Monday, January 18, 2021

Charter 77

A couple of weeks ago, on 6 January, was the 44th anniversary of Charta 77 (Charter 77).  Following the arrest and sentencing of members of the Plastic People of the Universe, a group of artists, writers and intellectuals produced a document that was signed by +240 people.  

Charter 77 criticised the government for failing to provide for human rights provisions which the Czechoslovak government had signed up to including the country's constitution, the Helsinki Accords and UN covenants.   

Charter 77 emphasised that it was an informal open association of people because if it was an organisation for political activity then it would have been against the law as organised opposition was illegal in Czechoslovakia.  

On 6 January, Václav Havel, Ludvík Vaculík, and Pavel Landovský were detained for trying to deliver the charter to the Federal Assembly.  The original document was confiscated by the authorities.  However, it had been smuggled out of the country and on 7 January it was published in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Le Monde, Corriere della Sera, the Times of London and the New York Times.  It was also broadcast to the country by Radio Free Europe.

The communists considered distributing the document as a political crime.  People who had signed the charter were targeted by the StB, the Czechoslovak secret police.  Many were fired from their jobs, their children were not allowed to attend university, some had their drivers' licenses suspended, while others were detained, put on trial and imprisoned.

The government never published the Charter 77 text but described it as anti-state propaganda written by traitors and imperialist agents.  On 28 January the government released its "anti-charter" arguing the government's support of human rights.  The anti-charter was endorsed by the executive committees of the Czechoslovak Writers' Union, Union of Visual Artists, the Composers' Union, the Union of Dramatic Artists, the Federal Union of Architects.  The communists required artists to sign up to the anti-charter, without ever showing them the Charter 77.  Many artists including singer Karel Gott and actor Jan Werich later claimed that they had no idea of what they were signing to, just that they were required to sign it.

People continued to sign Charter 77 and by the Velvet Revolution there were almost 2000 signatures.  The first post communist Czechoslovak parliament were among the original signers including the new president Václav Havel and foreign minister Jiří Dienstbier.   

Here are a few relatively short videos I found on YouTube about Charter 77 and the government's anti-charter.

©Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media

©Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media

©Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media

©Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media

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