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to writers and scholars − the printed word published in a little magazine. Soon, the advantages and benefits of fighting oppression from a dedicated bastion of free expression became obvious to both sides, free and unfree alike.
Index, whose first issue appeared in 1972, declared that its aim was to ‘record and analyse all forms of inroads into freedom of expression’. Further, it would ‘examine the censorship situation in individual countries’ and would publish ‘censored material in the journal’. In the long and bloody history of the fight for intellectual freedom there had been many impassioned statements of principle about the writer’s role as a piece of grit in the engine of the state. No one, however, had ever thought to jam a whole toolbox into the machinery of power, and place a fully-funded institution (such as WSI) in direct opposition to the repressive intentions of despotic regimes. This was the unique and historic importance of Index. But its success was not a foregone conclusion. Spender, its founder, was fully alert to the potential for windbaggery and failure inherent in such a venture. There was, he wrote, ‘the risk that the magazine will become simply a bulletin of frustration’.
Actually, the opposite came to pass. Index became a clarion voice in the cause of free expression. The abuses of freedom worldwide in the 1970s were so appalling and so widespread that the magazine rapidly found itself in the frontline of campaigns against repression and censorship in Russia, Czechoslovakia, Latin America and South Africa. Alongside Amnesty International and the PEN Club, Index gave vivid expression to the truth that ‘censorship’ today takes many cruel forms: writers who are sent to labour camps, or blackmailed by threats to their families, or harassed into silence and isolation.
Perhaps the most important thing Index did, from the beginning, was to universalise an issue that was in peril of becoming a special interest: freedom was not ‘a luxury enjoyed by bourgeois individualists’. Along with self-expression, it was a human right, and an instrument of human consciousness that should be fought for worldwide.
uu 1977 – Czechoslovakia
Charter 77 (Charta 77), an informal civil initiative promoting freedom of opinion and expression, is drafted. Signatories include Czech playwright Václav Havel. The document becomes a template for future campaigns to support free speech around the world.