About this very time in 1989, hundreds of thousands of ordinary, law-abiding citizens in what used to be Czechoslovakia took to the streets of Prague and other major cities around the republic demanding democratic change.
It became known as the Velvet Revolution – the latest in a string of rebellions across much of Eastern Europe that would result in the collapse of the Soviet Union and its satellites.
Among its leaders was a most unlikely hero, Vaclav Havel, a playwright and writer who had spent time in prison and years of official harassment for daring question the supremacy of the Communist Party.
Within days of the first demonstrations, the regime had collapsed and Havel reluctantly became president.
For those of us watching half a world away, it seemed incredible.
The seemingly indestructible Soviet Empire was collapsing before our very eyes. After years of oppression, invasions, threats and lies, Communism was being confined to the dustbin of history.
Regimes in East Germany collapsed almost overnight. In Hungary, too. In Poland. In Romania, even … Surely, Cuba would be next.
Turn the clock forward 17 years.
Havel is now 70. He is no longer the democratically-elected president of the Czech Republic, a job he held in various forms, between December 1989 and 2003, when he announced his “retirement” from public life.
In reality, he remains very active.
His mission? Havel has made human rights his cause, especially in Burma, Belarus, Cuba and North Korea.
Asked why he bothers, the former dissident replied that he knows from his own experience how important it is for opposition groups in totalitarian regimes to know they have international support.
Amen to that.