Czechs mark Charter 77 40th anniversary

The Charter 77 civic initiative was founded in January 1977 in the communist Czechoslovakia.

Currently, Czechs are celebrating the 40th anniversary of Charter 77. The movement was named after the document criticizing violations of human rights in the then socialist country, demanding that the state abide by the laws that it had previously signed and formally accepted.

A temporary memorial of Charter 77 has been unveiled in Prague. It consists of several transparent post boxes containing copies of the well-known declaration – for people passing by to take home and remind themselves of its contents. The tall column of plastic boxes positioned on top of each other is situated across the street from where the then dissident Václav Havel and his friend, actor Pavel Landovský, were finally blocked off and arrested after being chased by the communist secret service while trying to drive away like rogue villains in a thriller, having stuffed a pile of copies of the declaration in a nearby post-box to send it to other regime opponents before being busted.

Czech public TV is also airing documentaries about Charter 77 and its signatories, for example about the Czech philosopher Jan Patočka, who was one of the first spokespersons of the civic initiative, and who died shortly after his first interrogation by the communist secret service in the very same year Charter 77 was established.

Another striking aspect can be seen in the fact that the protest movement around Charter 77 sprung up as a reaction to the political trial of members of a Czech experimental rock band called the Plastic People of the Universe. They had been sent to prison for their free-thinking music, which did not fit the taste of the communist regime.

One of the ‚Plastics‘, Vratislav Brabenec, was among the first citizens to sign the document. He was interviewed by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty this week. “When I first read the charter, I said to myself – it’s such a normal letter,” recalls Brabenec. At that moment, he had not realized its impact on the Czechoslovakian society or any future consequences for him as a signatory.

After a party enjoyed in the company of a fellow rock fan, Václav Havel, on the very night he signed it, Brabenec came home and confided in his wife that he had “a feeling it was going to cause a lot of trouble, which turned out to be the case”.

In 1982 he was forced to leave Czechoslovakia to settle down in Canada. He considered himself to be just an ordinary saxophone player who signed a petition demanding that human rights be observed in his country of birth.

In the Czech Republic, the legacy of Charter 77 is still palpable. Even today, many of its signatories are key figures in public life. The anniversary is being observed with significant respect in society.


Text vznikl v rámci kurzu Angličtina pro žurnalisty Kabinetu jazykové přípravy.

foto: ČTK

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