Our National Disgrace

On May 22, the Czech Republic witnessed its most humiliating moment since 1989. On that day, the first Prague monument to honour the victims of communist oppression was unveiled. That, of course, is nothing bad – on the contrary.What was sad though was that Czech politicians didn’t hesitate in usurping the noble moment in order to settle their own political scores, thus producing the clearest possible pre-election picture of their true worth. The unveiling was entirely organized by Prague 1 major Jan Bürgermeister (ODS party), Prague councillor Igor Němec (ODS party), and the Confederation of Political Prisoners. Neither Premier Zeman nor Senate Chairman Petr Pithart were invited, since according to Burgemeister, they were former members of the Communist party. President Havel wasn’t invited, since “he wasn’t interested in the monument, so we felt there wasn’t reason to invite him.” And so it went. Those, who did a hundred times more to oppose communism as dissidents and who spent years in jail as reward, weren’t invited, while those who under the communists held cushy jobs in statesponsored banks and bureaus, wrote out the invitations.

In addition to two speeches by former political prisoners, Messrs. Burgemeister and Němec of course also gave speeches. The main speaker – ODS chairman Václav Klaus – cancelled out at the last minute, due to mounting criticism of what was clearly turning into a thinly veiled ODS pre-election campaign meeting. Despite also being the head of Czech parliament, a body which supposedly represents all citizens, Klaus decided to not even bother going to the event. ODS lieutenant Jan Zahradil, explained this with a perfectly straight face, saying that “Klaus’s participation could have been interpreted as misusing a solemn act for pre-election purposes.” As for the other major political parties, both the KDU-ČSL and the ruling Social Democrats (ČSSD) issued a statement saying they would boycott the event as it was a “political meeting.” On the day of the unveiling, the public, much of which consisted of former prisoners and victims, was barred from entry, and had to observe the events from a distance.

Despite this, a few politicians such as Hana Marvanová (US) and Jiří Lobkowicz (CZ – Way of Change) did ignore the “Do Not enter” signs, and placed wreaths at the monument, only to have their flowers removed before the start of the “official” ceremony. In his speech, former prisoner Stanislav Drobný said that the monument reflects “twelve years of coming to grips with our communist past.” He was right – twelve years after the revolution, we were witness to how a ceremony designed to recall the terror which tortured thousands and shot into the backs of those trying to escape, instead proved that power politics and political infighting continue unabated. Today, it’s not just the Communists, but right next to them the ODS, who not only guard our “national interests,” but also control our ability to access the past.

And what of president Havel? Instead of coming down from the Castle and standing alongside the victims, the president chose to quietly visit the monument a day earlier and lay down his wreath, which like all those alongside it, was cleared away a day later. A few days before the ceremony, US First Lady Laura Bush was on a visit to Prague. When she found out that US Ambassador Stapleton was going to the concentration camp at Terezín to lay a wreath and honour the victims of fascism, she immediately cancelled her appointments and changed her schedule. “I have to go – it’s my duty” she was heard to say. The events of a few days later were all that much sadder, since practically all our politicians proved that they have no understanding of duty, and that they are worth about as much as the communists before them. 


The New Presencesummer 2002

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