Group of artists comment on Benes decrees

Golden bust of the second Czechoslovak President Edvard Benes, photo: CTK

On Sunday, a group of young artists unveiled a golden bust of the second Czechoslovak President Edvard Benes in a park in the centre of Prague. They did so in an attempt to express their views of the controversial post-war Benes decrees that seem to be never out of the headlines here in the Czech Republic as well as neighbouring Austria and Germany.

Golden bust of the second Czechoslovak President Edvard Benes,  photo: CTK
The Prague-based group of artists who call themselves Pode Bal have been using their art to comment on various political issues since 1998. Using cheeky humour and subversive art - in the form of posters, postcards and street art - Pode Bal draw the public's attention to controversial topics in Czech politics and society. The unveiling of president Benes' statue on Sunday was their latest such project.

A statue of President Benes, its forehead adorned with a tiny Czechoslovak flag, now dominates the park by Palackeho namesti square Prague, which local people use mostly to walk their dogs. One of the organisers, Petr Motycka, a member of Pode Bal, explained what the event was supposed to signify.

"It is exactly this president that signed the so-called controversial Benes decrees. The Benes decrees stipulated the expulsion of Czechoslovak citizens of Hungarian and especially German descent from the then Czechoslovakia. The problem with this is that it applied a certain concept of collective guilt, therefore not only people who had collaborated with the Nazi regime but also people who'd actually fought against it were expelled, their property was confiscated and a lot of them were killed. We're talking about more than 2,000,000 people being affected by these decrees. Whereupon another decree was added promising untouchability to those who committed crimes against these Germans."

But it is not the mere existence of the Benes decrees that Pode Bal are commenting on. Their aim is also to draw attention to a certain document the Czech lower house passed this spring.

"All the political parties decided to pass a document declaring that in fact the Benes decrees were untouchable and that's the end of discussion. So this is what we're reacting to and we decided to make a monument which rather than about the decrees themselves and history, is about the present and this strange consensus of all the political parties including conservatives on one side and communists on the other supporting this kind of historical event and collective guilt."

Finally I asked Petr Motycka what the Pode Bal art group thought of the fact that the recent report commissioned by the European Parliament found that the Benes decrees posed no barrier to the Czech Republic's entry to the European Union.

"This is one thing. It's a technical question whether it proves an obstacle as a law opposing the European legislation but it doesn't solve the ethical and the moral problem."