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Dana Nemcova, leading Czech anti-communist, dies at 89


Associated Press

PRAGUE (AP) — Dana Nemcova, one of the leading Czech dissidents and human rights activists from the communist era, has died. She was 89.

She died on Tuesday morning, according to the Olga Havel Foundation, a charitable organization with which she was associated for many years. No details about the cause of death were given.

Born on Jan 14, 1934, Nemcova was one of the first people to sign Charter 77, a human rights manifesto inspired by Vaclav Havel, a fellow dissident who later became president. Nemcova herself became one of the charter’s spokespersons.

The document was a rare expression of resistance to the hard-line communist regime that took over after the 1968 Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia which crushed the liberal reform period known as the Prague Spring.

The charter united opponents of the regime, including religious activists, ex-communists expelled from the party after the 1968 invasion, and also rock musicians, intellectuals and pre-World War II democrats.

Its signatories braved persecution from the regime, exercising what Havel dubbed ″the power of the powerless.″

Nemcova, the mother of seven and a psychologist by profession, was among them.

In 1979, she spent six months in detention before receiving a two-year suspended sentence for subversion of the republic. She was banned from practicing as a psychologist and only allowed to take menial jobs, such as cleaning.

Nemcova and her husband, Jiri Nemec, turned their apartment in Prague into one of the centers of anti-communist resistance, but had to face repeated interrogations and raids.

She once said that signing the charter was a means for her to “maintain identity and dignity.”

Nemcova also co-founded the Committee for the Defense of the Unjustly Persecuted, which supported those facing oppression by the state, from police harassment to unjust prosecution.

After the 1989 anti-communist Velvet Revolution led by Havel, Nemcova served as a lawmaker in the parliament of Czechoslovakia until 1992. She later chaired the board of the Olga Havel Foundation established by Havel’s first wife, which focuses on helping disabled and abandoned people, as well as those facing discrimination.

In the 1990s, she established an information center for refugees and a migration center, working especially with those fleeing the wars in the former Yugoslavia.

In 1998, she was awarded a state honor by Havel, who was by then president.

“Dana Nemcova was an extraordinary person, brave and deeply human who with her persistent and consistent defense of human rights contributed significantly to our freedom and democracy,” Prime Minister Petr Fiala said.

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