]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]  ON CHARTER 77 [[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[ 
                        By Roger Scruton              (10/29/88)

  From Untimely Tracts (NY: St. Martin's Press, 1987), pp. 230-2
 [This originally appeared in the Times (London), 25 June 1985]

              [Kindly uploaded by Freeman 10602PANC]

   Ten  years  ago,  in  the  heyday  of  western  illusions, the
Helsinki accords  were signed and  the regimes  of Eastern Europe
loudly undertook  to guarantee  the liberties  of their subjects.
The  Czechoslovaks even  ratified  the International  Covenant on
Political and  Civil Rights,  which they  had signed  in 1968, so
including the covenant  in their country's  laws.  The 35 nations
who  signed the  accords recently  met in  Ottawa to  examine the
extent  to which  human rights  guaranteed  at Helsinki  had been
upheld.   Predictably, the  Soviet  block countries  permitted no
examination of their record and the meeting ended without a final
   If  we  wish to  know  what is  at  issue in  this  attempt at
dialogue,  we should  discard  the uncertain  language  of 'human
rights' and refer  instead to the reality  from which it derives:
the reality of law.   In particular we should  look at the law of
Czechoslovakia and at those citizens who have tried to uphold the
law which supposedly applies here.
   The Czechoslovak  authorities neither  applied nor  obeyed the
laws guaranteeing fundamental  rights which were  passed in 1976.
In  1977,  therefore, a  group  of courageous  citizens  signed a
document,  Charter  77,  solemnly  beseeching  the  government to
uphold its own laws  and to protect the  people against those who
violate them.  One of the three first spokesmen of Charter 77 was
the Philosopher Jan Patocka [`hook' over  the 'c']  -- a pupil of
Edmund  Husserl  and  a  writer  increasingly  recognised  as the
greatest luminary of  modern Czech culture.   Although an old man
and in  poor health, Patocka  [`hook' over the  'c'] was brutally
interrogated by  the secret  police and, as  a result,  died of a
brain haemorrhage.
   Despite this crime,  his fellow signatories  continued to step
forward to uphold the cause of justice, truth and law.  Some were
arrested  and  imprisoned  on  trumped-up  charges;  others  were
harassed   by  searches,   interrogations   and  day   and  night
surveillance; all  lost whatever privileged  they might otherwise
have enjoyed.   And yet,  every year,  three more  spokesmen step
forward  and  dutifully  expose  themselves  to  persecution  and
   Charter  77  documents  and   declarations  are  published  in
samizdat editions, which are neither mentioned nor mentionable in
the official press.  Nevertheless,  publicity afforded to them in
the West  ensures that these  documents are noticed,  not only by
the people  of Czechoslovakia (who  learned what  is happening in
their homeland  from western television  and radio),  but also by
the regime.  By degrees, this tiny institution, composed entirely
of social  outcasts, has become  the major  voice of Czechoslovak
public opinion, and one which the authorities must either silence
or listen  to.  The formidable  combination of  moral courage and
intellectual force displayed by the  Chartists has made the first
course of action increasingly difficult. Even VONS, the committee
established  to  support the  unjustly  prosecuted,  continues to
perform  its  magnificent  task in  the  face  of  exemplary jail
sentences imposed on its founders.
   The steadfast  refusal of the  Chartists to  be deflected from
their moral purpose has therefore  compelled the regime to listen
to their  utterances and  to take  whatever small  measures might
serve temporarily to  shore up its  sinking credibility.  Law are
not exactly  respected, but they  are less  flagrantly set aside;
freedoms guaranteed by the Helsinki Acts are not upheld, but they
are no  longer denounced  as bourgeois  illusions and imperialist
   Meanwhile,  however,  the regime  continues  to  prosecute its
undeclared war against the Czech  and Slovak nations, hampered by
the Chartists but not prevented by them.  In 1982 Petr Hauptmann,
a construction engineer working on  a building site at the border
crossing of Rozvadov, crossed into West Germany, hoping to settle
there  and to  earn money  so  that his  wife and  children might
follow him.   He was  interrogated at  length by  the West German
authorities  and, being  habituated  to 'socialist  law', assumed
this to be normal in the case of potential immigrants.  Meanwhile
one of his children fell seriously ill and, urged by his wife, he
returned home, having been  assured by the Czechoslovak consulate
that he would not be imprisoned.
   On return Mr Hauptmann  was charged with intentionally leaving
the republic -- a charge which he might reasonably have expected,
and the penalty for which he might reasonably have borne.  He was
also charged with  spying, the sole evidence  for this being that
he  had  been  interrogated  by  the  intelligence  service  of a
'hostile' power.  As a result he was jailed for ten years.
   The meaning  of this  case should  be understood  by those who
reflect on the Helsinki agreement.   The Prague regime wishes its
citizens to live in  a state of war; it  wishes them at all costs
to understand that  contacts with the  'enemy' are dangerous; and
it  wishes them  to feel  the  danger as  emanating not  from the
regime and its servants,  but from the West.   It seeks to negate
the  natural peace-loving  sentiments  that unite  the  Czech and
Slovak nations with the rest  of Europe, since it recognises that
it has no  other claim to legitimacy  than the mendacious promise
of protection against 'hostile' and 'imperialist' powers.
   In countering that benighted paranoia, Charter 77 continues to
make the only  real contribution to peace  that has originated in
communist  Czechoslovakia since  1968.   By reminding  us  that a
government can  be at  peace with  its neighbours  only if  it is
first at  peace with  its subjects,  and by  showing peace  to be
inseparable from the rule  of law, it provides  a lesson not only
to the  authorities in  Prague but also  to the  world.  Peace in
Europe can be achieved only when the Communist Party acknowledges
that power alone cannot be the  source of its own legitimacy, and
that a legitimate government must  bow before the law.  Those who
have sacrificed  so much in  order to bring  communism before the
law are the friends not only of their homeland, but of the entire
civilised world.

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