Memorial to the Victims of Communism
Located at the base of of Petřín hill in Malá Strana, across from the tram stop, The Memorial to the Victims of Communism is a series of bronze statutes commemorating the victims of the communist era between 1948 and 1989. Sculptor Olbram Zoubek, along with architects Jan Kerel and Zdenek Holzel, created this public work that shows seven life-sized nude male figures descending a flight of concrete stairs. Unveiled 12 years after the fall of communism in 2002, the memorial was not without controversy. Many complained a woman was not represented, and one figure was damaged in two explosions in 2003. No one was found responsible. The same figure repeats and appears to break open, decay or melt away. All that remains of the last figure at the top of the stairs is a foot. This breaking apart or decaying symbolizes how Communism affected everyone—prisoners, those executed, as well as those who endured a life of totalitarianism.
Backstory and Context
After the end of WWII, Czechoslavakia fell under the rule of the Soviet Union. From 1948 until the Velvet Revolution in 1989, Czechoslavakia was communist. Any free-thinking ideology, including religion, was eradicated from society. There was no longer private ownership. The economy was planned, and education was under government control. All students learned what the communist government decided was important to know—eliminating any western ways from the curriculum. Anyone who spoke or acted against the regime was fiercely reprimanded, sometimes killed.
Running up the center of the memorial’s concrete steps is an embedded bronze strip with the estimated numbers of those impacted by communism: 205,486 arrested; 170,938 forced into exile; 4,500 died in prison; 327 shot trying to escape; 248 executed. The nearby memorial plaque reads:
"The memorial to the victims of communism is dedicated to all victims not only those who were jailed or executed but also those whose lives were ruined by totalitarian despotism."
As I looked at the memorial, seeing the man (representing all human beings), melting or decaying, I am confused by him descending the stairs. I originally thought the remaining foot at the top was the end. However, the figure is walking towards us. I think the top step with only the foot, is where it begins—how life was in 1989, when communism fell. Society, the people, had dwindled to near nothingness. I think the memorial shows how, with the fall of communism, there is renewed hope. And with each step of the figure down the stairs there is truth; the figure comes closer, and more whole as he descends. The repeated image is coming toward us, down the stairs, facing forward, not walking away from us, up the stairs. He (society) becomes one body again—healed.
The Charter 77 movement—an informal civic group that united from 1976-1992 and helped lead toward what became the Velvet Revolution in 1989--had the motto, "Truth prevails for those who live in truth.” This memorial is a reminder of the truths about communism. This memorial shows visually, the reality of the people. It says truth will prevail and the future is full of hope.
Researched by Jennifer McIntyre
Truth Prevails.... July 3, 2019. July 16, 2019. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Truth_prevails.
History of Czechoslovakia. May 22, 2019. July 16, 2019. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Czechoslovakia_(1948–89).
Burns, Tracy A.. Life during the Communist Era in Czechoslovakia. . July 17, 2019. https://www.private-prague-guide.com/article/life-during-the-communist-era-in-czechoslovakia/.
Beneath the Velvet. . July 17, 2019. http://www.thebohemianblog.com/2015/12/beneath-the-velvet-examining-the-scars-of-communism-in-prague.html.