When French President Nicolas Sarkozy packs his bags for a working visit to Prague next week he’ll be taking much less than anticipated. A giant bronze statue of Jan Palach which was to have accompanied him to Prague as a gift to the Czech government is to remain in Paris.
However, the Czech Foreign Ministry unexpectedly took the wind out of Mr. Sarkozy’s sails – expressing gratitude for the gift offered but suggesting that it would be better to place it somewhere in France, where it was made, shortly after Jan Palach’s death, by Hungarian sculptor Andras Beck. Unlike Italy, Luxembourg and Britain, France does not have a statue of Jan Palach and the French government has agreed to let him stay – the question is where? A three-and-a-half meter bronze statue of a burning figure is not easy to place and both the French authorities and the Czech embassy in Paris and now negotiating the issue with half a dozen city mayors. The university town of Dijon, which has traditionally strong ties with Prague, is said to be a likely choice. The plan is that the statue of Jan Palach should be unveiled next year – on the fortieth anniversary of his death. The French president is due to arrive in Prague on Monday to attend a meeting of prime ministers of the Visegrad group – the Czech Republic, Slovakia Hungary and Poland – who will all be gathered in the Czech capital. France is about to take up the rotating EU presidency and the statue of Jan Palach – a student who burnt himself to death in 1968 in protest against the Soviet-led invasion of his homeland – was to have been a symbolic gift expressing France’s strong ties with “new Europe”.