Decision to keep Soviet-era sculpture at Prague’s Anděl metro station “a compromise”

Soviet-era sculpture at Prague’s Anděl metro station

If you’ve taken the metro to Prague’s Anděl station, you may have noticed a bronze sculpture that reads ‘Moskva-Praha’. Constructed in 1985, it was meant to symbolize friendship between Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union. After the fall of the regime, it remained, stirring debate amongst the public. Recently, Prague City Hall decided to add a plaque explaining the contentious history of the sculpture, instead of tearing it down. To learn more about this, I spoke with Cold War historian Jan Adamec.

“The Anděl metro station was opened in November 1985, originally under the name of ‘Moskva’. The bronze sculpture with the inscription of ‘Moscow-Prague’ in the lobby of the metro station was to commemorate the alleged friendly and warm relations between the two capital cities. The propaganda at the time described it as a symbol of ‘eternal friendship’ between Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union.

Jan Adamec | Photo: Amálie Berková,  Czech Radio

“It’s worth remembering that this was 1985. It was the anniversary of the liberation of Czechoslovakia at the end of World War II in 1945. This anniversary was traditionally commemorated in Czechoslovakia, and the narrative that prevailed at the time was that the country was liberated exclusively by the Red Army. These anniversaries were an opportunity to continuously commemorate Czechoslovak-Soviet ‘friendship’.

“This was especially important after 1968 when the initial sympathy of Czechs and Slovaks towards the Soviet Union turned into indifference, aversion, and hostility because of the Warsaw Pact Invasion that suppressed the Prague Spring in 1968.

Photo: Paul-Henri Perrain,  Radio Prague International

“It is also worth mentioning that almost every metro station at this time was decorated with sculptures or statues. It was in line with the priming of these times, when every new construction site had a special budget allocated to artistic decoration. You can also see it at other metro stations like Želivského or Karlovo náměstí. These were not necessarily works of art that were pro-regime propaganda, they also reflected themes from medieval and Czech history, although it was interpreted through the lens of the regime at the time.”

I want to fast forward to what’s going on in Prague right now. There was a bit of debate over whether or not to tear down the sculpture at Anděl metro station. Instead of tearing it down, it’s been decided that there will be a plaque with an explanation of the history behind the sculpture. Is this typical in Czechia?

“It is not so typical. After the fall of the communist regime in 1989, we have witnessed several waves of dealing with these statues. There are basically four ways to deal with these artefacts. You can leave them as they are, or you can remove them. The third option would be to place them in a museum, where the statues lose their political or ideological charge, and only their historical dimension remains. Or you can provide statues with explanatory signs and add historical context while preserving them at their historical site. The fourth option is likely the case of the sculpture at the Anděl metro station.”

Photo: Paul-Henri Perrain,  Radio Prague International

What do you think about the choice to keep the sculpture with an explanatory plaque? Is it perhaps a new way to remember history? Or is it a rather controversial choice?

“I think in this case it’s a Streisand effect, because once it was pointed out, people started to notice it was there. These statues in metro stations are often missed because people are in a hurry when they’re travelling, they don’t even notice that they’re there. But now that it’s been put into this heated debate about the role of Russia, and because of the context with Russia’s current aggression in Ukraine, it’s put into this contemporary context interweaving the Soviet Union, and the Second World War.

Photo: Paul-Henri Perrain,  Radio Prague International

“I think the decision to put an explanatory sign is a compromise between tearing it down and doing nothing and leaving it be. Politicians and local officials probably feel that they are obliged to do something instead of just leaving it alone. We are not living in normal times when it comes to relations with Russia, so immediately this is put into context with Russia’s war in Ukraine.

“I think it’s a compromise in this sense, but it will also depend on what goes on the plaque, what details and information. But I think in a couple days or months, no one is going to remember that this Moscow-Prague sculpture is there, or think about the fact that it is so ideologically charged and connected to the communist regime.”