The city of Brno has made up its mind on a contentious issue: the hammer and sickle on a public monument to fallen Red Army soldiers from the Second World War is coming down. In a unanimous vote on Tuesday, the city council decided to end two years of protests and vandalism by removing the still-controversial symbol for good.
Brno has been abuzz since 2007 about a roughly ten-centimetre engraving on a marble pyramid in a park. Such is the power of the hammer and sickle to stir up feelings 20 years past the fall of communism. The monument in question was erected in 1946 to commemorate 326 Red Army soldiers who died liberating Brno in April of 1945. Since at least the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia however, it has also been a symbol of Soviet occupation and oppression, and the latter interpretation has now won out in the halls of the Brno city council, which has voted unanimously to remove the offending emblem. Deputy Mayor Martin Ander, told me what he expects the effect of that to be.
“What I’m promising with the city’s proposal is that we will try to pacify the situation, because I myself am quite unhappy that the actual meaning of the memorial is being ruined by the two sides in this dispute. Its meaning is not to commemorate the totalitarian communist regime, but to remember the end of the Second World War and the people who gave their lives in the liberation of Brno. And unfortunately, the hammer and sickle on the side of the monument is diverting the public understanding of the monument’s real meaning somewhere else altogether.”
The hammer and sickle and a red star atop the monument were taken down after more than forty years in 1989, and that was seemingly that. In 2006 however, the Russian General Consulate in Brno successfully pressured the city into putting the controversial symbols of the Red Army back. It was not until 2007 though that things came to a head, when a deputy mayor effaced the communist emblem with a stone-grinder in the middle of the night. The act brought protestors both supporting and opposing the official’s handiwork, the dispute then went global, sparking protests from the Russian embassy, and the contentious symbol was restored, starting protests anew.
The city has therefore proposed a compromise of sorts: the star stays, the hammer and sickle go, and the city shows its respect for the dead in another way:
“Another thing that has come up has been doubts as to where the soldiers are actually buried. The municipal government wants to have credible documentation about this question, and so we are going to have geo-radar survey of the area conducted to know where exactly the grave lies, but also so that that location is given its due reverence and people aren’t playing pétanque or walking dogs there. The aim of the geo-survey will be to increase the dignity and honour of the soldiers’ grave.”
So far the imposed compromise has not soothed hurt feelings. The communist party is unhappy, and Russian embassy has so far made no comment on the matter. But the final say is still in the hands of the conservationists, who will ultimately decide what can and cannot be done to the pyramid, which has been a protected monument since 1958.
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