Congratulations to Karel Schwarzenberg

Gerald Nagler,
the former Secretary General of the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights


Gerald Nagler with Karel Schwarzenberg in Warsaw, April 1989 (OSA Budapest).



December 10th is not only your birthday but also Human Rights Day – as well as – very suitable my birthday.

Human Rights brought us together in a critical period of European history. Human right violation was gross. 1975 the Helsinki Final Act was signed granting Human Rights to all citizens.

The concept of an international citizen movement to monitor compliance with the Human Rights provisions of the Helsinki Final Act (HFA) is inherent with the Act itself. The Helsinki Accords are unique among international instruments in upholding the rights of citizens to monitor their own government´s respect for the rights of the people they govern.

Dr. Andre Sakharov appealed for an international committee to defend and unite persecuted Helsinki monitors: “I appeal for the creation of the unified international committee to defend all Helsinki Watch Group members.”

Citizens in the West responded to the appeals of the persecuted Helsinki monitors and in 1982, the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF) was established. The Board of the IHF decided to locate the organization in Vienna ,which was best base for work behind the iron curtain. I as Secretary General of the IHF presented our project to the Austrian Chancellor, Dr Bruno Kreisky, and asked for his advice having known him as an old friend of the family since his years in exile in Sweden. He suggested you, Kary, to be the Chairman of the IHF.

Dear Kary, you became a very active and involved Chairman. We were all enthusiastic to work with you. Your integrety and insight in European history and your background was essential – You are in my eyes a true European. We had a creative cooperation in our mission to support dissidents in repressive countries. It was an honour to work closely with men and women who were so devoted to HR and who risked their freedom and existence in their fight.

We travelled a lot together – to collect information and to mobilize public opinion in the West. Often our friends were imprisoned. We visited and tried to help their families. In 1985 the European Cultural Forum – to be held in a Warsaw Pact country – was organized within the provisions of the HFA. Representatives for all the signatory states from East and West were to promote culture and cooperation.

We believed culture to be too important to be left in the hands of politicians and governments. The IHF organized a parallel and unofficial symposium for free discussions. We gathered very prominent cultural persons such as Susan Sonntag, Amos Oz, Per Wästberg, Gyorge Konrad, and others. We were first declared persona non grata, but could eventually follow through with our symposium in crowded private apartments. We forced the repressive governments to acknowledge the existence and the important role of independent cultural exchange. Very important also was the possibility for intellectuals from different Warsaw Pact countries, who never had had the possibility, but now had the chance to exchange thoughts as well as meeting colleagues from the East and West. The Budapest meeting was a great success and received international attention.

In 1988 you chaired an IHF delegation with prominent members going to Moscow. After long and tough discussion with the Soviets in Vienna – inviting the Soviet ambassador to the best cognacs from his birth year – we demanded open discussions on HR´s issues with high-ranking officials as well as leading dissidents. It was the first HR delegation being allowed to openly visit the USSR and to force officials to meet and listen to dissidents.

The International press wrote:
” a breath of Helsinki air” (Newsweek);
” The Soviet invitation is a signal that something important has happen in international life (International Herald Tribune);
” Helsinki team will meet dissidents” (The Times).

Even the Soviet press wrote:
” I would call it historic” (Moscow News)

A break through for Human Rights.

Our many trips to Prague were memorable. Meetings with Vaclav Havel, Jiri Hajek, Jiri Dienstbier and many others – when they were not in prison. For many years we acted “under the radar” or at least tried to do so in order not to additionally compromise our friends.

But in 1988 the IHF planned to send a high level delegation to Prague in order to commemorate the historical events 1918/38/48/68 – the authorities had been informed in advance, This resulted in home searches and intimidations of our friends in Prague. Some of the members of our delegation were denied visa. Our group gathered in Prague and Vaclav Havel coming in from a back door declared the symposium opened – was immediately arrested.

We were given the following paper; ACHTUNG: “I am warning you that the action called Symposium CZECHOSLOVAKIA is illegal and its performance would be contrary to the interest of Czechoslovak working people and consequently illegal. In this connection your efforts to take part in this action would be considered as a manifestation of hostility to Czechoslovakia and in virtue of this we should have to draw relevant consequences against your person.”

The warning was not signed?! Who is “I” – the police? – the state? However, insisting on the full legality, we of course pursued. We tried to continue in private flats with those who were not arrested, but the police stopped even this. Instead we organized a follow up meeting in Vienna with the international press. In short this showed how appalling the HR´s situation was. We continued with our work in the CSSR strongly protesting as well as monitoring political trials.

In January 1989 a CSCE Conference ended with detailed language on human rights and human dimensions. The document confirms all countries respect for human rights and fundamental freedom. And yet – you Kary together with Max van der Stoel – former minister of Foreign Affairs in Holland – were denied visa to Czechoslovakia. I had received a visa but refused entry at the border. We had planned to go to Prague in order to give support to the CSSR Helsinki committee – discuss how to help Václav Havel and others who were in prison and also to search an informal dialogue with the public commission of human rights.

Well – the rest is history.

In November 1989 I telephoned my old friend Rita Klimova who belonged to the inner circle of the leading dissidents. She had for years been my valuable contact telling me who was in prison, who could be visited, who was in house arrest. I congratulated her and her country for the new freedom. She thanked me and told me that she had just gotten her first job after having been unemployed for twenty years. Václav Havel had appointed her as Ambassador to the US.

Well – DEAR KARY – in a critical period of European History you played an important role in fighting for a better world. It was inspiring to work with you, great fun and we learned a lot about civil courage.

1989 the Counsel of Europe presented the IHF with the ”European Human Rights Prize”. In your acceptance speech at the Council of Europe in Bruxelles you thanked “on behalf of all the Helsinki monitors who had been fighting for so long and so hard risking their freedom”.


Gerald Nagler
December 2017