On Wednesday October 5th, history came round full circle in Prague as a bronze statue of US President Woodrow Wilson was unveiled outside the city’s Main Railway Station. The original 3.5 metre tall monument by Czech-American sculptor Albín Polášek was funded by Americans of Czech and Slovak descent and erected on 4th July 1928. It was pulled down by the Nazis 70 years ago and a restored copy has just been re-erected by the non-profit organization The American Friends of the Czech Republic.
Hundreds of guests and onlookers applauded as the white veil fell of the larger than life bronze statue outside Prague’s Main Station, formerly named after the US president. In attendance were Czech and American dignitaries; Czech President Václav Klaus and his predecessor Václav Havel, former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, the ambassadors of the two respective countries as well as other officials.
Woodrow Wilson, who was president of the United States from 1913 to 1921, was instrumental in the process of the establishment of Czechoslovakia in 1918. Ms Albright looked back on his impact on world politics:
“In an era when other leaders saw a global chessboard with the imperial powers as players and everyone else as pawns, Wilson put forward an astonishing idea. He believed that law should apply equally to big nations and to small and that every country had a duty to defend this principle. Because of Wilson’s credibility and the power of his arguments, the old order crumbled and a new era came into being.”
The statue to Woodrow Wilson was destroyed by Nazi invaders on the 12th of December 1941, a day after Germany declared war on the United States. After the end of the Second World War, in 1946, Jan Masaryk, the son of the first Czechoslovak President T. G. Masaryk, dedicated a special plaque to commemorate the destroyed monument. Fred Malek, the chairman of the The American Friends of the Czech Republic quoted Jan Masaryk’s prophetic words:
“From 1928 there stood on this place a monument in honour of Woodrow Wilson, President of the United States of America. The monument was destroyed by the Germans in 1941 and will be re-erected by Americans of Czech descent in the United States of America. How prophetic was he!”
As it turned out, a long 60 years after that, in 2006, the American Friends of the Czech Republic embarked upon the project to re-erect the monument which has now been unveiled. The US Ambassador to the Czech Republic Norman Eisen spoke of the statue as a symbol of a long lasting friendship between Czechs and Americans:
“The monument that stood here was one not only to a great American president but also a monument, a symbol that recognized the close and lasting ties between our two nations. That monument recognized the many people who left here, who moved and settled in the New World and who made the United States a better country, the country it is now. The monument also recognized those such as myself, Fred, Madeleine and all of the American Friends of the Czech Republic who have come here from every corner of the United States who have the privilege to come back to their ancestral homelands.”
The statue to Woodrow Wilson is not the first such endeavour of The American Friends of the Czech Republic. In 2002 they commissioned the renewal of a statue to Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk in Washington, D.C.