American General George Smith Patton was a key figure in the Second World War. His name is bound up especially with the liberation of Western Czechoslovakia. Between the 5th and the 8th of May 1945, his forces were responsible for liberating the city of Plzen. To honour the sixtieth anniversary of this event, the Plzen authorities have commissioned a statue of the General. But now they are in turmoil, as the sculptor they have chosen to design it doesn't quite fit the mould. Rosie Johnston has more...
Plans to sculpt a Patton memorial for the 60th anniversary of Plzen's liberation were originally unveiled two years ago. Jaroslav Bocker, a local sculptor whose works are already on display in the town square, was chosen to design the statue. Money was raised by members of the public and the local military club, with the town council also donating a large sum. But now the authorities have withdrawn their support for reasons that council employee, Vladimir Palek, explains:
"In my opinion there is a problem with the sculptor - Mr. Bocker's past. During the communist regime Mr. Bocker collaborated with the communist government's secret police, and many people in the city council have a problem with that."
The sculptor, Jaroslav Bocker, defends himself against such allegations.
"People started saying that I had collaborated with the secret service during the communist times. I was pressurized into this under the last regime. In fact I was persecuted during communist times. I was never a communist, I always supported Western European and American culture - things were very difficult for me. I tried to emigrate to the west several times, but I never had the courage to stay there. When I came back I was held by the police, charged with trying to emigrate, and for conspiring with other emigrants against the regime."
All this comes at a time when the statue is near completion, and the key stone lies bare in front of the town's "house of culture". Jaroslav Bocker had been working on the project 'in good faith' that he would be paid for it - but as he didn't enter into any contract, he is now nearly half a million crowns out of pocket. He has considered selling the 2.7 metre high statue to a Slovak museum, or alternatively just pitching it in his garden, which is fortunately large.
While the town council is firmly opposed to the statue, writing in a press release that they will 'strive towards realizing a memorial on clearer and more transparent terms', others involved in the project want the statue to go on display. Vladimir Palek again:
"The military club still want to realize it, but I'm not sure they can do that."
The unveiling of the statue was planned for May. American war veterans were to fly over for the occasion. They too have asked the council to go ahead with the project, but as of yet to no avail. Come the day of celebrations, it may well be that Plzen roars and brings forth a slab.
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