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Prague Panoramas

Prague Panoramas: National Memory and Sacred Space in the Twentieth Century

Cynthia Paces
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    Prague Panoramas
    Book Description:

    Prague Panoramasexamines the creation of Czech nationalism through monuments, buildings, festivals, and protests in the public spaces of the city during the twentieth century. These "sites of memory" were attempts by civic, religious, cultural, and political forces to create a cohesive sense of self for a country and a people torn by war, foreign occupation, and internal strife.The Czechs struggled to define their national identity throughout the modern era. Prague, the capital of a diverse area comprising Czechs, Slovaks, Germans, Poles, Ruthenians, and Romany as well as various religious groups including Catholics, Protestants, and Jews, became central to the Czech domination of the region and its identity. These struggles have often played out in violent acts, such as the destruction of religious monuments, or the forced segregation and near extermination of Jews.During the twentieth century, Prague grew increasingly secular, yet leaders continued to look to religious figures such as Jan Hus and Saint Wenceslas as symbols of Czech heritage. Hus, in particular, became a paladin in the struggle for Czech independence from the Habsburg Empire and Austrian Catholicism.Through her extensive archival research and personal fieldwork, Cynthia Paces offers a panoramic view of Prague as the cradle of Czech national identity, seen through a vast array of memory sites and objects. From the Gothic Saint Vitus Cathedral, to the Communist Party's reconstruction of Jan Hus's Bethlehem Chapel, to the 1969 self-immolation of student Jan Palach in protest of Soviet occupation, to the Hosková plaque commemorating the deportation of Jews from Josefov during the Holocaust, Paces reveals the iconography intrinsic to forming a collective memory and the meaning of being a Czech. As her study discerns, that meaning has yet to be clearly defined, and the search for identity continues today.

    eISBN: 978-0-8229-7767-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Prague— Panoramas of History
    (pp. 1-16)

    On a November day in 1995, I walked through Old Town Square (Staroměstké náměstí) to the City Archives, then housed in the baroque Clam-Gallas Palace. The weather was discouraging. A proverb in the morning newspaper warned that St. Martin rides into town on a white horse on November 11 and brings snow every day for the rest of the winter. St. Martin’s day was still a week away, but it had been snowing—a wet, heavy snow—for days. Not the magical dusting captured in black-and-white photographs of Prague, but thick splashes that melted into mud.

    The cobblestones on the...

  2. Chapter 1 Preserving the National Past for the Future
    (pp. 17-36)

    In November 1889, Prince Karl IV Schwarzenberg stood on the floor of the Bohemian Diet and exclaimed, “We see in the Hussites not celebrated heroes, but a band of bandits and arsonists. Communists from the fifteenth century!”¹ A leading member of the nobility, a conservative Catholic, and a wealthy landowner from Southern Bohemia, Schwarzenberg angrily decried a decision to place a plaque to the memory of Hus in the entryway of the National Museum in Prague. Representing the pro-Habsburg elite in the Austrian region of Bohemia, Schwarzenberg found the culture of local Czech nationalists distasteful and disrespectful.²

    Days later, Czech...

  3. Chapter 2 Art Meets Politics
    (pp. 37-55)

    Ladislav Šaloun, a prominent Prague sculptor, frequently wrote of the deep and personal meaning Jan Hus had held for him since youth. Šaloun wrote that Hus’s soul was “full of life,” yet simultaneously represented the dark and tragic national past and the uncertain abyss of the future.¹ When the art jury of the Club for the Building of the Jan Hus Memorial in Prague selected Šaloun to design and sculpt the monument to the martyred national hero, the sculptor had achieved one of his intimate and artistic goals. Through a modernist rendering of Hus, Šaloun could convey his emotions about...

  4. Chapter 3 Generational Approaches to National Monuments
    (pp. 56-73)

    While controversy swirled around the Jan Hus Memorial design and festival, other associations of Prague’s Czech nationalists prepared additional monument projects to mark the city with a national narrative. In Prague, the Czech civic leaders focused on the Hus Memorial but also supported statues planned to commemorate patron saint Wenceslas, national historian František Palacký, and Hussite general Jan Žižka. Monuments to these historical figures did not carry the emotional weight of the Hus project, but they were part of a larger effort by Czech civic leaders to create national sacred spaces throughout Prague during the “era of monument fever,”¹ when...

  5. Chapter 4 World War I and the Jan Hus Jubilee
    (pp. 74-86)

    The five-hundredth anniversary of Jan Hus’s death passed in the Czech capital with none of the fanfare and fireworks that nationalists had planned for twenty-five years. When war broke out in Europe in June 1914, the members of the Steering Committee of the Club for the Building of the Jan Hus Memorial in Prague were confident, like so many Europeans, that the fighting would be short. The members continued to plan an extravagant international celebration for the unveiling of Šaloun’s celebrated sculpture, an event scheduled for July of the following year on the momentous anniversary of Hus’s trial and immolation...

  6. Chapter 5 Toppling Columns, Building a Capital
    (pp. 87-99)

    “Down with it, down!”¹ The frenzied mob that crowded Prague’s Old Town Square cheered and shouted on the cold November evening. There was much reason for celebrating: less than a week earlier, on October 28, 1918, the National Council had proclaimed Czechoslovakia an independent nation-state and peacefully taken power from the protesting governor, Count Karl Coudenhove, and Austria-Hungary’s General Kestránek. Rejoicing crowds had gathered in Prague’s Wenceslas and Old Town squares throughout the following days, but leaders of the crowd on November 3, 1918, had a specific purpose in mind.

    “Down with it,” the crowd insisted. Finally, above the shouts,...

  7. Chapter 6 Catholic Czech Nationalism in the Early 1920s
    (pp. 100-114)

    In May 1923, five years after the proclamation of the Czechoslovak Republic, the Catholic press boldly entered the war over national symbols by publishing in the Czechoslovak People’s Party newspaper,Lidové listy(People’s News), a scathing commentary on the Hussite symbols that had come to represent the fledgling democracy. For five years, as the party gradually strengthened under the cautious leadership of Monsignor Jan Šrámek, Czech Catholic political leaders had quietly endured attacks on religious statues, as well as personal insults by fellow members of Parliament (for example, socialists taunting Šrámek in the Constitutional Assembly, calling him a “black devil”...

  8. Chapter 7 Religious Heroes for a Secular State
    (pp. 115-138)

    Headlines throughout Czechoslovakia on July 7, 1925, announced the strange news that the pope had suddenly recalled his representative from Prague and broken diplomatic relations with the Czechoslovak government. A European state with a majority Catholic population had provoked a rift with the Roman Catholic leadership that would last for three years, and at the heart of the conflict was a Prague festival: the Catholic Church in Rome was protesting the alleged insensitivity of the Czechoslovak state’s lavish Jan Hus celebrations.

    By 1925, it should have been clear that internal conflicts within Czechoslovakia, and within Prague itself, prevented consensus on...

  9. Chapter 8 Modern Churches, Living Cathedrals
    (pp. 139-157)

    The Wenceslas Millennium celebrations were the last major attempt by the state to celebrate Prague’s Catholic heritage, and the last national festival before the worldwide economic depression. The phenomenal economic growth of the provinces and the relative prosperity of Prague were over. Although Czechoslovakian industry grew 80 percent during the 1920s, the country would suffer a decline of 60 percent in industrial output from 1929 to 1933.¹ Non-Czech citizens, already economically disadvantaged, would particularly suffer during this period. Even during the Depression, industrial employment in Bohemia and Moravia was higher than its 1921 levels, yet in Slovakia, Ruthenia, and the...

  10. Chapter 9 National Heroes and Nazi Rule
    (pp. 158-169)

    Recent books on Prague during World War II carry titles such asPrague in BlackandPrague in Danger.¹ This was a dark time indeed in the city’s history, as citizens witnessed the partition and occupation of their state. The religious issue that dominated politics during this era was, of course, the deportation and annihilation of the Jewish population. In Bohemia and Moravia, over 70,000 Jews lost their lives; the names of 77,297 victims are inscribed on the walls of Prague’s Pinkas Synagogue.²

    Despite the gravity of the occupation and deportation of citizens, however, many politicians remained focused on the...

  11. Chapter 10 God’s Warriors on Vítkov Hill
    (pp. 170-188)

    Like the nation’s previous governments, that of the Czechoslovak Communist party invested major resources in symbols of its power. From red stars affixed to all state buildings to statues of fallen heroes of the Second World War, new emblems marked public space for the party that declared itself the exclusive ruler of postwar Czechoslovakia. Unsurprisingly, the Communist ideology of the postwar period emphasized rebirth and renewal. Weary Europe looked to the Left for the promise of a better future. Modernity, technology, and equality would replace the brutality and selfishness of capitalism and fascism. In Czechoslovakia, as in almost all European...

  12. Chapter 11 Rebuilding Bethlehem Chapel
    (pp. 189-209)

    On the 539th anniversary of Jan Hus’s death, the doors opened to the restored building where the martyr had preached. Representatives of the city and national government attended the opening ceremony alongside leaders of local Protestant churches. Czech politicians had been lauding the golden Hussite era since the nineteenth century, yet the leading role of Zdeněk Nejedlý, Czechoslovakia’s minister of culture, who in 1954 addressed the congregation from the chapel’s pulpit, seemed incongruous in the political climate of 1950s Czechoslovakia. The longtime Communist, a cabinet minister of the still young Czechoslovak Socialist Republic, publicly extolled the virtues of a medieval...

  13. Chapter 12 Old Symbols Oppose the New Regime
    (pp. 210-227)

    Of the postwar era in Europe, Pierre Nora has written, “No era has ever been as much a prisoner of its memory.”¹ In Czechoslovakia, as in other parts of Eastern Europe, the term “prisoner” seems particularly apt. Citizens were indeed jailed, put under house arrest, or silenced for questioning the official memory of the state.

    Nonetheless, opponents of the regime found outlets for remembering alternate visions. During the Prague Spring reform movement and the subsequent Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia, protesters used conventional tactics: they co-opted existing memorials, most often of Hus and Wenceslas, to reclaim historical symbols for themselves....

  14. Chapter 13 Religious and National Symbols in Post-Communist Prague
    (pp. 228-245)

    It was November 17, 1989. The crowd that gathered on Wenceslas Square to protest the dictatorial Communist regime strained to listen to the small man standing on a balcony above. As he began to speak, a chant energized the people, “Havel na hrad! … Václav na hrad” (“Havel to the castle, Václav to the castle”), encouraging their new leader to take the helm at Prague Castle, seat of Czechoslovak government. Others began to sing the “St. Wenceslas Chorale.” Members of the older generation who had joined the student protesters were surprised that the young people, brought up during the Communist...

  15. Epilogue— New Times, New Monuments
    (pp. 246-254)

    Tomáš G. Masaryk once remarked, “We have more serious business than statues.”¹ Masaryk’s comment can make one question the point of writing about a century of nationalism, genocide, and harsh totalitarian rule by focusing on statues and festivals in one Central European city. Yet the stories of these sites of memory elucidate the centrality of nationalism, the passion that people feel for place, and the role of religion in modern society; they demonstrate how people use public space to create a sense of self and of nation in a modern era often described as alienating and fragmented.

    “Becoming national” requires...