Sixteen years after Velvet Revolution few communist relics remain


Sixteen years ago this week 40 years of communism in Czechoslovakia dramatically came to an end, rapidly dismantled by massive public protests in the city streets. Almost overnight, the old structures collapsed and with it the symbols of a decayed system: countless red stars, party banners, statues of revolutionaries, and 'eternal' monuments to the country's communist presidents - were carted off to unknown 'graveyards' - usually the dustbin.

Earlier, Radio Prague spoke with architectural historian Zdenek Lukes, asking him to recall the public impulse in 1989 in dismantling almost all of the symbols of the former regime:

"Of course most of these symbols disappeared over a very short period. People felt something like shame connected with those symbols from this era. Many of these symbols were very low artistic quality of course, but some of them were very good, like for instance, the famous Czech sculptor Vincent Makovsky's 'Partisan' in the city of Brno. After 1989, some experts recommended to destroy it, definitely. In my case, I was 'for destruction' when something was bad artistically, but some pieces were no doubt good and should have survived."

In the 1990s Zdenek Lukes himself recommended that a special site be chosen in which communist-era symbols could be displayed. The project never found necessary support.

"My idea was to use the empty space under the pedestal of the former Stalin monument at Letna Park, to create a museum of communism making use of all these motifs."

Many of the relics from the communist era were either destroyed or sold abroad, but one place in Prague where visitors can still see well-known symbols is on Prague's "B" metro line, at Andel - or Angel - station. The station was build by the Russians and was originally called 'Moskva', or Moscow. Even though it was completely reconstructed, designers left original fragments to remind daily travellers of the station's past. One can, for example, still see a relief of Soviet 'cosmonauts' right above the tracks, or a child with a branch in hand symbolising prosperity or peace. Zdenek Lukes explains why it was important to retain former elements at the site:

"The station called Moscow station - now Angel - was done by Russian artists, including a picture of the Moscow cityscape. I think this symbol was typical for that regime and that period and could stay there until today without any problems. All these symbols are curious for the younger generation, for instance for my students. It's necessary to see these symbols: to learn why and how they were used and whether there was any quality and so. "