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Stalin’s Memorial in Letná – No Longer Standing but Worth Mentioning

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Park Technical Monument View
Stalin’s Memorial in Letná


Shortly before the Soviet dictator Josif Vissarionovich Stalin died in 1953, Czechoslovakia started building a massive memorial in his honor on a site on the Letná Plain (today, the site is occupied by the “Giant Metronome” installation). Construction began at the height of Stalinism on December 22, 1949, and the monument was unveiled on May 1 (Labor Day, every Communist’s dearest holiday), 1955, bearing a dedication translating roughly as “To Its Liberator – the Czechoslovak People”. Stalin never saw the thing completed, having died two years prior. The sculptor was one Otakar Švec, who committed suicide shortly before the unveiling. The lack of common sense in the project is also attested by the fact that it was the largest work of statuary “art” in Europe when unveiled.

Stalin’s Memorial in Letná

Stalin’s Memorial in Letná

The granite statue itself, portraying Stalin and 8 “representatives of the People” (representing various working-class professions particularly valued by the Communists) in a double row behind him, was 15.5 meters high by 12 meters wide by 22 meters long (51 by 40 by 72 feet, respectively). The work also included a large pedestal of reinforced concrete 15 meters (50 ft) tall above ground, with an additional 7 meters (23 ft) of foundation. The total cost of this Brobdingnagian edifice was 140 million Czechoslovak koruna (in 2016 Czech koruna, this would be about 8.5 billion, or about 330 million current USD) and 17,000 tons of construction materials were used.

The statue was purposely placed so that it would be impossible to overlook from most any place in downtown Prague, the better to remind “the People” of their “true leader.” The People themselves, by then quite resentful of Communism in general and Stalin in particular, nicknamed it the “Meat Queue,” and “It’s Stalin’s Turn to Be Served.”[1]

The people of Prague did not, however, have opportunity to “rejoice” at the sight of this monumental work for long. In 1956, three years after Stalin’s death, his successor, Nikita Sergeevich Khrushchev, openly denounced many of Stalin’s actions as crimes[2] and announced an official end to the Stalinist personality cult. This made the monument politically inconvenient. After six years, the local Communist leadership finally decided to dismantle it. Demolition works began in 1962 under high-security conditions (the Communists feared protests against the regime in general – with good reason). The statue was liquidated by controlled dynamite explosions; the work took several weeks.

The demolition process was accompanied by enthusiastic reactions from dissidents and students. Once the monument was down, new uses for the site were considered; however, none of the plans were realized before the fall of Communism in Czechoslovakia in the Velvet Revolution of 1989. In 1991, the site became host to a huge, fully functional pendulum, titled “The Time Machine” and colloquially called the “Metronome.” The massive plinth and foundation of the original statue remained and the question of what to do with them has been a perennial issue in city politics since the Revolution. The principal obstacle to any plans seems to be the amount of investment required.

The place is still sometimes called “Stalin” by locals and the deteriorating plinth is very popular with skateboarders. The location offers a magnificent view of downtown Prague and beyond.

 


 

Tony’s Alternative Guide to Prague

Tony’s Alternative Guide through Prague is an independent project which offers you tips for the best places in Prague which you should see when you stop by. We pointed out for you the most authentic venues with great genius loci.

The Guide Book is ready but only in the Czech language. Unfortunately my knowledge of English is not sufficient enough to translate it by myself. But I study hard and try to improve.

That is why I need to collect some money for professional translation. The Guide Book offers more than 130 places on about 170 pages which means a lot of time and work for some translator. After the translation also proofreading must be done so you can enjoy the whole Guide Book while going through it.

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Notes:

[1] Both refer to the long queues for shortage goods (meat, cars, toilet paper, fruit, many others) that were a daily fact of life in that time. The latter moniker refers to Stalin’s place at the head of the “queue” – although, due to the regime’s brutality, many probably wished it were also Stalin’s “turn” in a more final sense. By the time the monument was built, this had become fact, as Stalin was already dead.

[2] In Czechoslovakia, the number of people killed directly by the local Communist dictatorship was in the hundreds. While terrible, in the Soviet Union the number of victims in Stalin’s era only is estimated between 30 and 50 million (at least as much as WWII). Stalin’s crimes were such that even the other Communist leaders feared and despised him, and the Stalinist “cult of personality” was quickly and rather gratefully dismantled by Khrushchev and others once Stalin was dead.Tony’s


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