Primary Sources

The Civic Forum's Exposition of its Position in Public Life with a Call for Nonviolence, Tolerance and Dialogue

Description

Uncertainty pervaded the days after the November 17 crackdown as different groups struggled to gain control of events. The rumor that a student was killed during the demonstration exemplified the overall lack of reliable information. This story was fed to Western media but was later proven false; government officials sought to defuse public anger by televising an interview with the supposedly-dead student. This November 20 statement from Civic Forum (the organization attempting to represent all dissident groups during the November protests) counters the government's strategy by citing other cases of state brutality and the non-violent nature of the demonstrations as proof of the legitimacy of the protests.

The proclamation also indicates some key views on the nature of Civic Forum. The declaration that it was an "absolutely open society" suggested a fluid movement of citizens rather than a formal coalition of anti-state forces. Dissident intellectuals at the Forum's center developed this view in the 1970s and 1980s, when they argued that the opposition should foster an independent, self-organizing society rather than compete for political power with the state. By the same logic, Civic Forum's main mission was not to overthrow the government per se, but to recreate an independent (civil) society as the foundation of the new democratic system. This view became increasingly harder to maintain once Civic Forum began negotiating with the state. By December many of the intellectuals who had originally rejected politics were replacing communists in high positions of power.

Source

The Civic Forum, "The Civic Forum's Exposition of its Position in Public Life with a Call for Nonviolence, Tolerance and Dialogue," 20 November 1989, trans. Caroline Kovtun, Cold War International History Project, Documents and Papers, CWIHP (accessed May 14, 2008).

Primary Source—Excerpt

The Civic Forum’s Exposition of its Position in Public Life with a Call for Nonviolence, Tolerance and Dialogue

Prague, 20 November 1989

The Civic Forum is not a political party, nor an organization which accepts members. It is an absolutely open society of people who feel themselves responsible for the positive resolution of the untenable political situation, wanting to unite the forces of all the honest and democratically-minded citizens—artists, students, workers and all people of good will. It was established spontaneously in the presence of all the groups which on Sunday, [19] November, took part in an independent social activity. We consider this representation of the people to be competent to negotiate with responsible political authorities. We are, therefore, after an objective plan of action, not violence. We do not want crudeness. We appeal to the members of the police, the army, the militia, to refuse brutality and repression of the will of the people. As long as in reality nobody was killed during the harsh intervention of uniformed units, we are all happy, but this does not mean that there did not occur massacres, injuries and bloodshed. Various wild rumors and willfully disseminated misinformation are multiplying. Let us not succumb to them! We ask all citizens to act responsibly, humanely, tolerantly and democratically. Let us lead our common goal, as much as it is in our power, to a good conclusion. Let us persist and let us not give up!

How to Cite this Source

The Civic Forum, "The Civic Forum's Exposition of its Position in Public Life with a Call for Nonviolence, Tolerance and Dialogue," Making the History of 1989, Item #503, http://chnm.gmu.edu/1989/items/show/503 (accessed August 31 2014, 4:16 am).

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