Monument unveiling mars spirit of 1989

On May 22, the Czech Republic experienced the most humiliating moment of its post-communist history. That day, the first Prague monument to honor the victims of communist oppression was unveiled. The idea itself was fine. What was sad was that Czech politicians didn’t hesitate in usurping the noble moment to settle political scores, producing the clearest possible pre-election picture of their true worth. The ceremony was organized entirely by Prague 1 Mayor Jan Burgermeister of the Civic Democrats (ODS), Prague City Councilor Igor Nemec, also of the ODS, and the Confederation of Political Prisoners. Neither Prime Minister Milos Zeman nor Senate Chairman Petr Pithart were invited: Burgermeister claimed both were former Communist Party members. President Vaclav Havel wasn’t invited either, since, the organizers said, He wasn t interested in the monument, so we felt there wasn’t any reason to invite him.” And so it went.

Those who fiercely opposed communism as dissidents and were imprisoned as a result were unwanted. Those who under communism held cushy jobs in state-sponsored banks and bureaus were the ones sending out the invitations. In addition to addresses by former political prisoners, Burgermeister and Nemec also spoke – naturally. Facing mounting criticism that the event was little more than a thinly veiled campaign rally, ODS Chairman Vaclav Klaus, the main speaker, canceled at the last minute – this despite his role as president of the Chamber of Deputies, a body that supposedly represents all citizens. In fact, Klaus skipped the event entirely. ODS lieutenant << Jan>> Zahradil explained the absence with a perfectly straight face.

Klaus’ participation,” he said, could have been interpreted as misusing a solemn act for pre-election purposes.” As for the other major political parties, both the KDU-CSL and the ruling Social Democrats issued statements saying they were boycotting what they called a political meeting.” On the day of the unveiling, much of the public, including former prisoners and victims, was barred from entering the venue and had to observe the events from a distance. A few politicians – the Freedom Union’s Hana Marvanova and Jiri Lobkowicz of the Path of Change (CZ) – ignored 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 Drobny said that the monument reflected 12 years of coming to grips with our communist past.” He was right, but not in the way he meant: Twelve years after the revolution, we were called upon to witness how, even at a ceremony intended to recall the terror that tortured and killed thousands, power politics and political infighting continue unabated in this country.

Today it’s not just the communists but the ODS. The party not only guards the national interest” but also controls our ability to access the past. What of Havel? Instead of descending from the Castle and standing alongside the victims, the president chose to quietly visit the monument a day earlier and lay his wreath. It was cleared away a day later along with others left previously. U.S. first lady Laura Bush visited Prague a few days before the ceremony. When she discovered that U.S. Ambassador Craig Stapleton would be traveling to the concentration camp at Terezin (Theresienstadt) to lay a wreath in honor of the victims of fascism, she immediately canceled her appointments and changed her schedule. I have to go – it’s my duty,” she was heard to say. This made the events of the May 22 unveiling all the sadder. Nearly all our politicians proved they have no understanding of duty. They showed that they are worth about as much as the communists before them. 

– The author is a physician and the publisher of The New Presence. 


The Prague Post5.6.2002

My priority is that patients recieve
and have access to the best care possible.