Memorial for Jan Palach in Prague. via Raymond Johnston

Prague City Hall commits to building a Museum of Memory of the 20th Century

The museum will explore totalitarianism in the 20th century

Prague has made a commitment to opening museum exploring totalitarianism in the 20th century, though many details including the location still need to be worked out. Three groups in the city’s coalition — Pirates, United Force for Prague and Praha sobě — agreed on the idea, and City Hall intends to pursue it as part of its agenda.

The location in Letná under where the statue of Stalin stood in the late 1950s has been discussed in the past, but seems unlikely. The plinth has significant structural problems, and the current administration of the Prague 7 district opposes it.

Prague 7 Mayor Jan Čižinský (Prague 7 sobě) instead favors keeping the site as a place for skateboarders. The museum, for example would require making a driveway and parking lot in the park. The space did host a temporary exhibit about totalitarianism in the fall of 2018.

Another location that has been discussed is site of the former hospital on Legerova Street where Jan Palach and Josef Toufar, both regarded as national heroes and victims of communism, died.

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Prague City Hall commits to building a Museum of Memory of the 20th Century
Movie prop of Stalin visible above the base of the Stalin statue in 2016. via Raymond Johnston

A total of 30 civic associations and social organizations bringing together former political prisoners, educators and researchers expressed their support for the establishment of the Museum of Memory of the XX Century (Muzeum paměti XX. století) by supporting the August Declaration.

Among the associations expressing support for building a modern museum in Prague dedicated to events of the last century are the Confederation of Political Prisoners of the Czech Republic, Association of Former Political Prisoners of the Czech Republic 1948–1989, Junak – Czech Scout, Orel, Association of Private Agriculture, Post Bellum, Center for Documentation of Totalitarian Regimes, the Prague Shoah Memorial, People in Need, and the Society for the Preservation of the Legacy of the Czech Resistance.

The August Declaration says that witnesses are gradually passing away and their experience must be preserved for generations to come: “As the eyewitnesses of the 20th century’s historical events are gradually leaving, it is important to convey their life experiences to the coming generations. Understanding the nature of authoritarian ways of governing, monitoring and controlling society is essential to knowing the current threats we face together. In this context, it is important to remember not only the crimes and heroic acts committed but also the forms of adaptation or open collaboration.”

The modern museum is conceived as an educational and open cultural institution serving society.

“I consider it a huge debt to be paid that, 30 years after the fall of the communist regime, we still do not have a modern museum to commemorate the victims of totalitarian regimes as well as the venerable bravery of citizens who fought for freedom and democracy at the cost of huge sacrifices. We decided to fulfill this debt in Prague, and therefore we want to establish the Museum of Memory of the XX Century in the capital,” City Councilor Hana Kordová Marvanová (United Force for Prague) said.

TOP 09 leader Jiří Pospíšil said the city wants to contribute to creating a place that would authentically remind us of how important freedom is. TOP 09 is part of the United Force for Prague. “At the same time, it would also help us not to repeat past mistakes. The idea of creating such a museum came from Hana Marvanová, and it became one of the priorities of our coalition. Therefore I am glad that this project is now gaining concrete outlines,” Pospíšil said.

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The Museum of World War II in Gdansk
The Museum of World War II in Gdansk. via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0

Jaroslava Janderová, Chairman of the Audit Committee of the City Council, said the establishment of the Museum of Memory of the XX Century is a necessity. “Despite the efforts of some enlightened cantors, the historical memory of the younger generation is weakened. This is due not only to the time gap between the historical events of the 20th century, but also to the shortcomings in school teaching, which have neglected these periods,” she said.

“Not all teachers perceive that the current events in today’s society may be the onset of forces similar to those that stood at the origin of past totalitarianism,” she added.

When considering the design of the museum, historian Petr Blažek recommends getting inspiration from foreign examples that have been developed over the last 15 years. “These include the Holocaust History Museum, which is part of Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, the Warsaw Uprising Museum in Warsaw, Museum of the Second World War in Gdansk, House of Terror in Budapest, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and Topography of Terror in Berlin,” Blažek said.

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