In the fourth edition of my book, FOR THE LOVE OF PRAGUE, I show what had become one of the strangest monuments in this ancient town. On the pedestal within this elaborate neo-gothic structure, proudly rising from its own little patch of lawn beside Prague’s Vltava River, was nothing for eighty five long years! Finally, this year, 2004, The King has returned!

When the original Czechoslovak state was proclaimed in 1918, following three hundred years of Hapsburg rule, the equestrian statue of Emperor Franz Josef was removed. However, the grand tower remained, grand, but for most of today’s Czechs and puzzled tourists, a non sequitur – a monument to nothing or no one. And so it was for 85 years. But now the fearless Czech authorities have decided that Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Josef is no longer a threat to the republic, and the Return of The King was ordained!

But we think it’s a waste of money, and sends the wrong message. The empty pedestal actually told the story… that no foreign king (or commissar) now rules this country!

May 22, 2002 was the day this long-awaited memorial was unveiled in a grand ceremony with speeches and music. It has the form of a stairway leading from a major Prague crossroad (Ujezd) upwards into Petřín Park – just a few steps from our Malá Strana apartment.

The stairway is peopled with progressively fragmented metal figures, symbolizing the losses of life, rights, and dignity - the humiliation and suffering of the Czech people during 40 years of Soviet domination. Imbedded into the steps is printed the litany of the thousands who were imprisioned, executed, denied work in their professions, denied university study, or compelled to emigrate from their homeland during the 40 long years of communist rule in the former Czechoslovakia. The monument is the work of sculptor Oldbram Zoubek and architect Zdenek Hölzel. Zdenka, who was skeptical during the excavations, fearing that the result might be an embarrassment, now sees that it is indeed a striking and effective piece of city art. Her only complaint is that all of the figures are clearly male, though one of the most prominent victims of the Czechoslovak communist regime was the great and brave woman dissident Milada Horáková, who was hanged by the regime, but now symbolically lives on in memorial in the many street and place names throughout the Czech Republic.

I walk past this monument twice each day, on my way to and from my work studio. It has become the number-one tourist magnet in the Prague Malá Strana, but it deeply disturbs me that most visitors seem to think it's funny, and delight in being snapped while posing along side the naked male bronze statues. At first, I would often stop and point out to them that there is nothing funny to us in this bitter memorial of 40 years of communist totalitarian repression. But now I just grit my teeth and walk on, not wanting to spoil their fun, but hoping that sooner or later the meaning of this memorial will dawn on them.

Germany, Austria & Hungary Would Like To Rewrite History
Those three countries, each of which was a fascist state during World War 2, have been putting continuous heavy pressure on the Czech Republic to abolish what is known as the “Beneš Edict“. President Edvard Beneš decreed, after the liberation of Czechoslovakia from German occupation in 1945, that most of the country’s German minority be moved out to Germany.

In the days of the first Czechoslovak Republic, ethnic Germans made up nearly a third of the population, wielded great political clout here, and were among the wealthiest. As Hitler rose to power, and shouted of his intention to “free them from Czech tyranny,” the Czech Germans became increasingly outspoken in their support of Hitler, and a local pro-nazi party included most of them as its supporters. I have seen many times newsreel shots of the Czech Germans weeping with joy, shouting “Heil Hitler,” and giving the nazi salute as the German troops tore down the borders posts and stormed in to occupy this country for six long years of terror… There was no terror though for the Germans. Czechs routinely had their homes and businesses confiscated and turned over to German bigwigs. Torture and executions of Czechs were routine.

The Germans living in the northern parts of Czechoslovakia had called the area the “Sudetenland,” basically meaning South Germany. During the rising times of Hitler they were a veritable fifth column for nazi Germany.

An openly stated plan, after ridding the country of its Jews, was to deport all of the Czechs to Siberia, and turn what was Czechoslovakia into a German province.

I don’t have to repeat the horrors the Czech population lived through during the long black years of the Occupation, and of the Czech hatred of their German tormentors, and it should not be a surprise to anyone that after the liberation, President Beneš declared and ordered that all ethnic Germans who could not be cleared of nazi collaboration be shipped out of the country. Clearly, it was painful for many if not all of them, to have the tables so abruptly turned, but it was also clear that this country could not endure with such a large and hostile minority. (Many of the exiled Germans

prospered in West Germany, while the Czechs suffered 40 years of communism!)

Some now accuse the Czechs of “ethnic cleansing,” but it was in fact an understandable wound cleansing after years of suffering. It was a fact of history that cannot be reversed. The Czechs are not prepared to rewrite history. They will not un-write the 1945 Beneš Edict.

The Austrians are threatening to try to block the Czechs’ entry into the EU if they do not declare the “Beneš Edict” null and void, something the Czechs adamantly refuse to do. Among other things, it would open a vast can of worms dealing with old property rights and the prospect of endless lawsuits.

The Austrians, the “Sudeten” Germans, and the Hungarians would like to forget that they were Hitler supporters during WW2, and had evil plans for the Czechs. Austria was in fact part of Germany during the war and initially appeared happily so. Even now a popular and powerful Austrian leader is openly anti-Semitic, and a crypto fascist. He shouts another condition of EU entry, that the Czechs must close their nuclear power station at Temelin. It has been declared safe by the EU itself, and has of course not hurt anyone. On the other hand there have been a series of disastrous tunnel fires in Austria, killing hundreds. Some Czechs have waggishly declared that if Austria doesn’t guarantee the safety of its tunnels, it should be expelled from the EU!

Our Mostecká Street, draped in nazi flags during the German occupation of Czechoslovakia from 1938 to 1945.