In 1864, Wisconsin journalist Christopher Sholes and friend Samuel W. Soulé received a patent for a page numbering machine. Carlos Glidden, a mechanic and an inventor himself, proposed that the invention be improved upon to print letters, drawing inspiration from John Pratt’s unsuccessful “pterotype” printing machine that used piano keys for input. The prototype was patented in 1868, and Sholes earned two more patents for improvements before selling the rights to the Remington Arms Company for $12,000 in 1873. Sholes re-engineered the product once again, developing the modern QWERTY keyboard to slow down typing speed to prevent machine jamming. The first Sholes & Glidden Type Writer was mounted onto a sewing machine table and used a treadle for carriage return; the tabletop model replaced the treadle with a large button on the right side of the machine.
During the Cold War, the underground press thrived in many Warsaw Pact nations such as the Soviet Union, Poland, and Czechoslovakia. The sheer size of conventional printing presses (which nevertheless had already been seized by the ruling authorities) made their use for clandestine publication impossible. The portable and easily-concealable typewriter, used in conjunction with carbon paper or mimeograph machines, enabled mass circulation of samizdat (underground periodicals), pamphlets, petitions, etc. These publications enabled dissident groups to organize and to spread information about government abuses to fellow citizens and to Western nations.
Cardinal Frantisek Tomasek, Archbishop of Prague (1909-2001)
Charter 77 (Charta 77), signers
Committee for the Defense of the Unjustly Prosecuted (Výbor na obranu nespravedlivě stíhaných)
Civic Forum (Občanské Fórum)
Public Against Violence (Veřejnost Proti Násilí)
On January 1, 1977, 243 Czech dissidents signed a document titled Charter 77. The petition demanded that the Communist government adhere to the human rights provisions of the Helsinki Accords of 1975. By 1989 about two thousand people had signed the Charter, most having done so that year. Among the original signers were playwright Václav Havel, philosopher Jan Patocka, and former Communist foreign minister Jiri Hajek (who had been ousted for his refusal to voice support for the 1968 Soviet invasion). The three served as the original spokesmen for the Charter. Havel was shortly arrested, and spent several months in prison, followed by house arrest through 1979. Patocka died during interrogation. Virtually all other signatories were persecuted by the government.
To bring attention to this state oppression against the Chartists, Havel co-founded the Committee for the Defense of the Unjustly Prosecuted (Výbor na obranu nespravedlivě stíhaných - VONS) in 1978. In his book Revolution by Candlelight, Bud Bultman describes the organization's mission:
"VONS was established to operate as...a parallel system of legal aid. The committee kept tabs on the cases of political dissidents facing trial and imprisonment, documented cases of police brutality and government injustice, and organized financial help for the families of prisoners. As a result, the committee members found themselves the target of the repression they were trying to combat."
The Czech government cracked down on VONS in 1979, arresting ten of its leaders, including Havel, Father Václav Maly, and Catholic layman Václav Benda. Maly was later released, but Havel and Benda faced trial along with two others. All were convicted; Havel, Benda, and samizdat (underground press) publisher Jiri Dienstbier were sent to Hermanice Prison in Moravia for four and a half, four, and three years, respectively.
In the early days of his office as Archbishop of Prague, Cardinal Frantisek Tomasek avoided open criticism of the government, but later followed the lead of Pope John Paul II as the latter actively called for religious freedom in Eastern Europe. In 1983, Chartist and theologian Dr. Josef Zverina anonymously wrote a letter protesting workplace and classroom religious discrimination. When the authorities learned the author's identity, they demanded that Tomasek publicly denounce the letter; he refused. A meeting with Zverina led to cooperation between the Archdiocese and the underground church, that community of dissident priests who had been stripped of office by the state but continued their vocations clandestinely. Václav Maly, himself a state-defrocked priest, and Father Tomas Halisek, once a student of Zverina, played key roles in this alliance.
Catholic layman Augustin Navratil spent many years fighting for religious liberty in Czechoslovakia, earning four stays in a mental institution in a ten-year period for his efforts. One of those sentences came as a result of petition he wrote in 1987, a 31-point statement calling for religious freedom. Cardinal Tomasek himself helped to distribute the petition. Bultman quotes him as saying, "Cowardice and fear are unworthy of a true Christian." The petition flourished more than any other civil rights initiative in Czech history, gaining over 600,000 signatures from both Czechs and Slovaks.
"The protest [began] as a legal rally to commemorate the death of Jan Opletal, but turned instead into a demonstration demanding democratic reforms. Riot police stopped the students (who were making their way from the Czech National Cemetery at Vysehrad to Wenceslas Square) halfway in their march, in Narodni trida. After a stand-off in which the students offered flowers to the riot police and showed no resistance, the police began beating the young demonstrators with night sticks. In all, at least 167 people were injured. One student was reportedly beaten to death, and - although this was later proved false - this rumor served to crystallize support for the students and their demands among the general public. In a severe blow to the communists' morale, a number of workers' unions immediately joined the students' cause."
Two days later, a meeting of dissidents at the Magic Lantern, a theater in Prague, led to the creation of the Civic Forum (Občanské Fórum). Havel and Maly were present, as was Socialist Party chief Jan Skoda, whose party (along with the People's Party) was losing confidence in the Communist regime. The Forum drew up a petition calling for the resignation of the Czech government, the release of political prisoners, and an investigation into charges of police brutality during the November 17 protests. It called for a general strike to be held on November 27.
About 200,000 people thronged Wenceslas Square on the 21st, beginning about two solid weeks of demonstration in Prague, the number of protesters increasing daily. That day Maly read aloud a letter of support from Archbishop Tomasek, drafted the previous evening. On the 24th, Alexander Dubcek took the stage. The architect of the "Prague Spring" of 1968 that brought many civil liberties reforms - and incurred the wrath of the Soviet empire - rekindled his dream of "socialism with a human face." Havel did not believe that liberty and socialism could coexist, and the two debated the issue on the stage of the Magic Lantern that evening - only to be interrupted with the news of the resignations of Party leader Milos Jakes and the entire Politburo.
The next day, as negotiations began between Prime Minister Ladislav Adamec and Civic Forum representatives, A Prague police lieutenant named Ludwig Pinc addressed the crowd. He stated that the November 17 crackdown was ordered by high-ranking government officials, condemning those actions, voicing support for democratization, and calling for reconciliation between citizens and police. Another police officer joined Pinc on stage and called for unity. Václav Maly called for forgiveness, and received a positive response from the crowd. Bultman reports Maly's plea:
"We have to be proud of these members of the security police who came forward to apologize. They could be risking jail for their actions, and we have to protect them. Thank you for your understanding. Whenever there's political change, there's always the danger of the powerless seeking retribution against the powerful. Now, I'm not asking you to forget what those in power have done. But I am asking you to show forgiveness. Forgiveness is more than a word. There's power in forgiveness. There's hope in forgiveness. Now, will you accept their apology?"
On November 29, the Communist government approved a coalition government that would grant token representation by opposition forces - only 5 out of 21 cabinet seats going to non-Communists. Civic Forum and Public Against Violence (VPN - Veřejnost Proti Násilí), an opposition group that had arisen in Slovakia, protested. A new framework was negotiated, giving ten seats to Communists, two each to the Socialist and People's parties, and seven unaffiliated (filled by Civic Forum and VPN members). The new cabinet was sworn in December 10. Alexander Dubcek was elected Speaker of the Federal Assembly on December 28, and Václav Havel was elected President the next day.
The first free elections were held in June 1990. Civic Forum and VPN continued to live on as political parties - but only for a short while. Václav Klaus broke with the former and founded the Civic Democratic Party, and Vladimir Meciar left the latter and formed Movement for Democratic Slovakia. The two leaders disputed over economic policy (Klaus favored rapid transition toward a market economy, while Meciar wanted a gradual approach) and over federal power-sharing and Slovak autonomy. In July 1992 Slovakia declared sovereignty, declaring its laws superior to federal law. Having reached a political impasse, Klaus and Meciar negotiated Czechoslovakia's peaceful separation into two nations. The independent Czech and Slovak republics were born January 1, 1993.
Many, including Havel, opposed the split. Placing the democratic experiment into two baskets did, however, give Czechs and Slovaks greater control over their own destinies than they would have had in a combined federation. This removed the potential for regional political feuds, thus benefiting Czech-Slovak relations, and prevented one region's political backsliding from dragging the other down. Meciar would prove to be an authoritarian leader with exceptional intolerance of press freedoms during his three terms as Prime Minister of Slovakia; one could say that his machinations leading to the "velvet divorce," which limited his political sphere to Slovakia, essentially advanced liberty in the Czech Republic. Due process would persevere in Slovakia, however, denying him a fourth term and undoing much of his damage in a fairly short time.
Freedom House monitors the former Communist states' progress toward economic and political liberty and publishes its findings annually in its Nations in Transit report. On a scale of 1 to 7 (1 being most free), the report grades these nations with respect to democratization, rule of law, and economic liberalization. Originally, two categories were defined - political rights and rule of law - and in the 1989-1990 season Czechoslovakia scored a 6 in both. According to the 1998 reports on the Czech and Slovak republics, the scores rose dramatically during the next year and generally remained high, with the exception of Slovak civil liberties scores during Meciar's tenure. In the 2002 report, the Czech Republic and Slovakia score above average in all three categories among the other former Communist nations, and in Table B (select under Tables and Charts - Acrobat Reader required) are classified as consolidated democracies.
Liberty represents these four basic rights: to life and physical safety, to property, to choice and expression of personal
beliefs, and to choice and pursuit of personal interests. The State exists to protect individual rights, and society exists
to provide opportunity for individuals to voluntarily associate with others to engage in commerce, to share ideas, and to
pursue common peaceable interests. Any person, whether acting as a private party or as an agent of the State, is guilty of
violating these rights when that person commits assault against person and property, theft of property, fraudulent trade,
coercion to prevent peaceable speech and pursuit of peaceable interest, or coercion to adopt and express undesired beliefs
and to pursue undesired interests. Liberty is advanced with the broadening of support for individual rights within a society,
with legislation that brings a body of laws into greater compliance with individual rights, and with the overthrow of
tyrannical governments that have violated the rights of the people and that have abolished all means of seeking redress of
grievances against the crimes of the State. -- A Statement of Individual Rights, finalized version July 9, 2003