Czech Govt Retracts Charter 77 Statement In Response To Hunger Strike From Former Dissidents
Credit: ZM / BD.
Prague, Nov 27 (CTK) – Dissidents Jiri Gruntorad and John Bok yesterday ended their more than one-week hunger strike outside the Government Office over the low pensions paid to opponents of the Communist regime, as the government has met their demands, Gruntorad said.
Gruntorad told CTK he would nevertheless continue monitoring the government’s actions and was prepared to return to the Government Office if the government did not keep its promises regarding dissidents’ pensions.
The government understands Gruntorad’s protest, the Government Office said, which is based on an awareness of the resolution’s inconsistency with the fact that many former opponents of the Communist regime receive pensions that are many times lower than those of former StB communist secret police officers and communist functionaries.
“In our government’s defence, it must be said that it did not cause this state of affairs and, on the contrary, is taking a number of concrete steps to remedy it. However, this does not absolve us of responsibility. For humanitarian reasons, the government has decided to comply with the request of Jiri Gruntorad and to make a symbolic gesture by withdrawing its resolution on Charter 77,” the Government Office said.
According to the cabinet, this move does not mean it wants to abandon the legacy of Charter 77. It wants to remove the discrimination and humiliating obstacles inflicted on people who sought a democratic system before November 1989.
The government of Prime Minister Petr Fiala (ODS) on Saturday complied with one of Gruntorad’s demands and revoked the resolution it adopted in January 2022 endorsing the traditions of the Charter 77 human rights movement.
The hunger strikers received the decision in writing yesterday morning, government spokesman Vaclav Smolka said. After noon, Gruntorad and Bok began packing the tents and other equipment they had in the area in front of the Government Office.
Gruntorad, a 71-year-old Charter 77 signatory and founder of the Libri Prohibiti library of samizdat and exile literature, has been on hunger strike since the national holiday on Friday, November 17, the Day of Struggle for Freedom and Democracy. Bok joined him later. In addition to addressing the issue of low pensions for dissidents, Gruntorad demanded the resignation of Labor and Social Affairs Minister Marian Jurecka (KDU-CSL).
On Wednesday, Gruntorad said he would end his hunger strike if the government repealed the resolution in which it expressed its commitment to the Charter 77 traditions of struggle for human rights and democracy. On Saturday, the government complied with the request and cancelled the resolution by remote voting, though the Government Office stressed that does not mean the cabinet has abandoned the legacy.
On Wednesday, the cabinet decided that ministers would prepare proposals for legal regulation of pensions by 15 December. A legislative amendment and other measures are designed to ensure dignified pensions and adequate security in old age for those certified as participants in the anti-Communist resistance. The Government Office, the defence and labour ministries and the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes (USTR) will then provide an analysis of possible steps to grant dignified pensions to people without resistance certificates by the end of February.
In a statement yesterday, USTR recalled that Fiala’s cabinet had already fulfilled its program statement regarding the reduction of pensions for prominent Communists and is now proceeding to the next point – the settlement of pensions for dissidents and their family members.
“The (new) law will be one of the key factors in correcting the historical injustice against men, women and their family members who, despite persecution by the Communist regime, despite imprisonment, despite being bullied, despite not being able to pursue their profession, did not give up their fight for freedom,” the USTR statement reads.
The small pensions available for opponents of the Communist regime are often due to their imprisonment, forced emigration, or inability to work. They were thus unable to pay their social insurance contributions for long enough. Many people were also not allowed to work in their original profession and did only menial jobs with low earnings, which translated into low pensions.
Dissidents can apply to level up their pension to the average pension, and, if the required period of insurance payments is not met, to “soften the harshness of the law.” The Social Security Administration and the ministry then assess their case.
Charter 77 was a community of people striving to uphold the human rights to which Czechoslovakia committed itself in the 1975 Helsinki Accords. The Communists saw it as a threat to their power. Charter 77 issued its first declaration on 1 January 1977. By January 1990, 1,898 people had supported the Charter 77 declaration. It officially ceased to operate on November 3, 1992.