This week marks the fourth anniversary of the signing of the Helsinki accords. East Germany and Czechoslovakia will "celebrate" this date by initiating new forms of repression against their own citizens in direct violation of the promises they made at Helsinki.
For East Germany, the anniversary of the Helsinki Final Act will be remembered by its citizens as the day when a repressive new penal code - apparently modeled on that of the Soviet Union - will take effect. People will now face a possible three-year prison term for distributing writings disrespectful to the "socialist" way of life.
In Czechoslovakia, 10 leading members of the Charter 77 movement were apprehended this past May. The Czechoslovak authorities, apparently wise to the ways of the Western press, timed the arrests to coincide with the pope's triumphal return to Poland and so the events in neighboring Czechoslovakia passed without mention. Originally scheduled for August 10, the trial of these Czechoslovak dissidents has now been moved up to this week.
As if to underscore the authorities' contempt for the humanitarian obligations in the Helsinki Final Act, Czechoslovakia has decided to mark the anniversary with its first major show trial since the Slansky trials of the 1950s. This trial also is the first time that Czechoslovak citizens will face prison terms as a direct result of their Charter activities. Previously, the authorities have masked political repression under the rubric of currency regulations or "crimes" against East European socialism.
Many people in the West have the impression that the Charter movement has become less active. It is just the opposite. The nature of the movement and of dissent in Czechoslovakia has moved from the Soviet model (in which a small number of dissidents voice the concern of a larger group of passive citizens) to that of Poland (in which large groups of activists are diffusely organized and have special interests).
For the last year or so, the Charter has tended to function less as a core group and more as an umbrella organization.The Charter - which has a constant membership of about 1,000 people drawn from all classes and generations - continues to issue reports on various subjects of interest to Czechoslovak citizens. In researching such reports, the Charter has organized into smaller working groups - one group of Chartists issued a report on breakdowns in nuclear power plants in Czechoslovakia, while another group wrote a document on the deplorable living conditions of the Gypsy population. To keep the leadership representative, Charter spokesmen are changed at certain intervals. In addition, each Charter spokesman must represent a specific group within the Charter membership - one represents the artistic community, another the scientific world, while the third person speaks for the general interests of the membership. The Charter has also assisted in instituting an independent information system - 1,000 samizdat materials since January of 1977, a samizdat publishing enterprise, 150 books and many underground periodicals.
Many Charter members are active in various unofficial cultural activities - such as staging plays at private homes. In this way, members of the intelligentsia who are excluded from work in their professions can still be active in their chosen fields.
In May of 1978, a new organization was formed to speak out for individual cases of human-rights violations. This new group, called the Committee for the Defense of the Unjustly Prosecuted (VONS), issues information bulletins at regular intervals that draw attention to new instances of arrests, trials, imprisonments and the arsenal of petty harassment in the hands of authorities - such as the cutting off of telephones or depriving people of driver's licenses. Many Chartists are members of this new committee, which to date has released over 100 information bulletins. More recently, a special Fund for Civil Aid was established to support the families of political prisoners.
It seems that the Czechoslovak authorities had decided that all this had gone far enough and so, in the early hours of May 29, 1979, leading members of VONS were arrested: Otta Bednarova, Jarmila Belikova, Dr. Vaclav Benda, Jiri Dienstbier, Vaclav Havel, Dr. Ladislav Lis, Vaclav Maly, Dana Newmcova, Dr. Kiri Newmec and Peter Uhl. All of them have been charged with acts inimical to state interests. Peter Uhl, who has already served time in prison on political charges, is reportedly charged with subversion, a charge which carries a possible sentence of three to 10 years; the other nine are charged with acts unfriendly to the state and face possible three-year terms. Not satisfied with juridical proceedings, the last Charter spokesman not in custody, Zdena Tominova, was attacked in early June by masked men on a dark street in Prague. Mrs. Tominova was hospitalized with a brain concussion. In fact, this was not the first attack on a Charter leader - former Prime Minister Jiri Hajek was beaten in early 1977, and Ladislav Hejdanek in 1978. Despite the near certainty of reprisals from the authorities, one-quarter of the Charter membership has appealed to Czechoslovak President Husak to release the 10 arrested members.
The United States, and other Helsinki signatory countries, should protest these recent developments in East Germany and Czechoslovakia which are in direct contradiction of the Helsinki accords.