An important milestone for the activities of human rights groups was the signing of the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe on 1 August 1975 in Helsinki, in particular the so-called third basket and its provisions on human and civil rights. The signing of this document has sparked the boom of opposition movements in the Soviet bloc countries where these rights have been violated.
Among the first dissident groups, which were referring to the Helsinki Final Act, were Charter 77, which was defined as "a free, informal and open community of people of different opinions, different beliefs and different professions that unite the wills individually and together to advocate respect for civil and human rights in our country and in the world - those rights that recognize both legally binding international pacts". One of the impulses to write Charter 77 was the process with the detainees of the underground group The Plastic People of the Universe in 1976. The text of Charter 77 was created in December 1976 in the apartment of the historian Jaroslav Kořen. Its main author was Václav Havel, Pavel Kohout, who also proposed the title of the documentary, adapted the text. The text of Charter 77 was completed on January 1, 1977, and in the first phase under it, 242 names were signed. In an attempt to prevent the extension of the document, the State Security (StB) detained Václav Havel, Ludvík Vaculík and Pavel Landovský on January 6, 1977, who wanted to pass the text of Charter 77 to the Federal Assembly and other institutions. However, it did not prevent its publication. The European public could first get acquainted with the text of Charter 77 in Paris's Le Monde, which came out on the evening of January 6. The following day, on January 7, 1977, the text of Charter 77, or a substantial part of it, appeared in all major world newspapers. Charter 77 brought Czechoslovakia back to the forefront of political interest not only in Europe but throughout the democratic world. Its origin has been observed with great attention from the outset in the world press, radio and television. Abroad, several initiatives have been launched to support Charter 77. Already on January 14, 1977, the International Committee for the Support of Charter 77 Principles was established in Paris and a year later the Charter 77 Foundation was established in Sweden.
The official reaction of the Czechoslovakian regime to Charter 77 was acute. Soon after seizing the text of Charter 77, the carousel of the individual signatories began. They arrested Václav Havel, the writer František Pavlíček and journalist Jiri Lederer and charged them with the crime of disbanding the republic. During the first month, roughly two hundred and thirty Charter 77 signatories were summoned to question, and fifty of them were house searches where StB confiscated mainly prints, manuscripts, and typewriters. The signatories were released from employment, under StB's permanent custody, or were forced to emigrate. Several telephone lines were canceled, which StB regretted later because it had removed the possibility of wiretapping. One of the worst events of the time is the death of Professor Jan Patočka, first spokesman for Charter 77, who died after a several hour’s long interrogation on March 13, 1977. Since his funeral on March 16, state security was fearful and hence secured some signatories to Charter 77. The ceremony itself was interrupted by a flying helicopter, roaring engines from a nearby stadium and assisting StB agents. Similarly, the StB later attempted to influence the funerals of Josef Smrkovský, František Kriegl and Václav Havel st.
In response to the repression against Charter 77 signatories, the VONS was set up to monitor and publicize the cases of people who were prosecuted and tried in Czechoslovakia in violation of Czechoslovak laws and international human rights treaties on Charter 77, and most of its members were signatories to it.
Despite the small number of signatories (until December 1989, less than two thousand), it was a major achievement that could not be ignored at that time and which had a considerable reputation abroad.
Praha, Prague, Czech Republic
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Date of founding
Members (in the COURAGE Registry)
Author(s) of this page
- Hanáková, Jitka