Statue to fallen Czech soldiers of 1919 conflict with Poland to be resurrected

For 85 years, a monument in Orlová to the fallen Czech soldiers of the 1919 Polish–Czechoslovak War has been a plain list of names on slabs of stone. But it used to be dominated by a huge statue of a Silesian eagle with soldiers at its feet, which was torn down by Polish troops after the 1938 Munich Agreement. Now a five-metre copy of the statue is being crafted and will soon adorn the monument in the east Moravian town once again.

The statue of the eagle, which from old photographs looks like it is sitting proudly atop a rock and looking out regally into the distance, was torn down by Polish troops in 1938 following the Munich Agreement, 10 years after it was constructed and almost 20 years after the war which it commemorated. Prague sculptor Martin Chmelař, who has been commissioned by the town of Orlová to recreate the statue, describes the documentary evidence from that time:

Photo: Wikimedia Commons,  public domain

"I have photos where you can see how the destruction itself took place. In the only photo I have from the back, you can see the rope pulling it down."

Volunteers from the town of Orlová in the far east of present-day Czechia, where the monument stands, formed one of the battalions in the lesser-known Polish–Czechoslovak War of 1919, the so-called “Seven-day war”, when Czech and Polish troops clashed over control of the region of Těšín (Cieszyn) Silesia.

After an inconclusive battle, the dispute was eventually settled at the 1920 Spa Conference in Belgium, when, under pressure from the Entente powers, the two countries agreed to the division of the contested territory in an agreement which assigned more than half of the territory to Czechoslovakia and left a sizable Polish minority on the Czech side of the border.

Poland was never happy with the agreement, and in 1938, seized the opportunity of the Munich Agreement to annex Trans-Olza (Zaolzie), the eastern part of the Czech portion of the disputed region, tearing the statue of the eagle down in the process.

Photo: Městský úřad Orlová

After the end of World War II in 1945, the border between Poland and Czechoslovakia was restored to its 1920 form, but the sculpture was not reconstructed. More armed clashes followed over the next few years and there were fatalities in some villages.

A 1958 treaty brought the end of armed conflict, but the dispute has never been fully resolved, with Poland continuing to demand 368 hectares of land from Czechoslovakia, and later the Czech Republic, in the decades to come. As recently as March 2021, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki reminded his Czech counterpart at the time, Andrej Babiš, of the border dispute.

Photo: Michal Polášek,  Czech Radio

But despite these old tensions, Chmelař thinks that the statue being recreated and returned to its original place is a good thing.

“I may be exposing old wounds for some, but I still think it's something that deserves to be re-created. This statue is one of the things that is missing from the monument.”

However, he says that although his creation is a copy of the original, it will never be an exact replica. He draws inspiration from a limited number of surviving photographs that show how the original statue looked, but says he is at peace with the fact that it won’t be perfect.

"We can say that a new work of art is being created. Even if I were to try to replicate it completely perfectly in every detail, I still would never succeed, unless I had the original model sitting physically next to me."

Authors: Anna Fodor , Andrea Brtníková
run audio