No country likes to be reminded of their communist past, full of embarrassment, harmful decisions, imprisonment, and even victims. The Czech Republic is not an exception. Although Czech people did everything to hide the unfortunate events which happened during Communism, some of the reminders are still present in today's Czech Republic. We can find it in its capital Prague in the form of memorials, plaques, communist architecture, few monuments, etc.
1) Stalin monument
The biggest communist monument was a group statue of Joseph Stalin with the working class behind him. The statue was placed on a concrete pedestal in Letná Park. It was 15.5 m high and 22 m long. It was the biggest statue in Europe at that time. It was built in 1955 by a sculptor Otokar Švec, who killed himself a few days before its unveiling.
The monument lasted only 7 years. As a sign of embarrassment, it was taken down with 800 kg of explosives. Today you can find a big metronome in its place, skateboard scene, and a cultural center Containall. Containall offers you a rich program full of music, concerts, movies and other events for locals and tourists.
2) Memorial to the Victims of Communism, at the base of Petřín hill
This modern statue (2002) commemorates victims of a Communist regime in Czechoslovakia (1948-1989). The statue is a work of a Czech sculptor Olbram Zoubek. It shows 7 skinny bronze figures descending the stairs with missing limbs and their bodies falling apart. The bronze strip on the memorial shows estimated numbers of people impacted by Communism: arrested, forced into exile, died in prison, shot trying to escape and executed ones. Although some of the locals think that the sculpture is kitsch, in my opinion, it's a good reminder of the times that no-one wants to repeat.
3) Jan Palach Memorial, few meters from the fountain in front of the National Museum, Wenceslas Square
The small, hardly noticeable, memorial in a form of mounds on a payment connected together with a cross is placed in front of the National Museum. It stands in a place were on 16th of January of 1969 a student Jan Palach poured petrol over himself and set himself on fire. His act was an act of protest to the communist regime in which he lived.
The act was followed by a hunger strike on the same square to support his demands. The memorial is also a reminder of another student Jan Zajíc, who participated in a hunger strike for Palach. Jan Zajíc set himself on fire roughly a month after Jan Palach's death. As a reminder of J. Palach, there is also a square in Prague and streets in other Czech cities carrying his name.
4) Velvet Revolution memorial, Národní třída
A small bronze plaque with symbolic hands of revolting Czech students is placed in an arcade on Národní třída. It is a memorial to the beginning of the Velvet Revolution on November 17th of 1989, which led to the fall of the communist regime.
The Velvet Revolution was a protest action of a large crowd, mostly students, who on that date marched from Vyšehrad to Wenceslas Square. They confronted police officers at Národní třída, who beat hundreds of them. The beating provoked a strike of theatre employees (among them the first president of Czech Republic Václav Havel) and a series of demonstrations, which led to the collapse of the regime. The plaque was placed in 1990 by Miroslav Krátký, Otakar Příhoda, and Tomáš Urban.
5) Soviet statues: Liberation statue, in front of the Prague Main train station and Cosmonauts, outside of the metro station Háje
Although most of the statues from the communist era were erected (including the giant Stalin statue), at least 2 of them remained in Prague. Liberation sculpture stands in the park in front of the Prague Main Train Station and memorializes the "liberation" of Czechoslovakia by the Red Army in 1945. It shows a Czech soldier hugging a taller Soviet soldier as a symbol of friendship and gratitude between the two nations.
The other is a statue of two Soviet cosmonauts waving in front of the metro station Háje which used to be called Kosmonautů station.
6) Prague metro
We ride in it every day, but few of us actually stop and think about his origin and history. Prague metro was actually built in the Soviet era. Its first section opened in 1974 and shortly after the whole metro was built with 3 lines: A, B, and C.
Thirteen stations had names reflecting communist ideology, which were changed in 1990. For example, Dejvická was Leninova with a giant bust of Vladimir Lenin, Vyšehrad was Gottwaldova, Pankrac - Mládežnická, Háje - Kosmonautů, Anděl - Moskevská and Florenc - Sokolovská. The last one, Florenc, still conserves some of the communist paintings. There you'll see a mosaic that depicts the 1943 Battle of Sokolova in Ukraine, the first time that the Red Army joined Czechoslovakian troops to fight against the Germans.
7) National Memorial on the Vítkov Hill
At first, the memorial was built after World War I in honor of Czech legionaries during the war. Later, from 1948, it was used as a source of communist propaganda. It was a place where important members of the Communist Party were buried. During few years from 1953-1962, it hosted a mausoleum of Klement Gottwald, the first communist president of Czechoslovakia. His remains were exhumed and the rest of the party members were buried elsewhere to leave the place for the exposition of Czechoslovakia from the First Republic in 1918 until the fall of socialism and end of Czechoslovakia in 1992.
8) Strahov stadium
The stadium owes his today image of an old gray massive complex to the modernization in the 50s and 60s. At the time it served as a host of the biggest sports event in the time of communist rule - Spartakiáda. Spartakiáda was a mass gymnastics event designed to celebrate the Red Army's "liberation" of Czechoslovakia in 1945 and to promote the regime. It was held every 5 years from 1955 until 1985 (with the exception of 1970). The gymnasts of all ages and gender were prepared for years for the big event. In 1960, for example, in Spartakiáda participated 750 000 gymnasts and more than 2 million spectators!
9) Examples of communist architecture
The most typical example of the architecture for the masses in the communist era are "panelaky". "Panelaky" are concrete skyscrapers located on the outskirts of town which should be self-efficient. They should function as a small town with its own markets, clothing stores, etc. The inspiration of "panelaky" came from Le Corbusier who wished for people to live in small, efficient, practical, and comfortable cities. However, big gray skyscrapers with walls that are paper thin, a lot of people living next to each other, are neither pretty nor comfortable.
You can still find a lot of "panelaky" on the outskirts of Prague, especially near Opatov or Háje metro station and in other locations. Some of the "panelaky" were later painted vibrant colors in an attempt to "kill" the depressing gray color.
Hotel Crowne Plaza in Prague 6
Hotel Crowne Plaza is the largest Stalinist building in Prague built between 1952 and 1954. It's a smaller copy of the Seven Sisters skyscrapers in Moscow. The hotel is 88 m high and has 16 floors and a fallout shelter for 600 people. The star on top of the hotel was once a red communist star. You can still find murals depicting workers harvesting the fields in the interior of the hotel.
The Former Parliament Building (now hosts expositions of National Museum)
The Communist Parliament had a seat in a giant black glass building just behind the magnificent Nacional Museum. The building was built in 1966-1973 and is still complete including nuclear shelters. After the Velvet Revolution, the glass building was a seat of Radio Free Europe. Today the building hosts part of a collection of the National Museum. Although an example of hideous Soviet architecture, I pretty much like it. 🙂
Kotva Department Store, Republic Square
Strangely designed Kotva was finished in 1975 and it was the biggest shopping mall at that time in Prague. Its design is interesting because of the 6 units and separate kiosk stores inside them that make a unique and dynamic unity. Kotva still stands today and carries a cultural and architectural value of the communist retro design.
The Žižkov Television Tower
Žižkov Television Tower is a tourist attraction, a symbol of capitalism with an expensive restaurant on the top and even a luxurious hotel. However, the gray tower was planned during the communist era, in 1985 (and finished in 1992). At that time, it was resented by local inhabitants. The tower is 216 meters high and it's the highest structure in Prague.
Žižkov Television Tower has come in second place in an online poll ranking the ugliest buildings in the world in 2009. In 2000, a Czech sculptor David Černý placed numerous enormous black babies’ statues to climb the tower from outside. It was an attempt to make a tower more interesting.
10) Influences in everyday life
The communist era didn't leave only physical memories in a form of statues, unique architecture, plaques, but also mental memories. Amongst older people that saw and lived communism "in all his glory", it left traces in their way of thinking.
Older people would remember the old times also in a good way. For example, when they tell you that "za komoušů" you would get a place to live (today Czech Republic is a country with one of the most expensive prices of rent and don't let me even start on a price of buying a house or apartment!), the prices of groceries were lower (in my opinion, today they are not so high either), etc.
There are some products that "survived" communism and are still present today and Czech people love it: Kofola - a communist version of Coca-cola from 1960, Granko - coco in pellets from 1979, Horalky - chocolate-cookie bars from 1956, Májka - a pork pâté from 1965 that Czechs still adore, Míša - an ice-cream from 1962 that children still like and it's one of the cheapest, Vinea - a sparkling drink from white grapes that was born in Slovakia in 1974, that I adore, etc.
11) The Czechoslovak movies
Another thing that the communist era left us is Czechoslovak cinematographic. Some of the greatest Czech movies were filmed in the 1960s, the so-called Czechoslovakian New Wave. It's enough to mention some of them: "Loves of a Blonde" ("Lásky jedné plavovlásky"), "The Fireman's Ball" ("Hoří, má panenko") from the famous Czech director Miloš Forman, "Daisies" ("Sedmikrásky") from Věra Chytilová or the adaptation of Milan Kundera's novel "The Joke" ("Žert").
As you can see, there are some unpleasant things that Czechoslovaks remember with sorrow. But, the communist regime left some good cultural heritage to Czechoslovakia, as well. As every era in history, it should be contemplated with reserves. For some western tourists, Prague communist monuments are considered exotic and interesting, but for the locals, they can bring bitter memories...