25th anniversary of Charter 77 celebrated at Senate

Vaclav Havel and Petr Pithart, photo: CTK

In light of the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Charter 77 human rights manifesto, a ceremony was held at the Czech Senate on Tuesday. This year the main focus was not just the Charter's signatories but also their family members and people who played an important role in promoting what the Charter stood for. Dita Asiedu was at the Senate and brings back this report:

Charter 77,  photo: CTK
In 1975, Communist Czechoslovakia signed the Helsinki Agreement, promising to uphold its citizen's basic civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights. When the Communist government chose to ignore its own promise, opposition activists - mainly intellectuals, and writers including current Czech President Vaclav Havel - came together to protest in January 1977 and declare the so-called Charter 77 human rights manifesto. At the time, there were 242 signatories, by 1989 the number had risen to 1800. Those who signed the Charter drew police attention, they were subject to constant police harassment, verbal and sometimes even physical attack, they often lost their jobs, and some were even imprisoned. The authorities did all they could to put pressure on them to leave the country.

For the Chairman of the Senate, Petr Pithart, Tuesday's ceremony was a very emotional event. Charter 77 signatories who are now senior political figures used the evening to thank those who helped, but did not sign, the charter. People who helped to write up documents, transported material, typists, all came together to talk about the past, present and future:

"I feel amidst friends and relatives. The Charter 77 was extremely diverse as far as political views were concerned but in spite of this fact the cohesion of the charter was very strong and this feeling after twelve years after the revolution this atmosphere prevails until today. There are many of my political opponents here today but the dialogue with them is different than that with my other political opponents. It is hard to explain but it is a very strong feeling of closeness."

Although the evening celebrated Charter 77, the Czech President, Vaclav Havel - one of the Charter's most vocal and prominent signatories - felt it necessary to stress that it only played a small role in the country's history - a history that needed to be studied and analysed as a whole in order to be understood:

Vaclav Havel and Petr Pithart,  photo: CTK
"As a Charter 77 signatory, I strongly object to the sensationalist way the press has been reporting on this issue, giving the impression that Charter 77 is something sacred. Now, 25 years on, commentators condemn those who were forced under awful pressure to sign the petition against the charter. I do not like it at all and I think that both Charter 77 and the Anti-Charter are part of our modern history. It should not be a reason to divide people. Instead we should sit down and study the phenomenon without emotions."

Senate Chairman, Petr Pithart, also said that he believed Czech people today should take a clear look at the past and come to terms with their history in order to be able to achieve the life that Charter 77 tried to promote.

"The agent of human rights is completed on paper but it is not easy to overcome fifty-five years of two totalitarian regimes so everything is right in our constitution, in our legal provisions but I think there is a lot to do here in the minds."