Man is free but responsible

17 November

“Then came 17 November, so we met up there at three, it was to start at four. Someone there had already brought a loudspeaker, but it was borrowed from the American embassy, not that the sound was great. We wondered: How many people will come? Three hundred? Three thousand? That would be amazing! In the end, it was thirty [thousand], maybe more, it’s hard to estimate today. But we certainly felt it was an incredible amount. Because we had some agreements, we dramatically insisted on keeping to the original route of the march, that is, that we’d have the speeches there and then go to Slavín, not to the centre, to a direct confrontation. That was the first time I saw and experienced the student Růžička, alias Zifčák, who represented some independent students’ union and who declared that we were betraying the students’ interests by wanting to keep to the original route. And then I saw him again four days later, when it was clear what role he was playing in it, but just briefly. It was clear that things had taken a completely different course, not that there was some kind of student drama going on. We just knew there was some P. O. Box, where this one Růžička declared he stood for some independent students’ movement, that it was something we could connect to. And then we set off to the National Avenue, in the complete euphoria of the crowd, which headed - they didn’t let us into the centre, they led us along the embankment - but which headed down along the embankment, and really... that’s something I guess I’ll never experience again. Then perhaps at some demonstrations, like in Letná in eighty-nine, but I wasn’t even there much because I was an organiser or I was putting things together, writing speeches, something, so I wasn’t really there any more ever... The euphoria on the embankment, with the chanting, things like: ‘We’re dining at Prague Castle, who - if not us, when - if not now!’ which ended in the massacre in National Avenue, but the feeling that we were many, that already back there in Albertov, where we always had a bit of trouble with the unionists - where, by the way, Martin Mejstřík, who was later one of the main protagonists of the revolution, almost considered the one... he was there as a representative of the municipal... committee of the Socialist Youth Union, vice-chairman, and he say on the other side of the negotiations when the demonstration was being prepared, although I admit that he was one of the more reasonable ones in charge of these kind of things, but he was still a representative of the unionists. There was, I think it was Jasmanický, who spoke for them in Albertov, and he gave us a question, like, what can the municipal council of students do for the students, and the unambiguous reaction was: ‘Stand down, stand down!’ So it was clear there that it was really turned against the regime, that it was against the existing structures, that it wasn’t just some kind of gathering, and that made it highly euphoric. We would hop off home to give regular reports, to phone them off, and when we left Palacký Square, came home, dictated the report, returned therefore to the end of the march, while before we were at the head, now we came to the tail, just like before, when it was the other way round, when we led the crowd out of Albertov with my brother, when we told everyone: Turn left, respect the traffic signs. That time we ended up at the tail, then the march turned towards the centre, so we were at the head for a while, and it alternated through the course of the event. Then we came back from National Avenue twice, and we bypassed the police cordons via one of the side streets, there and back, then we had the feeling that it was blocked, that nothing was going on, that it was dissolving and people were off home. So we went home to report the next phase of things, and within an hour people started coming out from there variously beaten, bruised, that it was... that the euphoria had been followed by a massacre. And I remember that late at night Dad uttered this prophetic sentence, which I remember many more times in later years. He said: ‘Well, it’s clear that it’s begun; the problem is that the opposition isn’t quite ready yet.’”

  • born 10 November 1968 in Prague
  • his father Václav Benda signed Charter 77
  • studied at two faculties of Charles University
  • co-opted into the Czech National Council, co-author of the Constitution of the Czech Republic
  • member of parliament for the Christian Democratic Party (CDP)
  • member of parliament for the Civic Democratic Party (Civ Dems) after its merge with the CDP
  • graduated from an extramural study programme at the Faculty of Law of the West Bohemian University in Pilsen
  • chairman of the Parliamentary Committee for the Constitution and Law
  • 2012-2013, chairman of the Civ Dem parliamentary group
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