Memorial to the victims of Communism unveiled in Prague

On Wednesday, a new memorial to victims of the Communist regime was unveiled in Prague's Lesser Town under Petrin hill. But the unveiling of the new memorial was overshadowed by a row over who was to be invited to the ceremony.

The memorial was erected by the Prague 1 council, which is controlled by the right-of-centre Civic Democrats, and the row erupted when it emerged that the leader of the Civic Democrats Vaclav Klaus had been invited, while president Vaclav Havel, a leading dissident in the Communist era, had not been asked to attend. Although a last minute invitation was extended to President Havel, he declined saying it was too short notice. In the end, Mr Klaus chose to stay away too.

Twelve years have passed since the fall of Communism and only now Prague has a new memorial to its victims. It is the work of a renowned Czech sculptor Olbram Zoubek and architects Jan Kerel and Zdenek Hoelzel.

One of the guests at the ceremony was the chairman of the Confederation of Political Prisoners, Stanislav Drobny, who warned against the growing influence of the Communist Party. He said Communists were being given coverage in the Czech media which is something we should not allow to happen.

Mr. Drobny started his battle against Communism immediately after the regime came to power in post-war Czechoslovakia in February 1948:

"Soon after the Communist cabinet was set up, we started fighting against it - we helped those who decided to flee the country, we issued leaflets which encouraged people not to succumb to the mood of defeat, we even started to collect guns and prepare ourselves for a showdown with them. But the fact is, the Communist authorities were well prepared for such a possibility: they succeeded in breaking all armed and civilian resistance groups and in the years 1948 to 1951 they sent some 26,000 people to prison for treason."

Mr. Drobny, too, was imprisoned for some time and although he was a trained lawyer, he was forced to work as an electrician for his whole life. So how does he see the fact that a memorial to victims of the Communist regime has finally been erected?

"The most important fact is that we now have a memorial in Prague, because there are already memorials in Brno, Plzen and other Czech towns, and we had to wait so long. But the Prague 1 Council helped us a lot - especially by allocating financial means - because the Confederation of Political Prisoners is an organization that only gets some money for its activities from parliament, but for instance I, as its chairman, am not paid. I like the memorial very much, in fact I have liked it since my very first visit to Mr. Zoubek's studio."