Praga V3S

In Panorama this week – military history buffs invited to take their pick from Warsaw Pact era equipment and facilities. Will Karlovy Vary get a life-size statue of Peter the Great? And why producing a stuffed elephant can be a tall order.

Would you like to own a tank, an army bus or an ancient camera produced for the Warsaw Pact in East Germany? Nothing could be easier. The Czech Army is organizing what must be the biggest garage sale in the country and military history buffs can take their pick – depending on the size of their backyard. In the past 20 years the army has been downsized and has been selling off not just real estate but military equipment from the Warsaw Pact era which is no longer of any use. A military wellness facility near Lipno has been put up for sale for 45 million crowns, a Tatra truck is available for 130 thousand, a Praga V3S for 30 thousand and a Soviet made off-road for 20 thousand. Military cameras are available for just 100 crowns apiece. Army warehouses are bursting at the seams with property that is no longer of any use to anyone but collectors - and the army which operates on a slashed budget is hoping to raise approximately two billion from the sale of spare parts, old military artefacts and property. Not unexpectedly, sales are slow, boosted only by the Czech passion for DIY and the fact that the army is offering spare parts for olds Skoda cars which you can still meet on Czech roads. Josef Lachman is in charge of the sales project:

Photo: Czech Television
“We are offering military vehicles without any papers or guarantees. Some vehicles may be damaged. So buyers need to inspect them closely and the article goes to the highest bidder. We sell a wide variety of military equipment –from cameras to spades.”

Military history buffs are intrigued, but they criticize the fact that the army has been slow in putting old and unwanted equipment up for sale. In the course of years of disuse much of it has gone to rust. Not so an old military bunker which is said to be in good condition and a bargain for the price of two million crowns, a tank training facility or fortification tower. You never know when they may come in handy and the army says “the price is right”!

Karlovy Vary, photo: CzechTourism
Councilors in the west Bohemian town of Karlovy Vary have a new headache – after fending off an invasion of Russian language signs put up for the town’s growing number of rich Russian residents, it has now been asked to approve the erection of a life-size bronze statue of the Russian tsar Peter the Great. The Russian community has said it would organize a charity ball to collect money for the statue to be put up next year – on the occasion of the 300th anniversary of the Russian tsar’s visit. Now, although Peter the Great had no hand in the 1968 Russian led-invasion of Czechoslovakia, he may find it hard to return to a warm welcome. Deputy governor Jiří Klsák is fiercely opposed to the plan saying Karlovy Vary had already acquired the reputation of being a Russian town and the statue of a Russian tsar in the town centre would only support that widespread perception. “I would be ready to approve such a plan if a statue of Czechoslovak president T.G. Masaryk was unveiled on Moscow’s Red Square” he said. To make matters worse the statue of Czechoslovakia’s beloved President Masaryk which stands in the centre of Karlovy Vary bears a marked, uncanny resemblance to Lenin – which makes Russian tourists crowd around him to take holiday snapshots. Officials say they would have no argument against a statue of Peter the Great being placed in one of the town’s parks or alleys on the suburbs where he is believed to have taken curative walks –and where other statues of historic guests are located.

Peter the Great
The Russian businessman who is championing the project – and who recently paid for the restoration of a bust of the Russian ruler in Karlovy Vary - says he can’t see what the fuss is all about and that a statue of Peter the Great would bring more tourists to the town. Local residents are not enthusiastic.

Woman: “They should erect his statue in Russia, not here.”

Man: “I guess it could be up for debate, but I really think rather not…”

That appears to be the overwhelming opinion – according to an internet poll conducted by the daily Mlada Fronta Dnes over 1,500 Czechs say the statue of a Russian tsar does not belong in the centre of Karlovy Vary. Over 150 respondents said why not.

The town of Šakvice recently witnessed an unusual happening – the loading onto a truck of a stuffed elephant bound for Romania. The local taxidermist who caters to hunters and fishermen last year accepted a commission to stuff and elephant from Botswana and found that it was a tall order.

Photo: Czech Television
“It was shot by a foreign client of ours who has a collection of hunting trophies. This elephant was hunted legally and there was a lot of paperwork involved so the commission took over a year. The work itself is extremely demanding –it took half a year to tann the skin which was then mounted on a polyurethane model. The client was very particular and even sent us a photograph of exactly how he wanted the animal to look.”

Radek Franc says he has stuffed a rhino, a hippo and even a giraffe in his time, but work on the elephant proved the biggest challenge of his 20-year career. Mounting the skin onto the 3,5 metre high model took him and a team of helpers the better part of a week.

Once the model was completed to their satisfaction – another problem arose.

“We were in this funny situation. We were so engrossed in getting the model right that we didn’t realize that there was no way we could get it out of the building. Of course nobody was going to tamper with the elephant so we got masons in to widen the doorway and make room for it to pass through. Originally we thought stuffing the elephant was going to be the biggest challenge but now I think delivering it might be even harder.“

The 800-kilo model was eventually placed in a special container and delivered to its owner in Romania where it will grace a private collection of stuffed animals.