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Václav Benda (1946 - 1999)

one of the most active members of the Charter '77

Václav Benda was born in Prague; after high school, he studied Philosophy, History and Bohemian Culture at Charles University. In 1968 he took an active part in the Student Movement, became chairman of the Philosophy faculty Students’ Council and founded the Young Catholics Club. 

In 1970 he obtained a doctorate in Philosophy, and then studied Maths and Physics, graduating in the Theory of Cybernetics. His dissertation supervisor was Ivan Havel, Václav Havel’s brother, thanks to whom he came into contact with opposition circles. 

In the early Seventies he organized meetings with Catholic activists who rejected the so-called “normalization” process and asked for greater civil and religious rights. On finishing his mathematical studies, he worked as a programmer at the Railways Research Institute. He married the mathematician Kamila Neubauerova and had six children. 

In 1976 he took part in meetings that were to lead to Charter ’77, of which Benda became one of the most active members. In his article Parallel polis he proposed setting up structures of civil society independent of totalitarian power, “capable, even to a limited extent, of performing a function that is useful for everyone” and he also asked for already existing structures to be changed from within, as far as possible. He indicated underground cultural organizations as the model for creating the “parallel polis” with schools, scientific circles and free information centres, hoping that even the partial success of these initiatives could change the face of Czechoslovak society. For signing Charter ’77 he was sacked from the Institute and obtained a job as a stoker. 

In April 1978 he was co-founder of the Committee in Defence of the Unjustly Persecuted (VONS). On 1 February 1978 he became spokesperson for Charter ’77. In May he was arrested, along with nine other VONS members and accused of anti-State activities, for which he served a four-year prison sentence. He was released on 29 May 1983 and immediately resumed his work in Charter ’77 and in the VONS. From 1 January 1984 to the beginning of 1985 he was again spokesperson for Charter ’77: his contribution was fundamental for the development of the movement, weakened by the imprisonment or exile of many of its signatories. In 1985 he started the underground publication of the Christian magazine “Paraf”. 

In addition to articles and political essays, Benda wrote philosophical and literary texts, fairy stories for children and books on mathematics and cybernetics. In 1988 he took part in drawing up the Democracy for all manifesto, which set out the Czechoslovak opposition’s political goals and was to be the platform for the rise, in 1989, of the Civil Rights Movement, of which Benda was a founding member. In November 1989 he set up the Christian Democrat Party (KDS) and became its first chairman. In 1990 he was elected a Member of Parliament. From 1994 to 1998 he was the head of the Bureau of Investigation into the Crimes of Communism. 

In November 1996 he became a senator. He died in Prague on 1 June 1999 after a long illness.

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Righteous Encyclopedia - Dissent in Eastern Europe

The "power of those powerless" lies in defeating fear through the strength of a collective assumption of responsibility, testified by the appeal to "live the truth" in a society that is built on lies.

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