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New On The Freedom Collection: Martin Butora

February 1, 2013 by Lindsay Lloyd

Watch the new interview with Martin Butora, a Slovak civil society activist. In the late 1960s, he was a writer and editor for several student newspapers that advocated reforms in communist Czechoslovakia.  After the August 1968 Soviet invasion ended the Prague Spring period of liberalization, Martin worked as a sociologist and therapist, continuing to write for underground publications.  In his interview, he talks about the stifling conditions in Czechoslovakia in the 1970s.  When government agents asked him to sign a petition denouncing Charter 77, a grassroots movement calling on the state to respect human rights, Martin refused.  “There’s a moment when someone says ‘enough.’” In the late 1980s, cracks began to appear in the Soviet domination of Central Europe.  Martin and other dissidents began to mobilize.  Speaking of Mikhail Gorbachev and the opening of greater political space, Martin said, “Gorbachev was part of the those external factors that helped people grow in their awareness and that somehow started to change the environment, so that people dared a little bit more, that the people said that how this country lives, how this country is run, does not match what we want, it does not match the potential of Czechoslovakia.  Czechoslovakia is capable of more, we are capable of more, we don’t want to live like this anymore.” In November 1989, Martin was one of the cofounders of Public Against Violence, a Slovak civic political and movement.  Along with its Czech counterpart Civic Forum, Public Against Violence organized the peaceful mass demonstrations that brought down Czechoslovakia’s communist regime in what became known as the Velvet Revolution.  In a manner of weeks, Martin was transformed from a dissident protesting a seemingly invulnerable regime to being the Human Rights Advisor to the new president – Vaclav Havel.  “I had to pinch myself to see if it was really true that Vaclav Havel was the president,” Martin recalled. Following the 1993 division of the country into the Czech Republic and Slovakia, Martin turned his attention to teaching and civil society.  In 1997, he founded a think tank.  He was a leader in Slovak civil society’s efforts to defeat autocratic Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar in the 1998 parliamentary elections.  The civil society voter education and motivation campaigns helped convince nearly 85 percent of eligible citizens to vote and secured a majority for a democratic and pro-reform government. From 1999 to 2003, he served as Slovakia’s Ambassador to the United States, where he played a key role in securing his country’s membership in NATO.  He ran as an independent candidate in Slovakia’s 2004 presidential elections. Learn more about how nonviolent action by civil society can bring down autocratic regimes.  Watch the interview with Martin Butora here. This post was written by Lindsay Lloyd, Program Director of the Freedom Collection.

 


Author

Lindsay Lloyd
Lindsay Lloyd

Lindsay Lloyd is the Deputy Director of the Human Freedom Initiative at the George W. Bush Institute, where he manages original research and programmatic efforts to advance freedom and democracy in the world. Lindsay currently leads the Bush Institute’s Freedom in North Korea project, which raises awareness of human rights violations in North Korea, proposes new policy solutions, and engages leaders to help improve the lives of the North Korean people.  Lindsay is also responsible for managing the Freedom Collection, a multimedia archive that documents the stories of nonviolent freedom advocates from around the word. 

Prior to joining the Bush Institute, Lindsay served for 16 years at the International Republican Institute (IRI), most recently as senior advisor for policy.   Previously, he was IRI’s regional director for Europe and co-director of the regional program for Central and Eastern Europe, which was based in Slovakia.  At IRI, Lindsay worked with candidates, elected officials, political parties, and civil society activists to develop lasting democratic institutions.

Before joining IRI, Lindsay worked for several members and the leadership of the U.S. House of Representatives, as political director for a political action committee, and for Jack Kemp’s 1988 presidential campaign. He graduated from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. 

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