Articles
Print This

Rep. Alcee L. Hastings, Chairman

Volume: 40

Number: 2

Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, Co-Chairman
March 15, 2007
www.csce.gov

HELSINKI COMMISSIONERS MEET WITH VACLAV HAVEL, COMMEMORATE 30TH ANNIVERSARY OF CHARTER 77 MOVEMENT



By Erika B. Schlager
Counsel for International Law

On February 27, 2007, Representative Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL) and Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), Chairman and Co-Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, met with Vaclav Havel, former president of the Czech Republic (1993–2003), world renowned human rights activist, and playwright.

“This year marks the 30 th anniversary of Charter 77’s founding, a movement that was dedicated to compelling the communist government of Czechoslovakia to abide by the international human rights agreements it had freely adopted, including the Helsinki Final Act ,” observed Chairman Hastings. “I was delighted to be able to personally share with President Havel the deep respect I have for him, for the movement he helped to found, and for his continuing leadership on human rights issues around the globe.”

Former Commission Chairman Representative Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) and Czech Ambassador Petr Kolar also participated in the discussions , which touched on issues including Russia, China, Cuba, and developments in the Middle East.

Havel was briefly in Washington early this year at the Library of Congress’ John W. Kluge Center. Librarian of Congress Dr. James Billington hosted meetings on Capitol Hill with Havel and Members of Congress. Havel addressed a joint session of Congress in 1990 and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2003.

The Charter 77 movement was founded in Czechoslovakia in 1977, originally with the support of approximately 240 signatories, each of whom signed a card stating, “I agree with the Charter 77 declaration of January 1, 1977.” The original cards have since been discovered in the Czechoslovak secret police archives.

In January, the National Museum in Prague mounted an exhibit of materials related to the Charter 77 movement. In addition, the Washington-based National Security Archives (affiliated with George Washington University), in conjunction with the Prague-based Czechoslovak Documentation Center, released a compilation of documents about the Charter 77 movement, including now-declassified State Department and CIA reporting.

Statements made by current and former leaders of the Helsinki Commission on the occasion of the 30 th anniversary of Charter 77, as published in the Congressional Record, are printed below.

____________________________________________________________________________

 

STATEMENTS REPRINTED FROM
THE CONGRESSIONAL RECORD

THE 30TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE
‘‘CHARTER 77 MOVEMENT’’
HON. ALCEE L. HASTINGS
OF FLORIDA
IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
Thursday, March 1, 2007

Mr. HASTINGS of Florida. Madam Speaker, as Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, I am privileged to add my voice today to those honoring Vaclav Havel, Czechoslovakia's first post-communist President, and the Charter 77 movement which, 30 years ago, he helped to found.

Three decades ago, the Charter 77 movement was established and its founding manifesto was formally delivered to the Communist regime in Prague. The goals of the Chartists – as signatories came to be known – were fairly straightforward: “Charter 77 [they stated] is a loose, informal and open association of people of various shades of opinion, faiths and professions united by the will to strive individually and collectively for the respect of civic and human rights in our own country and throughout the world – rights accorded to all men by the two mentioned international covenants, by the Final Act of the Helsinki conference and by numerous other international documents opposing war, violence and social or spiritual oppression, and which are comprehensively laid down in the U.N. Universal Charter of Human Rights.”

The phrase “people of various shades of opinion” was, in fact, a charming understatement regarding the diversity of the signatories. Founding members of this movement included Vaclav Maly, a Catholic priest banned by the regime; Vacla Benda, a Christian philosopher; former Trotskyite Peter Uhl; former Communists like Zdenek Mlynar and Jiri Hajek, both of whom were ousted from their leadership positions in the wake of the 1968 Soviet attack that crushed the Prague Spring reforms; and, of course, Vaclav Havel, a playwright and dramatist. Notwithstanding the many differences these people surely had, they were united by a common purpose: to compel the Communist regime to respect the international human rights agreements it had freely adopted.

Interestingly, the Charter 77 movement was never a mass dissident movement – fewer than two thousand people ever formally signed this document. But, to use a boxing analogy, Charter 77 punched above its weight. Its influence could be felt far beyond the number of those who openly signed on and, ultimately, in the battle of wits and wills with the Communist regime, Charter 77 clearly won

And most importantly, Charter 77 – like other human rights groups founded at roughly the same time in Moscow, Vilnius, Warsaw and elsewhere – looked to the Helsinki process as a vehicle for calling their own governments to account. Although it is sometimes said that the Helsinki process helped to bring down communism, it is really these grass roots movements that gave the Helsinki process its real meaning and its true legitimacy.

Thirty years ago, a small, courageous band of people came together and said, “We believe that Charter 77 will help to enable all citizens of Czechoslovakia to work and live as free human beings.” Today, we remember their struggle and praise their enduring contributions to democracy and human rights.

 

IN HONOR OF VACLAV HAVEL
SENATOR BENJAMIN L. CARDIN
OF MARYLAND
IN THE SENATE
March 13, 2007

Mr. CARDIN. Mr. President, 30 years ago, the Charter 77 movement was established with the simple goal of ensuring that the citizens of Czechoslovakia could ``live and work as free human beings.'' Today, as cochairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, I join with my colleagues in celebrating the founding of Charter 77 and honoring those men and women who, through their personal acts of courage, helped bring freedom to their country.

When the Charter 77 manifesto was issued, three men were chosen to be the first spokespersons of this newly formed movement: a renowned European philosopher, Jan Patocka; Jiri Hajek, who had been Czechoslovakia's Foreign Minister during the Prague Spring; and the playwright, Vaclav Havel. They had the authority to speak for the movement and to issue documents on behalf of signatories

Tragically, Jan Patocka paid with his life for his act of bravery and courage. After signing the charter and meeting with Dutch Ambassador Max van der Stoel, he was subjected to prolonged interrogation by the secret police. It is widely believed this interrogation triggered a heart attack, resulting in his death on March 13, 1977.

In spite of the chilling message from the regime, Jiri Hajek and Vaclav Havel continued to work with other chartists, at tremendous personal cost. Two-hundred and thirty signatories were called in for interrogation; 50 houses were subjected to searches. Many supporters lost their jobs or faced other forms of persecution; many were sent to prison. In fact, the harsh treatment of the Charter 77 signatories led to the creation of another human rights group, the Committee for the Defense of the Unjustly Persecuted, known by its Czech acronym, VONS. In October 1979, six VONS leaders including Vaclav Havel, were tried for subversion and sentenced to prison terms of up to 5 years.

Perhaps the regime's harsh tactics reflected its knowledge that, ultimately, it could only retain control through force and coercion. Certainly, there was no perestroika or glasnost in Husak's Czechoslovakia, no goulash communism as in neighboring Hungary. And so, the regime was threatened by groups that might have seemed inconsequential elsewhere: by the psychedelic band, ``Plastic People of the Universe;'' by a musical appreciation group known as the Jazz Section; by environmentalists, historians, philosophers and, of course, playwrights.

Mr. President, 1989 was an extraordinary year--a year in which the regime sought to control everything and, in the end, could control nothing. In May, Hungary opened its borders. In June, free elections were held for parliamentary seats in Poland for the first time in decades. By August, 5,000 East Germans were fleeing to Austria through Hungary every single week. Demonstrations in East Germany continued to rise, forcing Eric Honecker to resign in October. On November 9, the Berlin Wall was breached.

But while Communist leaders in other countries saw the writing on the wall, authorities in Prague continued to believe they could somehow cling to power. Ironically, the regime's repressive tactics were part of its final undoing.

On November 17, 1989, significant student demonstrations were held in Prague. Human rights groups released videotapes of police and militia viciously beating the demonstrators and these tapes were rapidly and widely circulated through the underground. Shortly thereafter, VONS received credible information that a student demonstrator had been beaten to death. The alleged death so outraged Czechoslovak society that it triggered massive demonstrations. Within days, Czechoslovakia's Communist regime collapsed like a house of cards.

As it turned out, no one had actually been killed during the November 17 protests; the story of the student death had been concocted by the secret police to discredit VONS but was all too believable. As concisely stated by Mary Battiata, a reporter for the Washington Post, ``..... a half-baked secret police plan to discredit a couple of dissidents apparently boomeranged and turned a sputtering student protest into a national rebellion.'' On December 29, Vaclav Havel--who had been in prison just a few months earlier--was elected President of Czechoslovakia by the Federal Parliament.

Jan Patocka once wrote, ``The real test of a man is not how well he plays the role he has invented for himself but how well he plays the role that destiny assigned to him.'' It seems that destiny had a particular role for Vaclav Havel, not one that he invented or envisioned for himself, but one that he has played with courage and grace, with dignity and honor. Today, we honor Vaclav Havel and the Charter 77 movement he helped to found.

 

IN HONOR OF VACLAV HAVEL AND
THE 30TH ANNIVERSARY OF
CHARTER 77
HON. STENY H. HOYER
OF MARYLAND
IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
Tuesday, February 27, 2007

 

Mr. HOYER. Madam Speaker, this year marks the thirtieth anniversary of the Charter 77 movement. Along with other colleagues from the Helsinki Commission, which I had the privilege of Chairing and Co-Chairing from 1985 to 1994, I rise today to commemorate Charter 77's extraordinary accomplishments, and to praise Vaclav Havel, a founding member of the Charter 77 movement and Czechoslovakia's first President after the fall of communism.

Twenty years ago this month, I led a Congressional delegation to Czechoslovakia – my first trip to that country. At that time, I was assured by Czechoslovak Government officials that Charter 77 was only a small group, and there was no need to have a dialogue with its members. In an apparent effort to underscore their point, the regime detained several Chartists to keep them from meeting with our delegation: Vaclav Havel, Petr Uhl and Jiri Dienstbier were all arrested in Prague; Miklos Duray was prevented from traveling to Prague from Slovakia; and although Petr Puspoki-Nagy made it to Prague, he was also immediately detained on his arrival.

Although I was deprived of the chance to meet these individuals in person, I was already well aware of their work. In fact, the Helsinki Commission's second hearing, held in February 1977, published the full text of the Charter 77 manifesto at the request of one of our witnesses, Mrs. Anna Faltus. We owe a special debt of gratitude to the late Mrs. Faltus, who worked tirelessly for decades as an advocate for a free Czechoslovakia. To this end, she made sure that the documents of Charter 77 and the Committee for the Defense of the Unjustly Persecuted were quickly translated and widely disseminated to policy makers and human rights advocates. Her effort made it possible for the Helsinki Commission to publish (in 1982 and in 1987) selected and representatives texts of the Charter 77 movement.

Looking back, the breadth of those documents is truly remarkably, touching on everything from the legacy of World War II to the country's economic situation; from contemporary music to nuclear energy. But the common thread that bound these diverse statements together was a commitment to promote and protect “the right of the individual to know and act upon his rights.” This right was freely adopted by the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic when Gustav Husak fixed his signature to the Helsinki Final Act in 1975.

It was, of course, with great interest that I discussed Charter 77 , first with Czechoslovak officials during my February 1987 trip to Prague, then with Czechoslovak parliamentarians visiting Washington in June 1988 (a delegation which included Prague Communist Party boss Miroslav Stepan), and then with the Czechoslovak delegation to the 1989 Paris Meeting of the Conference on the Human Dimension. In these meetings, as well as in correspondence with the Czechoslovak Ambassador to the United, I was told that Charter 77 didn't represent public opinion. I was warned that siding with Charter 77 would not help bilateral relations, and I was assured that democracy was coming soon to Czechoslovakia – “socialist democracy.”

Needless to say, I was not convinced by my interlocutors: I was not convinced that Augustin Navratil was actually being treated for a mental health condition, rather than being persecuted for his religious activism. I was frankly disgusted when the Czechoslovak delegation to the Paris meeting baldly lied about Jiri Wolf, telling us he had been released early from his prison sentence as a “humanitarian” gesture, and then shrugging with indifference when they were caught in their lie. Most of all, I did not believe that Vaclav Havel was a criminal and Charter 77 merely an “insignificant” group.

In fact, in 1989 Senator Dennis DeConcini and I nominated Vaclav Havel for the Nobel Peace Prize. As Senator DeConcini said, “[i]n spite of relentless harassment by the authorities, including imprisonment, repeated detentions, house searches, and confiscation of property, Havel has remained active in the struggle for human rights. . . Havel is now in prison, but he is not alone in his cause. In a dramatic move. . . over 700 of his colleagues – playwrights, producers, artists, and actors – signed a petition calling for his release and the release of others [similarly imprisoned]. For these people, like many others in his country, Vaclav Havel has become a symbol of an enduring and selfless commitment to human rights.”

Madam Speaker, on this 30th anniversary of the founding of the Charter 77 movement, I rise to commend and remember the courageous men and women, signatories and supporters, who paved the way for the peaceful transition from communism in Czechoslovakia and restoration of Europe, whole and free. On this anniversary, I give special tribute to Vaclav Havel, playwright and president, and his singular role in leading his country to freedom.

 

IN HONOR OF VACLAV HAVEL AND
THE 30TH ANNIVERSARY OF
CHARTER 77
HON. CHRISTOPHER H. SMITH
OF NEW JERSEY
IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
Tuesday, February 27, 2007

 

Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Madam Speaker, Edmond Burke once said that, “all it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” Thirty years ago, good men and women came together, and together, they ultimately triumphed over evil.

In 1987, I traveled to Czechoslovakia with a Helsinki Commission delegation led by my good friend, STENY HOYER, who was then Chairman of the Commission. We traveled there just ten years after the Charter 77 movement had been formed and, amazingly, in spite of persecution and imprisonment, they had managed to publish 350 documents during its first ten years. And it was clear during my visit to Prague that this organization was having an impact, especially when the communist authorities went to the trouble of preventing five independent activists, including Vaclav Havel, from meeting with us.

In spite of this, our delegation was able to meet with several other Charter 77 signatories and sympathizers: Libuse Silhanova, Josef Vohryzek, Father Vaclav Maly, Zdenek Urbanek, and Rita Klimova. Libuse Silhanova, then serving as a Charter 77 spokesperson, described her fellow Chartists as ``ordinary people who happen to be part of a movement.'' For a group of ``ordinary people,'' they certainly accomplished extraordinary things.

One of the most notable of these “ordinary people” was the playwright Vaclav Havel, who is today the sole surviving member of Charter 77’s first three spokespersons. At a time when most Czechoslovaks preferred to keep their heads low, he held his up. When others dared not speak out, he raised up his voice. While others hid from communism in their apartments and weekend cottages, he faced it down in prison.

In 1978, Havel wrote a seminal essay entitled, “The Power of the Powerless.” In it, he proposed a remarkably conspiratorial concept: the idea that those repressed by the Communist Lie actually had the power to “live for truth,” and that by doing so, they could change the world in which they live.

One of the people who read this essay was Zbygniew Bujak, who became a leading Solidarity activist in Poland. Bujak described the impact of Havel's message:

This essay reached us in the Ursus factory in 1979 at a point when we felt we were at the end of the road. Inspired by KOR [the Polish Workers' Defense Committee, which preceded Solidarity], we had been speaking on the shop floor, talking to people, participating in public meetings, trying to speak the truth about the factory, the country, and politics. There came a moment when people thought we were crazy. Why were we doing this? Why were we taking such risks? Not seeing any immediate and tangible results, we began to doubt the purposefulness of what we were doing. Shouldn't we be coming up with other methods, other ways?

Then came the essay by Havel. Reading it gave us the theoretical underpinnings for our activity. It maintained our spirits; we did not give up, and a year later – in August 1980 – it became clear that the party apparatus and the factory management were afraid of us. We mattered. And the rank and file saw us as leaders of the movement. When I look at the victories of Solidarity, and of Charter 77, I see in them an astonishing fulfillment of the prophecies and knowledge contained in Havel’s essay.

Vaclav Havel’s essay was not just the product of clever wordsmithing; it was an act of singular heroism. In fact, shortly after writing “The Power of the Powerless,” Vaclav Havel found himself in prison, again. And it should be remembered that others, including philosopher Jan Patocka, Havel's close friend, and Pavel Wonka, paid with their lives for their opposition to the Czechoslovak communist regime.

Vaclav Havel is a man who has always been guided by the courage of his convictions. Remarkably, his courage did not fade upon his assumption of the presidency. Indeed, he is all the more heroic for his steadfast commitment to human rights even from the Prague Castle. From the beginning, he was a voice of reason, not revenge, as he addressed his country's communist and totalitarian past. In 1993, he rightly identified the situation of Roma as “a litmus test for civil society.” And not only has he raised human rights issues in his own country but reminds the world of the abuses taking place in Cuba and China.

Throughout his presidency, he pardoned those faced with criminal charges under communist-era laws that restrict free speech. In 2001, he spoke out against the parliament's regressive religion law, which turned the clock back on religious freedom. And he has reminded other world leaders of our shared responsibility for the poor and less fortunate the world over.

On the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the founding of Charter 77, I want to join my colleagues from the Helsinki Commission in honoring Vaclav Havel and all the men and women who signed the Charter, who supported its goals, and who helped bring democracy to Czechoslovakia.

 

IN HONOR OF VACLAV HAVEL
SENATOR SAM BROWNBACK
OF KANSAS
IN THE SENATE
March 07, 2007

 

Mr. BROWNBACK. Mr. President, today I wish to join my colleagues from the Helsinki Commission in commemorating the founding of the Charter 77 movement 30 years ago, and praising Vaclav Havel, one of Charter 77’s first spokesmen and the first post-Communist President of Czechoslovakia.

Many aspects of Vaclav Havel’s biography are well known. His advanced formal education was limited by the Communist regime because of his family's pre-World War II cultural and economic status. By the 1960s, he was working in theater and writing plays. But by 1969, the Communist regime had deemed him “subversive,” and his passport was confiscated.

In 1977, he took the daring step of joining two others – Jan Patocka and Jiri Hajek – in becoming the first spokesmen for the newly established “Charter 77” movement. This group sought to compel the Czechoslovak Government to abide by the international human rights commitments it had freely undertaken, including the Helsinki Final Act.

In the 1970s and 1980s, Vaclav Havel was repeatedly imprisoned because of his human rights work. His longest period of imprisonment was 4 1/2 years, 1979-1983, for subversion. After this, Havel was given the opportunity to emigrate but, courageously, he chose to stay in Czechoslovakia. By February 1989, Havel had come to symbolize a growing human rights and democratic movement in Czechoslovakia and, that year, the Helsinki Commission nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Remarkably, in November 1989, the repressive machinery of the Communist regime – a regime that for five decades had persecuted and even murdered its own citizens – collapsed in what has come to be known as the “Velvet Revolution.”

To understand just how repressive the former regime was – and therefore how stunning its seemingly sudden demise was – it may be instructive to recall the first measures of the post-Communist leadership, introduced in the heady days of late 1989 and early 1990. First and foremost, all known political prisoners were released. Marxism-Leninism was removed as a required course from all school curricula. Borders were opened for thousands of people who had previously been prohibited from traveling freely. Control over the People's Militia was transferred from the party to the Government. The Federal Assembly passed a resolution condemning the 1968 Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia. Approximately 40 Ambassadors representing the Czechoslovak Communist regime were recalled. Newly appointed Foreign Minister Jiri Dienstbier announced that the “temporary” 1968 agreement allowing Soviet troops to remain in Czechoslovakia was invalid because it was agreed to under duress and that Soviet troops would withdraw from the country. The Politburo announced it would end the nomenklatura system of reserving certain jobs for party functionaries. The secret police was abolished. Alexander Dubcek, leader of the 1968 Prague Spring, was elected Chairman of the Federal Assembly on December 28 and, a day later, Vaclav Havel was voted to replace Gustav Husak. In February 1990, Vaclav Havel addressed a joint session of Congress.

Charter 77 paved the way for all of these things, and more: for Czechoslovakia's first free and fair elections since 1946, for the normalization of trade relations between our two countries, and for the Czech Republic's accession to NATO. Not surprisingly, the work of Charter 77 continues to inspire, as is evidenced by the adoption of the name “Charter 97” by human rights activists in Belarus, who are still working to bring to their own country a measure of democracy and respect for human rights that Czechs have now enjoyed for some years.

I am therefore pleased to recognize the 30th anniversary of the Charter 77 movement and to join others in honoring Vaclav Havel who remains, to this day, the conscience of the global community.




Countries

Czech Republic
Slovak Republic

Issues

Roma


   
 

Recent Press Releases

May 2013

November 2012

April 2011

January 2011

July 2010

January 2010

November 2009

April 2009

January 2009

November 2008

Click here for the previous year's Press Releases




Label for Featured Photo
Featured Photo
Senator Cardin and the U.S. Delegation meets with Estonian Prime Minister Andrus Ansip in Tallinn, Estonia on July 7, 2010.