By E.S. Dl. Jiri SITLER, Ambassador of Czech Republic to Bucharest
Exactly 35 years ago, on January 6, 1977, a group of 242 Czechoslovak citizens (the number grew over the years to about 1 900) signed Charter 77, a document demanding respect for internationally guaranteed basic civic rights in communist Czechoslovakia. The response was harrassment, persecution, and imprisonment, but also a wave of international support and solidarity. In those days, about 200 courageous Romanian citizens expressed their solidarity and, inspired by Charter 77, demanded respect for human rights in Romania.
Many of the Charter 77 signatories led the transition to democracy during and after the Velvet Revolution in 1989. I would like to remember those of them who helped to shape the foreign relations of the Czech state, and who died during the last year – the first democratic Minister of Foreign Affairs and later UN Special Rapporteur for Kosovo Jirí Dienstbier (+ 8.1.), the former Ambassador to Poland and serving Ambassador to Albania Markéta Fialková (+ 23.8.), the former Ambassador to Germany and Austria Jirí Grusa (+ 28.10.), and last but not least, the former Czech President Václav Havel (+ 18.12.). It is their merit that promotion of freedom and democracy belong to the priorities of the Czech diplomacy now. In his last speech, only one week before his death, Václav Havel said: “We have been attempting now, for more than 20 years already, to return the solidarity that we received, and express support for all those who are fighting for human rights in Asia and elsewhere,” and just three days before his demise he authorized letters in support of dissidents in Belarus.
With the death of these brave people, the issue of human rights does not disappear from the Czech foreign policy. Many young people joined the diplomatic service not only in pursue of their career, but because they were inspired by the democratic ethos of the Charter 77 signatories, and they feel strongly that we still have something to return – not necessarily to those who helped us before 1989, but to those who need our help now. And the inspiring power of Charter 77 is still very much visible abroad, too – many civic initiatives claim explicitly the continuity with its ideas, such as Charter 97 in Belarus, or Charter 08 in China, co-authored by the Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiabao. The desire to live in freedom is not limited only to the citizens of the Western world.
Václav Havel, Markéta Fialková, Jirí Dienstbier and Jirí Grusa died, but they left a heritage they can be proud of. They lived full and meaningful lives, and „a party is going on in heaven now,“ as a Christian friend wrote to me when he heard about the death of Václav Havel.
We thank all who expressed their sympathy personally or by signing the books of condolences for Jirí Dienstbier and Václav Havel at our embassy last year, or by writing letters, e-mails or postings on our Facebook site. And we also thank the Romanians who dared to support the Charter 77 when the communist parties ruled both our countries, as well as all those who fight for democracy and human rights anywhere in the world today.