European Interest

New book unveils dirty war on Czechoslovakia’s democratic movement

Flickr/Jaroslav Mrkvicka/CC BY-NC 2.0
Václav Havel, one of the founders of Charter 77 movement, later became the first post-communist president of Czech Republic.

Some so far unknown circumstances and unpublished documents are revealed in a new book, on the beginning of the Charter 77 anti-communist manifesto and movement in Czechoslovakia, written by historians Petr Blazek and Radek Schovanek. Entitled The First 100 Days of Charter 77 will be presented on April 26.

The authors depict the creation of the manifesto and its spreading practically day by day.

As reported by The Prague Daily Monitor, the first described event is a meeting between dissident writers Pavel Kohout, 89, and Vaclav Havel (1936-2011), who later became the first post-communist president of the country, in Kohout’s flat outside Prague Castle in Hradcany square on 10 December 1976, and the last one is the funeral of philosopher Jan Patocka (1907-1977), one of the first Charter 77 spokespersons, on 16 March 1977.

The book also offers brief profiles of many Charter 77 signatories, memories of people involved in the movement, photographs as well as records kept on them by the Communist secret police (StB).

“We have reconstructed the beginning of Charter 77 and its publication abroad in detail, including the help by the Embassy of West Germany in Prague, which played a key role in mediating the information across the border,” Blazek said.

Kohout managed to get the Charter 77 manifesto to West Germany through German diplomat Wolfgang Runge. The StB registered their meeting on 29 December 1976 before the text was taken abroad.

Historians found a report about Runge’s car accident in Prague centre on the same day. And it may not have been an accident since he collided with a car driven by an StB collaborator, Blazek said. “This may have been a warning sent to the diplomat,” he added.

Despite that, the Charter 77 text got from the German embassy to the West safely.

According to Blazek, Charter 77 stirred up a broader response in the world. Czechoslovakia appeared on front pages of the Western press and TV and radio reports on the manifesto were broadcast.

“After world dailies published information on Charter 77, house searches, interrogations and arrests occurred almost every day along with other repressions, such as dismissals from work,” Blazek recalled.

Until the collapse of the communist regime in November 1989, more than 1,800 people signed the Charter 77 manifesto and its spokespersons issued over 500 documents.

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