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Jiří Dienstbier

Journalist, Writer, Professor

  • Date of birth: April 20, 1937
  • Date of death: January 8, 2011

 

  • 2008 - 2011, Senator, Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defense and Security
  • Ambassador with a special mission
  • Trustee and Director of the Reuters Founders Share Company
  • Visiting Professor at the University of International and Public Relations
  • Visiting Professor at the Charles University in Prague
  • Chairman of the Czech Council on Foreign Relations
  • 2003 - Visiting Professor, Brown University, Rhode Island
  • 1999 - Visiting Professor, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina
  • 1998-2001 - Special Rapporteur of the United Nations Human Rights Commission for Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia
  • 1997-1998 - Visiting Professor, Claremont Graduate University, Claremont, California
  • 1994-2000 - Personal representative of the President in the Group of 16 heads of states for multilateral cooperation and reform of the United Nations from 2008 - Senator, Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defense and Security
  • 1994 - Founder and Chairman of the Czech Council on Foreign Relations
  • 1992-2000 - Member of the Commission on Global Governance
  • 1989-1992 - Minister of Foreign Affairs and Deputy Prime Minister of Czechoslovakia
  • 1989 - November/ December - Spokesman of Civic Forum Coordinating Center
  • 1988 - 2011 - Member of International Press Institute
  • 1979, 1985 - Spokesman of the Charter 77
  • 1979-1982 - Imprisoned 
  • 1970-1989 - After 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia worked as archivist, night watchman, and stoker
  • 1958-1969 - Radio Prague commentator, correspondent in the Far East, Europe and USA

 

Education and training

  • 1993 - Doctor honoris causa, University of Burgundy, France
  • 1960 - M.A. degree, Faculty of Philosophy, Charles University in Prague

 

Books:

  • 1967 - Indonesia - from Sukarno to Suharto, Prague
  • 1988 - Radio against the Tanks (on civil defense against the Soviet occupation), Index in Germany, 1990 Prague
  • 1986 - Dreaming of Europe (1986 in samizdat, 1990 Lidové noviny, Prague; in German: Träumen von Europa, Rohwolt 1991)
  • 1999 - From Dreams to Reality (Memoirs 1989-1992 ten years later), Lidové noviny, Prague
  • 2002 - Tax on Blood (on Balkans events), Lidové noviny, Prague

 

Czech Awards:

  • For Merits I. Grade T.G.Masaryk Medal

 

Foreign Awards:

  • La Legion d´honneur
  • Das Grosse Verdienstkreuz mit Stern und Schulterband
  • PRO MERITO of the Council of Europe
  • Maltese Cross, Korean Diplomatic Order
  • Berlin Bär Kultur Preis
  • Medal of the President of Italian Republic
  • World Press Freedom Hero (IPI Congress, Boston 2000)

 Jiri Dienstbier - A Czech's career    http://www.economist.com/node/17911256

An idealistic ex-stoker mourned by the country he served

The Economist, Jan 13th 2011 | PRAGUE | from the print edition

INCONVENIENT truths tend to get lost in Bohemia. Jiri Dienstbier, a dissident who became Czechoslovakia's first post-revolutionary foreign minister in 1989, kept a sharp eye on them. He was a journalist at heart: a star foreign correspondent in the 1960s. But his idealism made him one of tens of thousands of the brightest and best Czechs and Slovaks to be purged after the Soviet-led invasion of 1968 crushed the reformist hopes of the Prague Spring.

The urbane, polyglot Mr Dienstbier took a series of menial jobs, before settling down to work as a furnace-stoker on the Prague subway. It could have been worse, he said: at least it gave him time to read. In 1977 Mr Dienstbier was one of a tiny band of dissidents, which included his friend Vaclav Havel, to muster the courage to launch a modest human-rights manifesto called Charter 77.

Few remember now how hopeless that struggle seemed. The cold war was near its height. It required a huge act of faith to believe that communism was doomed and that Europe would be reunited. Mr Dienstbier, like many other Charter supporters, was persecuted and jailed. It did not stop him: he founded and edited a flimsy underground newspaper, Lidove noviny (The People's News), the dissident press's flagship (and now an important Czech daily).

In this section

In a few heady late November days in 1989, communism crumbled. The streets of Prague were thronged with demonstrators who booed their leaders and cheered the unknown outcasts of the dissident movement. Mr Dienstbier helped lead the negotiations that prised the regime's nerveless fingers from the levers of power-breaking off during the talks to stoke his furnace. A few days later he put down his shovel for good and took up his new post as foreign minister of a free Czechoslovakia.

Though not a natural administrator, he was the right man for the job. His biggest achievement was a rapprochement with Germany that buried Czech resentments about Nazi aggression and German ire about post-war deportations. He negotiated the end of the Warsaw Pact, the military wing of the Soviet empire. Wielding bolt-cutters, he chopped symbolic holes in the barbed-wire fence along the Czech-West German border. Mr Dienstbier's diplomats, mostly communist-era recruits, pirouetted obediently to the new tunes.

His big thing was Europe: a cause he adored before (and after) it was fashionable. He was not a natural Atlanticist, and a bit too soft, some thought, on Mikhail Gorbachev. Those struggling to leave the evil empire in 1990 and 1991 found it hard to convince Mr Dienstbier that they wanted the same freedom the Czechs and Slovaks had already won.

His career fizzled after he left office in 1992. He fell out with many former allies over the wars in Yugoslavia: family connections made him sympathise with Serbia. He stayed on the margins of public life until his death on January 8th, aged 73. His son, another Jiri, is a rising star in Czech politics: a blessedly dull trade compared with his dad's career.

 

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