VONS Collection of Czechoslovak Documentation Centre
The Collection of The Committee for the Defence of the Unjustly Prosecuted (VONS) contains mainly numbered published materials called ‘Communications’ (Sdělení), which were prepared by the members of VONS in which they described cases of individuals or groups, who had been prosecuted or imprisoned because of their opinions.
Na Zátorách 6, 170 00 Praha 7 - Holešovice, Czech Republic
Show on map
Name of collection
- The Committee for the Defense of the Unjustly Prosecuted (VONS)
Provenance and cultural activities
The Collection of The VONS was founded in 1978 by historian Vilém Prečan, who, after his departure to exile, devoted himself to the systematic archiving of samizdat literature and all dissident papers. Already since the establishment of the Charter 77 in January 1977, he has documented everything relating to citizens' initiative. VONS, whose aim was to monitor and publicise cases of people who were prosecuted and tried in Czechoslovakia for political reasons in violation of Czechoslovak laws and international conventions on human rights, followed up on Charter 77 and most of its members were signatories to it. In 1978, Vilém Prečan, together with the Charter 77 documents, also began to collect VONS and other materials on individual cases of persecution of members of the Czechoslovak opposition. These materials, which were constantly threatened of being seized by state security, were archived by Vilém Prečan, and he provided copies to the Western media, press agencies, universities and human rights organisations.
These documents of Czechoslovak resistance came from Czechoslovakia through various smuggling channels, in which Prečan was still involved in during his own time in domestic opposition. In the early eighties, German diplomat Wolfgang Scheur was the most credited for smuggling literature. He was succeeded in 1986 by Canadian diplomat Peter Bakewell. This is how the largest collection of Czech and Slovak exile literature was launched. After ten years of hard work, Vilém Prečan's plans for the establishment of an archive, documentation and information center were carried out. In January 1986, the National Endowment for Democracy, a Washington NGO, provided a subsidy to the project of a documentation center in exile. Vaclav Havel's appeal on June 29, 1985 to support the center, played a major role in awarding the grant. Václav Havel pointed out the unique importance of the work of Vilém Prečan, who operated the center without an institutional background, under his own direction and with the help of only his closest friends, "almost as a private hobby". The Czechoslovak Documentation Center for Independent Literature was founded in March 1986, and beginning in November 1986, it was based in Schwarzenberg in Bavaria in Scheinfeld, on the property of Karel Schwarzenberg, at his own expense. Prečan handed over all his collections to the newly-established center. Many samizdat and exile creators supported the center and completed its samizdat and exile collections, including Ludvík Vaculík and Václav Havel, who founded and ran two of the most important samizdat publications. In September 2000, the Documentation Center and its collections were moved to the Czech Republic. In 2003, ČSDS made an agreement with the National Museum in Prague; the CSDS collections, including the exile collection, were donated to the National Museum.
Description of content
The Collection from the Committee for the Defence of Unjustly Prosecuted documents the persecution of Czechoslovak citizens from the end of the 1970s to the fall of the communist regime. The collection proves that VONS saw the defence of human rights as its frontline mission and was not only a self-defence tool for a narrow circle of dissidents, but also a prominent supporter of all those prosecuted by the regime. The collection contains the originals and copies of each VONS notice and the persecuted. There are documents on individual cases of normalisation persecution, transcripts of indictments and judicial protocols from proceedings against members of Czechoslovak dissent, informative reports on individual cases, open letters, petitions, statements and protocols from house searches.
- manuscripts (ego-documents, diaries, notes, letters, drafts, etc.): 1000-
Geographical scope of recent operation
Date of founding
Place of founding
Show on map
Creator(s) of content
Important events in the history of the collection
- completely open to the public
Author(s) of this page
- Hanáková, Jitka
Prečan, Vilém , interview by Hanáková, Jitka, September 28, 2017. COURAGE Registry Oral History Collection