Prague Stalin Statue
If you had been in Prague on the evening on November 6th 1962 you would have heard a terrific explosion. It was the end of the road for the Prague Stalin Statue. This post is about why it was built, things to look out for, why it had to be destroyed and what happened next. The old location of the statue and stories associated with it are included on my Old Town and Jewish Quarter Walking Tour.
A New Beginning
In Post World War Two Prague there was a feeling of having a fresh start. The occupying German army was gone and various works began that would raise the spirits of the residents of the city after years of occupation. One of these projects was a new football ground to be built where Letna Park is today. In the autumn of 1949 the project was almost completed when the city council, now under the control of the Communist Party, decided that it needed that land for something else, the Prague Stalin Statue.
Location, Location, Location
The Communists weren’t the first people to think about building a monument here as way back in 1912 there had been plans to build a monument to some famous Czechs and pre-WW2 architects Otakar Švec and Jiri Stursa were working on a statue of President Tomas Garrigue Masaryk to be sited here. However, these plans were put on hold when the football stadium was built.
The Prague Stalin Statue Design
In 1949 these same two architects (actually three architects because Jiri Stursa’s wife Vlasta Stursova was also an architect) won a competition for the new monument and unlike every other entry into the competition, theirs was not just a statue of Stalin but of the symbols of Socialism. So it was to be a monumental interpretation of Communist ideals headed by the great liberator, Josef Stalin. Otakar Švec’s design called for 4 characters on each side. To the left of Stalin were four Russians who would represent (front to back) the “Worker”, the “Scientist”, the “Collective Farming worker” and the “Red Army Soldier”. To the right of Stalin, four Czechs who would represent (front to back) the “Worker”, the “Peasant”, the “Innovator” and the “Czech Soldier” and all the characters including Stalin would be at the same level. Of course, all of this had to be agreed with the building committee and over the objections of Otakar Švec changes were made so that Stalin became taller and six of the characters remained generic but the Russian “Scientist” and the Czech “Innovator” were based on real people and had their likeness.
Building the Prague Stalin Statue
The dimensions were staggering at 15.5 metres high, 22 metres long and 12 metres wide. Due to the monumental size it was assumed that this would have to be made using bronze-cast plates but the committee elected to use granite. Add on another 2000 cubic metres just for the foundation stones plus add the structure foundation to that and it’s no surprise the Prague Stalin Statue used a record-breaking 17,000 tons of materials. Hundreds of sculptors were required including both professionals and students from the nearby Arts and Architecture Academy.
The Grand Opening
Work on the Prague Stalin Statue did not begin until 1952 so it was nowhere near being completed when in March 1953, Stalin died. On a side-note the Czech President Klement Gottwald attended the funeral and himself died two weeks later. Work on the grand project continued until it’s official opening on May 1st 1955.
The public holiday i.e. May 1st was chosen for the official opening of the monument and you got the feeling that it was not a momentous event as it took place at night. Otakar Švec was not present because he had killed himself 10 days before. Was this as a result of the political trials of the early 1950s or had he fallen out with the Communists? Probably neither as the suicide was on the first anniversary of his wife’s own suicide and a note mentioned only that the money in his pockets would cover the cost of a cremation and that anything else connected with the statue would be given to help soldiers blinded in war.
After the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev denounced Stalin in 1961 the decision was made to demolish the Prague Stalin Statue. Usable stone was removed including Stalin’s head and the rest of the structure was destroyed by a series of three explosions on November 6th 1962. Most of the rubble was dumped in the river at the end of the old Rohan Island, read the Lost Islands of Prague to find out where it’s located.
Some Strange Facts
The Prague Metronome is now in the same location as the old Prague Stalin Statue and the red pointer in it’s vertical position is equal to the original combined height of the statue and pedestal.
The whole structure required 7000 cubic metres of stone.
The piece of raw granite used for Stalin’s Head weighed 52 tons.
The underground rooms has been used as a Rock Club, a radio station and a Josef Stalin museum.
Prague locals nicknamed the Prague Stalin Statue “the meat queue”.
Some of the foundation stones were recycled from the Old Town Hall in Prague, the town of Lezaky destroyed by the nazis in 1942 and the old basilica in Velehrad (middle-ages capital of Moravia).
On February 25th 2019, the 50th anniversary of the suicide of Jan Zajic, an arts protest group that had flown the Pair of Red Shorts over Prague Castle, lit fires in the bronze bowls that were either side of the Prague Stalin Statue.