Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Two small memorials

On Sunday we went geocaching with two other English-speaking families connected with the Prague Community of Unitarians. Towards the end of our stroll through Divoká Šárka park we passed this crucifix at a crossing of two paths.

The Czech countryside is sprinkled with little roadside shrines. The ones I remember seeing most often on my walks are about the height of an adult, a square masonry column topped by a tiny chapel, a little bigger than a human head. A place for a short prayer or moment of devotion, perhaps as you pass by on your way to or from working in the fields.

Sometimes the shrines are small crucifixes, maybe one-half life-size or smaller. I don’t remember frequently seeing them as large as this one.

Yesterday I noticed this monument on my way from my office to the bus stop coming home.

I’ve passed near this piece of grass over a hundred times, but my office was in a different place seven years ago, so I would take a slightly different route.

It looks like maybe there was originally something on top, but I’m not sure. Perhaps it was put up as it is now, a plain rectangular prism with inscriptions.

The side facing you as you approach the university is in Russian and says, “The Red Army liberated Prague 9th of May, 1945.”

If you walk around it to the right, the next face has the same text, but in Czech.

Passing to the left of the monument instead of the right, the face there says in Czech, “In honor of the 30th anniversary of the Red Army.”

And the back said says (in Czech), “Capital city Prague, 23rd of February, 1948.”
During the communist era the public sphere had many invocations of “Victorious February.” The reference was to the days between the 13th and 25th of February, when the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia went from being the dominant party in a coalition government elected in a more-or-less democratic fashion, to being the only party in what was rapidly turned into a communist dictatorship.

The year, of course, was 1948.

So this monument, placed in an outlying suburb of Prague to honor the 30th anniversary of the Red Army, happened to have been put up right as the tension of the seizure of power was reaching its breaking point.

Presumably the monument was planned well before “Victorious February”—I’m guessing you don’t think of something like that on the 13th and have it placed there on the 23rd. Still, in the midst of government turmoil in which the communist party was coming to full power, backed by the Red Army, a monument was going up reminding the people of Prague why they should be grateful to the Soviet Union.

The crucifix from Divoká Šárka also has an inscription. It says, “Lord God, protect us from plague, hunger, and war."

And the year, as you can see, is 1948.

I can’t quite tell whether the crucifix itself was made that year, or if it was already there and the plaque was added to it.

But even if it was just the plaque, it still suggests that in 1948 some people were feeling extra motivation to ask for God’s grace.

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