Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Last Day in Prague--Memorials

I have one more thing to tell you about Prague, before we start reporting on our cross country trip. I spent my last day in there visiting memorials for the communist resisters.

Jan Palach is remembered all over the city. The large square in front of Charles University--where we had our classes--was named for him and a replica of his death mask hangs from a wall near the front door. His friend Olbram Zoubeck a sculpter cast his face for the resulting sculpture and then hid it for over 20 years.

If you don't know the story of Jan Palach, he set himself on fire in front of the National Museum at Wesceslas Square in 1968, to protest the Soviet invasion of his country. Another memorial, which I found to be so moving, sits on the ground at the spot where he committed this act. All the memorials that I visited in Prague had fresh flowers placed on them. Each day, someone is placing them there. Who I wonder?

Zoubeck's other sculpture related to Communism is the Victims of Communism Memorial, found at the foot of Petrin Hill. I had heard about this sculpture of the disappearing men, but missed it the first time we climbed the hill. I returned at night, to see it lit up and once more on my last day, to take some pictures.

These heroes seem so big in this little country, and they leave me with a new realization about power. I thought my Big Idea from this trip was going to be that there's hope for the US, because the Czechs went through two terrible occupations by totalitarian governments and look at them now. Doesn't this offer hope to us here? But Hana, once again gave me a new way to think. She thinks that the Czechs' suffering was to some degree self-inflicted. Why didn't they fight back? Who else, she asks, was invaded by the Swedes (Thirty-day war). I'm left with that uneasy feeling that I often get that I'm constantly over-simplifying everything, but no, we aren't talking about self-defense in the case of the US really, are we?

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