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Chapter 2

HIST 1F90 Chapter 2: charter 77 and the musical underground.docx

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Elizabeth Neswald

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Charter 77 and the Musical Underground – Gordon Skilling
The stimulus for Charter 77 was provided during 1976 by the trials and convictions of a group of rock musicians
known as the Plastic People of the Universe and their supporters for “Disturbance of the peace”
They were accused for challenging the party using their songs and music. Trials were all very serious.
The charges and sentences that were handed down generated a lot of protests from members of the elite and they
forged an atmosphere of human solidarity.
There is definitely a connection between the spontaneous movement of the young musicians and the charter.
The plastic People of the Universe – One of hundreds of rock bands in Czeck. They were denied the right to give
public performances so they had to go “underground”
DG 307- played songs of religious content.
The “Underground” was a critical society and it established institutions and more and wasn’t a political movement
but it did challenge the party’s monopoly over culture and art and its effort to control the “youth culture
They have non-conformist behavior of these young musicians – their dress, and long hair and their music – they
were very popular among high school students and young workers that feared the authorities and they had to
produce a series of disciplinary measures against them.
Musical director of the Plastic People – Ivan Jirous – wrote the music, sung a song and joked about “A friendly
nation” in a tavern with his friends so he was sentenced to 10 months in prison for breach of peace. The first of 3
sentences he was to receive.
1976 – Ivan Jirous – a dozen of rock bands performed at his wedding for over 12 hours and a month later over 20
musicians including him were arrested, and the wedding guests were interrogated.
Pilsen trial – frightening in its absurd farcicality and its threatening implication. They were arrested for a
Karel Havelka, Miroslav Skalicky, and Frentiesek Starek were arrested for arranging a lecture by Ivan Jirous talking
about Underground music. They were charged under article 202, of the criminal code with the crime of Public
Disturbance on the grounds that the songs contained vulgar expressions.
The reaction to these severe sentences was immediate. Vaclav Havel knew some musicians, and approached some
intellectuals to work together to make a private appeal to the president of the republic but it didn’t work.
Writer Heinrich Boll wrote a letter referring to the Pilsen trial as well as the impending trial in Prague of 14 people
including Jirous and Karasek. These people represented a “special Czeck type of underground culture” there crime
was that they had tried "to sing out their aversion to the established values of the world in which they live, to its
hypocritical morality, its conformity and bureaucratic stupidity, and its consumerist style of life," and "to realize their
feelings toward life in their creative work."
On appeal the sentences were reduced by 1 half. This suggested a retreat by the regime.
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