Thursday, 24 October 2019

Book on Charter 77 anti-communist movement offers new facts

ČTK |
25 April 2018

Prague, April 24 (CTK) - 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Czechoslovakia, written by historians Petr Blazek and Radek Schovanek, includes some so far unknown circumstances and unpublished documents, Blazek has told CTK.

The book entitled The First 100 Days of Charter 77, published by Academia, will be presented on Thursday.

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

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 December 10, 1976, and the last one is the funeral of philosopher Jan Patocka (1907-1977), one of the first Charter 77 spokespersons, on March 16, 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 December 29, 1976, before the text was taken abroad.

Historians found a report about Runge's car accident in Prague centre on the same day. This may not have been a pure 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 Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany to the West safely.

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, Blazek said.

The Communists in Czechoslovakia launched a sharp campaign against Charter 77 on January 12, 1977 when an article discrediting its protagonists, including Havel and Kohout, was published in Rude pravo daily.

"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 1800 people signed the Charter 77 manifesto and its spokespersons issued over 500 documents. Under the influence of Charter 77, the Committee for the Defense of the Unjustly Prosecuted (VONS) was established 40 years ago, on April 27, 1978.

The authors will present the new book on Charter 77 on Thursday, along with other personalities connected with this dissident movement.

The event will be attended by historian Vilem Precan, who was sacked from the Czechoslovak Academy of Science in the 1970s, published his works in samizdat and later fled for West Germany, Prague Bishop Vaclav Maly, a Charter 77 spokesman at the beginning of the 1980s, underground author and publisher Frantisek Starek Cunas and Kohout. An interview with him explaining the birth of the Charter 77 appears in the book.

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