A former dissident and spokesman for Charter 77, a petition of freedom opposing the communist regime, Ph.D. Alexandr Vondra devoted his youth into fighting for the freedom of Czechoslovakia under the communist repression.
Today, he hopes for peace in Europe for the next generation. “I was a young guy who loves freedom in the country you couldn’t express yourself freely. You need something like fresh air. I could experience the turning point of freedom in Poland when I was visiting during the time of Solidarność in early ’80s. It was my decision to express this openly because I was convinced that we needed freedom like oxygen which you need for your
Vondra was determined to establish freedom from the totalitarian control of the Soviet Union in Czechoslovakia after witnessing an important milestone of Polish independence in October 1980. He resigned from his teaching job to become a samizdat journalist in an underground community, with many other young Czechoslovakian writers, authors, and artists focusing on publishing censored and anti-government material. Later, their publication would be called ‘Respekt’, an investigative journalism magazine in Prague, Czech Republic.
Vondra sought for the justice of his country by joining the “gray zone”, an opposition group whose prime goal was to pursue and protect the basic human rights flouted by the repressive Soviet government.
“I was a dissident since the early ’80s. I was printing the magazine in the underground, so I was under police observation for a long time.” The group of samizdat journalists was arrested by the Czech Communist Government for protesting against the regime.
He considered himself as a medium between the young and old generation. “But as a younger guy, it was somehow easier for me to communicate with other younger generations from this gray zone,” he said.
Vondra played a significant role in leading Charter 77 with other dissidents and his friend Vaclav Havel, the last President of Czechoslovakia and the first President of the Czech Republic. Vondra was imprisoned for two months due to his illegal initiative of Charter 77. In December of 1989, he was arrested again during the Velvet Revolution for founding the Civic Forum within Czechoslovakia and released on November 17th during the collapse of the Berlin Wall.
Once the Velvet Revolution was over in 1989, Havel was elected as president. Uninterested in becoming a politician, Vondra simply congratulated his friend.
“You must follow me! I am not going there alone!” Havel told him, urging Vondra to become his political partner. “It is against my will but I could not say ‘No’ to him, because he was great decent man,” Vondra said.
He was appointed as President Havel’s Foreign Policy Advisor. Throughout his time in office, he built the fundamentals of Czech diplomatic services as the First Deputy Foreign Minister, 1992-1997; the Czech Ambassador in the U.S., 1997-2001; the Czech Government Commissioner for 2002 Prague NATO Summit; the Czech Foreign Minister, 2006-2007; Deputy Prime Minister for European Affairs, 2007-2009; and Minister of Defence, 2010-2012.
However, eager to pass his experiences and knowledge to the future generation, he left politics in 2002 and began teaching it at universities in Prague. “I said, look, I am exhausted and I need some break. I even sold some factory that I owned!” he laughed. He wants his students to understand the principle of human and freedom rights.
Currently, Vondra is the director of the Prague Centre for Transatlantic Relations faculty at the CEVRO Institute College in Prague, as well as a Political Science instructor. “The current mood in the West regarding freedom rights has been my concern.”
Now, at the age of 57 and father of three, Vondra boasts about his son working in IT and his two daughters, one working as a doctor specializing in addiction medicine and the other majoring in construction. “I am very happy that my children chose their paths on their own and succeed in what they like. If you were a politician, you are so much depending on the others. They are more independent.”
Being a part of the political opposition group, Vondra was always prepared for the worst. “Many from old generations were afraid because they have already like this existence and because of their families. The basics of this regime was that if you express yourself freely, then they punish. Not just you, but your wife, your family, and your children. But if you are young, you don’t have so much to lose.”
Despite being caught twice by the authorities, he still had not given up on his dream. “I knew what I have done. I knew that I schemed, so I was not taking it by surprise. I was expecting that, one day, they to come. There was a price for my activity. Yes, I was ready for that to survive.”
“I have long hair, and this is not a type of expression that was allowed back then. But, this is my freedom of choice. I do not seek for the special status or anything in the society.”