By December of 1989, the people of Czechoslovakia had endured over 40 years of oppressive communist rule. Prior to that, they were subjected to years of occupation by Nazi Germany – a dark period in which many of the country’s Jews were exterminated. But by 1980, something was brewing among the youth in the Eastern European country.
Nearly ten years prior, in 1971, John Lennon released his second solo album, Imagine, which became one of his most popular and was an anthem to peace and the anti-war movement. Although popular Western music was banned from being played by the communist government, Lennon himself was viewed by many young Czechs as a pacifist hero. After Lennon was murdered in 1980, rebellious young Czechs, in a nod to Lennon and in defiance of communist officials, painted his portrait on a wall in Prague, along with song lyrics and anti-communist messages.
Although the secret police continued to attempt to paint over the original messages, the wall quickly became a tableau representing freedom of speech, peace, and non-violent and peaceful rebellion against the oppressive communist regime. Today, the original messages are buried underneath many coats of paint and subsequent messages of peace and paintings of John Lennon’s face, but people still come to the wall to contribute their own messages of freedom, hope, love and everything John Lennon.
By 1989, the Velvet Revolution was in full-swing. Through non-violent protest, dissidents and activists of the country had achieved freedom from communist oppression after 41 years, and a democratic government was restored. Shortly thereafter, communism fell in Bulgaria, Romania, Poland, and Hungary.
On our visit, people from all walks of life were at the wall, adding their own messages. There was a young boy with his father, a punk-rock-dressed couple, and a teenage girl in a floral skirt. Quite fittingly, there was a street performer singing the infamous song, Imagine, for tips. Literally and figuratively, the wall and John Lennon’s messages were still bringing people together in 2012 – over three decades after his death.