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Jiri Dienstbier, first foreign minister of Czechoslovakia after fall of communism, dies at 73

January 8, 2011 | 11:39 am

Jiri Dienstbier, a journalist, anti-communist dissident and the first foreign minister of Czechoslovakia after the collapse of communism, has died. He was 73.

Dienstbier died Saturday in a Prague hospital, according to Czech public television and his Senate assistant. The cause of death was not given.

Dienstbier played an important role in the 1989 Velvet Revolution as a close ally of its leader, Vaclav Havel, that peacefully ended 41 years of the communist rule in Czechoslovakia.

After the collapse of communism in 1989, he first served as the country's foreign minister before also becoming a deputy prime minister.

"It's a great loss for both, the Czech Republic and me, personally," Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg said.

Born on April 20, 1937, Dienstbier became a member of the Communist Party in 1958 and worked as a foreign correspondent for Czechoslovak radio in several countries, including the United States.

After the Soviet invasion crushed the liberal reforms of Alexander Dubcek in Czechoslovakia in 1968 and ended an era known as the Prague Spring, Dienstbier was fired from the party.

He became an anti-communist dissident and was among the first to sign Charter 77, a human-rights manifesto inspired by Havel, who was then a dissident playwright and later was president of Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic. Czechoslovakia  was divided into the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1993.

Dienstbier was jailed for three years for his anti-communist activities.

From 1998 to 2001, he served as special envoy for the U.N. Human Rights Commission in former Yugoslavia.

Dienstbier returned to Czech politics in 2008, when he became a lawmaker in the Czech Senate as an independent candidate with support of the leftist Social Democrats. His term was to expire in 2014.

-- Associated Press