Charter 77, called Charta 77 in Czech, was a manifesto by leading Czechoslovak dissidents on January 7th, 1977 against the Communist regime. It especially criticized human rights abuses, and this criticism was strongly tied to the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, the "Helsinki accords," which had become a part of Czechoslovak law in 1976.

Some 300 people participated in the initial signing (in late 1976).(2) (Another source(5) states there were only 242, another (1) that there were only 230, and another (7) that there were 243. The most corroborated figure is 242.) The best-known signatory is Vaclav Havel. Other signatories of note include playwright Pavel Kohout, philosopher Jan Patocka, the first Czech Prime Minister Petr Pithart, and journalist/politician Jiri Dienstbier. Despite its mild tone, less than 2000 Czechoslovaks signed it, and most of them signed in 1989 when the Communist regime was nearing collapse(4).

The manifesto was published in various Western newspapers on January 6. Authorities arrested several of the signatories the next day, denounced them and began cracking down on dissident activities. (Those who signed later on were equally persecuted.) The next day, the United States charged Czechoslovakia with violating the Helsinki Accords.(1)

Perhaps the most important cause for the publishing of the manifesto was the persecution of the members of the Plastic People of the Universe, an underground band.

Despite its critical tone, Charter 77 was explicitly declared to be "not a platform" and to aim for "constructive dialog." As the "official translation" published in the The Times of London stated,

Charter 77 is not an organization; it has no rules, permanent bodies or formal membership. It embraces everyone who agrees with its ideas and participates in its work. It does not form the basis for any oppositional political activity. Like many similar citizen initiatives in various countries, West and East, it seeks to promote the general public interest.

It does not aim, then, to set out its own platform of political or social reform or change, but within its own field of impact to conduct a constructive dialogue with the political and state authorities, particularly by drawing attention to individual cases where human and civic rights are violated, to document such grievances and suggest remedies, to make proposals of a more general character calculated to reinforce such rights and machinery for protecting them, to act as an intermediary in situations of conflict which may lead to violations of rights, and so forth.

quoted from (3)

However, informally there definitely did exist a dissident group centered around the manifesto.

A foundation of the same name exists in the United States.


(7) + click "overview" (for technical reasons]

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