What is the Velvet Carnival?

Velvet Carnival is a masked satirical parade of NGOs and civic groups, which strives to reanimate the way events of the Velvet Revolution of 17 November 1989 are remembered and commemorated. The participants embody pressing social and political issues by using oversized masks, allegorical constructions and satirical pamphlets. The festival draws its inspiration from the traditional Basel festival of Fasnacht, whose history reaches back into the Middle-Ages and for many is a source of great pride to the city. The Velvet Carnival procession comprises approximately 120–350 active participants and as much as 13 initiatives (depending on years). It took place for the first time in 2012 and 2017 will be its sixth season.

The parade takes place in the center of Prague annually at the occasion of the celebration of the fall of the communist regime which, thanks to its overall non-violent character, was nicknamed the Velvet Revolution. Instead of just nostalgically laying wreaths or holding often aggressive extremist demonstrations, the Velvet Carnival offers an alternative way to celebrate the acquired freedom in a sophisticated and joyous manner which creates space for the critical reflection of the actual social topics. The satirical approach and the language of theatre allow us to look at complex societal issues from a point of view that we often do not have access to in our everyday lives.

The Velvet Carnival draws inspiration from the Swiss carnival tradition, the world-famous Fasnacht of Basel. The participants of the Fasnacht are organized into cliques and start planning months in advance, selecting hot topics from the past year – may it be an international political event or a local Swiss scandal – and processing them critically and visually. Fasnacht, which lasts three days and three nights, is a beloved annual display of how society reflects upon its current situation in a way that is both fun and sophisticated. It might be understood as an important purifying ritual for the city. The Velvet Carnival also strives for such catharsis and likewise creates an opportunity for artists, musicians, activists, students, and other people to meet and cooperate.


Read more: An article in The Drama Review, Fall 2017, by Ronald L. Grimes