In Hungary, Czechoslovakia and elsewhere a powerful resistance movement emerged, one that would eventually undermine the Iron Curtain and lead to the liberation of Eastern Europe.
As Jan Surotchak reminds us, it was the intellectual elite who defied - and finally defeated - tyranny.
Today is the 40th anniversary of the Charter 77 Declaration, the foundational document for pro-democracy dissidents in Communist Czechoslovakia. On January 6, 1977, 242 leading writers, artists, musicians, poets, workers, and politicians published what was then a revolutionary demand: for their government to live up to the human rights commitments in the country’s own 1960 constitution, the 1975 Helsinki Final Accords and the various United Nations covenants on political, civic, economic and cultural rights signed by the communist government.
...On their way to present the Charter 77 Declaration to the Czechoslovak Federal Assembly and the media, Vaclav Havel, Ludvík Vaculík and Pavel Landovský were stopped by the state security forces. Along with other signatories, they were detained and interrogated, and their houses were searched on the same day, with all printed materials confiscated.
...physical copies of the Declaration had been spirited out of Prague by émigré friends of the main organizers and it was printed on January 7 in the leading German, French, British, Italian and American newspapers. Charter 77 quickly became synonymous with the Czech dissidents themselves, and the group became the focal point of pro-democratic resistance throughout Central and Eastern Europe. Havel and his compatriots achieved semi-celebrity status abroad, and their voices were amplified at home as Western media penetrated the Iron Curtain.
This, of course, brought the full fury of the police state down on Charter 77 activists, and many suffered greatly for their support. Just one week after the Charter’s release, the Prosecutor General, the Chairman of the Supreme Court, the Minister of Justice of the Czech Socialist Republic and the Prosecutor General of the Czech Socialist Republic kicked off twelve years of relentless persecution, accusing the declaration of "evoking hatred and hostility towards, or at least distrust of, the socialist social and state system of the republic.”