Prague districts seek discussion on surviving communist-era street names

Eighteen years after the Velvet Revolution some will no doubt be surprised to learn that a number of streets in Prague still bear the names of highly controversial figures dating back to the communist era. Now some are questioning whether that should be the case. The districts of Prague 7 and 6 have opened public discussion on the subject with a view to eventually changing at least some of the more controversial names.

Changing street names in Prague, as anywhere, is not an easy process but it is one that, at least in theory, will be considered by representatives in Pragues 6 and 7. A number of streets in both districts still feature the names of controversial figures formerly honoured by the Communists, something a number of observers feel should have long been changed. Local politicians have now, at the very least, aimed to set the record straight, hoping to address past history through public discussion. Tomas Chalupa is the mayor of Prague 6:

"Some people don't think it's important - they say that it's just a name on a sign that doesn't have a real impact on everyday life, and in a way that's true. At the same time, when you name a street or a square or a public area after someone, that community is showing that person respect. Our working group looked at a number of the more dubious names and was forced to ask 'Do these people really deserve our respect?' "

Ivan Stepanovich Konev
Some of the more contentious streets most certainly include Janouskova in Prague 6, meant to honour Antonin Janousek, a figure who was branded a traitor in Czechoslovakia's First Republic. He's not alone: another controversial figure whose monument in Prague 6 has outlasted communism in Czechoslovakia by eighteen years, is that of Soviet Marshal Ivan Stepanovich Konev. Mayor Chalupa again:

"Konev of course was of course recognised for his role in liberating Prague as the commander of the Red Army. At the same time, if we jump ahead this was the same person who was involved in the crushing of the Hungarian Uprising in 1956. Or, he was the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Warsaw Pact. A person who did deeds sometimes good, sometimes despicable."

Tomas Chalupa points out not all cases are clear cut: a good many devout communists honoured by the former regime were for example tortured or killed by the Nazis, and he says his working group separated names along three categories from beyond reproach to most contentious. He makes clear that if any names are changed it will be a long-drawn out process and it is more likely that other solutions would be found: putting up, for example, plaques explaining the site's history, rather than leading to a change in the name. The mayor says discussion is the most important thing, as a means of confronting the Czech Republic's communist past.