A sculptor tasked with reconstructing the communist era pylon in front of the National Museum’s New Building has discovered old documents which show the monument’s author, Czech architect Karel Prager, dedicated it to Jan Palach, who set himself alight and died in 1969, in protest of the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia. The museum is now considering restoring the original memorial.
At the top of Wenceslas Square stands the Historical building of the National Museum and to its right the museum’s New Building, which used to be Czechoslovakia’s Federal Assembly building and later the headquarters of Radio Free Europe.
Currently, the Historical building, as well as the pylon in front of the New Building, are both undergoing reconstruction.
The man tasked with planning the restoration of the latter, is sculptor Antonín Kašpar. He was also the man who made the shocking discovery that the monument was originally intended for Jan Palach.
“When I went through the original static drawings and Prager’s proposals I came across a document from the Gamma Atelier [Karel Prager was its director] from 1991, where Mr Prager is planning the full rehabilitation of Palach’s pylon.”
The discovery surprised many, as Prager never went public with the idea, despite continuing to be professionally active after the Velvet Revolution. Mr. Kašpar explains however, that Prager had a special respect for Palach, who burned himself on Wenceslas Square right next to the museum building.
“Prager’s son was in the tram at the moment that Palach burned himself. He stepped out and saw it with his own eyes. Furthermore, Prager himself was building the Federal Assembly at that time, which is nearby, so he was closely connected to that spot. Palach’s act hit both Prager and his son hard.”
The monument was originally supposed to have a granite sculpture of a flame placed inside it, but this was dismissed by the communist authorities, who instead demanded Prager place the Czechoslovak coat of arms into the structure accompanied by verses from the constitution. Only a plaster model of the original flame design survives.
The original plan for the restoration counted on hanging a symbolic repository for the Charter 77 documents, whose signatories used to meet nearby.
Restoring the flame sculpture commemorating Palach’s deed is not yet part of the project, but in an interview for Czech Television the Deputy Director of the museum, Michal Stehlík, said that he saw the discovered documents as “a summons” to its restoration.