Prague, Jan 7 (CTK) – About 300 signatories of the Charter 77 dissident movement started celebrating the 40th anniversary of the release of the movement’s human rights manifesto on Saturday and it has been the largest meeting of the signatories ever, the organisers said.

Former dissident and later defence minister Alexandr Vondra said the meeting was an opportunity to meet old friends.

“I have always envied the Poles and Hungarians how strong they are, but if the Poles or Hungarians met like this today, then would have fought. I believe that we Czechs can do it a friendly manner,” he said.

Vondra hinted at the fact that people of very different views and backgrounds met in the dissident movement and that they moved to opposing camps after the fall of the communist regime.

In a discussion earlier on Saturday, signatory and sociologist Jirina Siklova said Charter 77 showed that people can join forces and form their opinions even in a seemingly desperate situation.

Charter 77 Foundation founder Frantisek Janouch said the movement underlined the importance of civic society.

Philosopher Jan Sokol said Charter 77 was important in 1989 and 1990 during the change of the country’s regime because the personalities from Charter 77 were legitimate and the public trusted them.

Journalist Petruska Sustrova said the heritage of Charter 77 was that people should say what they think and associate with people with similar views. She added that the signatories had the advantage that they did not fight for elected posts, unlike present politicians.

The Charter 77 movement started to be formed during a framed-up communist trial of young musicians in 1976. The manifesto called on the communist regime to implement the Helsinki Accords. Czechoslovakia was among the countries that signed the Helsinki Accords in 1975, pledging to have respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.

In January 1977, 242 signatures were under the freshly released Charter 77 manifesto. It had about 1200 signatories by the mid-1980s 1883 signatories when the movement ended its activities in 1992.