The prominent Czech journalist and human rights activist Petr Uhl died at the age of 80. Known as one of the most important dissidents during the Communist rule in Czechoslovakia, he was one of the leading figures behind the Velvet Revolution.
After the downfall of the Prague Spring by the Soviet Union in 1968, the young engineer Uhl decided to set up an underground youth movement. A year later, the group was already broken up and Uhl ended up in jail after a show trial for four years.
After his release, he joined Charter 77, the human rights movement of later President Vaclav Havel, among others. The group, consisting of government-critical intellectuals and artists, hoped to encourage the Communist government to reform through a peaceful dialogue.
In 1979, Uhl was convicted again, this time for five years, for helping persecuted activists.
Volkswoede by rumor
The prosecution did not stop Uhl from stopping his dissident activities. The activist made his home available as a somewhat safe, sheltered meeting place for dissidents from Central and Eastern Europe and independent journalists. He also played an important role in writing and disseminating independent news.
Uhl maintained contact with Western diplomats:
It was Uhl who in November 1989 went through the rumor to western and independent media that a fatal victim had fallen at an anti-government demonstration in Prague. That news turned out to be a lie afterwards, but Uhl assumed the message for good. Fake news or not: a folk rage ignited.
It turned out to be the starting shot for the Velvet Revolution. Demonstrating students took over the street, major strikes shut down factories and offices. Czechoslovakias communist rule saw no other option but to sit down with dissidents, resulting in a non-violent political upheaval, followed three years later by the peaceful separation of the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
In the new, free Czech Republic, Uhl helped build democracy as director of the Czech news agency ČTK. He also held various positions as human rights officer, drawing attention, among other things, to the subordination of the Roma in the country. At the beginning of this century, he spent several years in parliament on behalf of the Green Party.
Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala praises Uhl on Twitter Uhl for his “courage and perseverance in the fight against totalitarianism”. Former dissident Dana Nemcova describes him as a “dedicated, hardworking man who accepted everyone”.
Uhl has been awarded several Czech titles, as well as high Polish, German and French awards. However, he did not want to make his role in modern Czech history too big himself. In his memoir, he wrote, “I did what I thought was good.”