End of an era as RFE formally hands over keys to National Museum
A small piece of history was made on Monday morning as the U.S. broadcaster Radio Free Europe formally handed over the keys to their former headquarters to a new tenant: the National Museum. The iconic steel and glass building a few metres from the top of Wenceslas Square has gone through several incarnations over the decades, but the latest will see its doors finally thrown open to the public.
The building has served many masters: before Radio Free Europe it was home to Czechoslovakia’s National Assembly, a communist illusion of parliamentary democracy that rubber stamped the politburo’s laws. The communists in turn built the parliament literally on top of the pre-war stock exchange – the bourse is virtually cocooned inside it. A lot of history is tied up here, as Michal Lukeš – the director of the National Museum - explained to reporters inside the building’s great hall:
One man who’s seen the many incarnations at first hand is the veteran Radio Free Europe journalist Pavel Pecháček. RFE recently relocated to a purpose-built broadcasting building several kilometres away at Prague’s Hagibor. I asked Pavel for his feelings on this day.
“It’s the end of another chapter of Radio Free Europe, and also our beginning. The new building in Hagibor is really a real radio building.”
“That’s right. The end of an era, yes.”
But the beginning of a new one, as you say.
“I believe so, because now we broadcast in 29 languages, and the Czech Republic is practically giving the United States what they were receiving for fifty years.”
The guided tours that start in August are of course just the beginning. The first proper exhibition – called Be Free! - will open on November 17th, the 20th anniversary of the fall of communism. In two years’ time an ambitious renovation project will start, incorporating a pedestrian tunnel to connect the new National Museum building with the old.