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Prague Panoramas

National Memory and Sacred Space in the Twentieth Century

Cynthia Paces

Publication Year: 2009

This book examines the creation of Czech nationalism through monuments, buildings, festivals, and protests in the public spaces of the city during the twentieth century. These “sites of memory” were attempts by civic, religious, cultural, and political forces to create a cohesive sense of self for a country and a people torn by war, foreign occupation, and internal strife. The Czechs struggled to define their national identity throughout the modern era. Prague, the capital of a diverse area comprising Czechs, Slovaks, Germans, Poles, Ruthenians, and Romany as well as various religious groups including Catholics, Protestants, and Jews, became central to the Czech domination of the region and its identity. These struggles have often played out in violent acts, such as the destruction of religious monuments, or the forced segregation and near extermination of Jews. During the twentieth century, Prague grew increasingly secular, yet leaders continued to look to religious figures such as Jan Hus and Saint Wenceslas as symbols of Czech heritage. Hus, in particular, became a paladin in the struggle for Czech independence from the Habsburg Empire and Austrian Catholicism. Cynthia Paces offers a panoramic view of Prague as the cradle of Czech national identity, seen through a vast array of memory sites and objects. From the Gothic Saint Vitus Cathedral, to the Communist Party's reconstruction of Jan Hus's Bethlehem Chapel, to the 1969 self-immolation of student Jan Palach in protest of Soviet occupation, to the Hosková plaque commemorating the deportation of Jews from Josefov during the Holocaust, Paces reveals the iconography intrinsic to forming a collective memory and the meaning of being a Czech.

Published by: University of Pittsburgh Press

Front Matter

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xiv

In 1990, my father’s first cousin Miluška Voclová brought me to the street where my father was born. I was the first of my family to return to Czechoslovakia after the fall of Communism, and I was embraced by an extended family I hardly knew existed. Never did I guess that, five years later, I would return to the little row house in Prague 10, to live in the home my grandparents had built ...

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Note on Language

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pp. xv-xvi

Writing about places in Prague is particularly complex, as each landmark has a Czech and German name, as well as an English translation. Further, names of streets and squares changed during different political eras. Because this study focuses on the Czech national movements, I use the common Czech names, with English translations. If a place name has a standard English usage, such as ...

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Prague—Panoramas of History

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pp. 1-16

Qn a November day in 1995, I walked through Old Town Square (Staroměstké náměstí) to the City Archives, then housed in the baroque Clam-Gallas Palace. The weather was discouraging. A proverb in the morning newspaper warned that St. Martin rides into town on a white horse on November 11 and brings snow every day for the rest of the winter....

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Chapter 1. Preserving the National Past for the Future

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pp. 17-36

In November 1889, Prince Karl IV Schwarzenberg stood on the floor of the Bohemian Diet and exclaimed, “We see in the Hussites not celebrated heroes, but a band of bandits and arsonists. Communists from the fifteenth century!”1 A leading member of the nobility, a conservative Catholic, and a wealthy landowner from Southern Bohemia, Schwarzenberg angrily decried ...

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Chapter 2. Art Meets Politics

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pp. 37-55

Ladislav Šaloun, a prominent Prague sculptor, frequently wrote of the deep and personal meaning Jan Hus had held for him since youth. Šaloun wrote that Hus’s soul was “full of life,” yet simultaneously represented the dark and tragic national past and the uncertain abyss of the future.1 When the art jury of the Club for the Building of the Jan Hus Memorial in ...

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Chapter 3. Generational Approaches to National Monuments

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pp. 56-73

While controversy swirled around the Jan Hus Memorial design and festival, other associations of Prague’s Czech nationalists prepared additional monument projects to mark the city with a national narrative. In Prague, the Czech civic leaders focused on the Hus Memorial but also supported statues planned to commemorate patron saint Wenceslas, national ...

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Chapter 4. World War I and the Jan Hus Jubilee

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pp. 74-86

The five-hundredth anniversary of Jan Hus’s death passed in the Czech capital with none of the fanfare and fireworks that nationalists had planned for twenty-five years. When war broke out in Europe in June 1914, the members of the Steering Committee of the Club for the Building of the Jan Hus Memorial in Prague were confident, like so many Europeans, that ...

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Chapter 5. Toppling Columns, Building a Capital

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pp. 87-99

"Down with it, down!”1 The frenzied mob that crowded Prague’s Old Town Square cheered and shouted on the cold November evening. There was much reason for celebrating: less than a week earlier, on October 28, 1918, the National Council had proclaimed Czechoslovakia an independent nation-state and peacefully taken power from the protesting ...

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Chapter 6. Catholic Czech Nationalism in the early 1920s

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pp. 100-114

In May 1923, five years after the proclamation of the Czechoslovak Republic, the Catholic press boldly entered the war over national symbols by publishing in the Czechoslovak People’s Party newspaper, Lidové listy (People’s News), a scathing commentary on the Hussite symbols that had come to represent the fledgling democracy. For five years, as the party gradually strengthened ...

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Chapter 7. Religious Heroes for a Secular State

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pp. 115-138

Headlines throughout Czechoslovakia on July 7, 1925, announced the strange news that the pope had suddenly recalled his representative from Prague and broken diplomatic relations with the Czechoslovak government. A European state with a majority Catholic population had provoked a rift with the Roman Catholic leadership that would last for three ...

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Chapter 8. Modern Churches, Living Cathedrals

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pp. 139-157

The Wenceslas Millennium celebrations were the last major attempt by the state to celebrate Prague’s Catholic heritage, and the last national festival before the worldwide economic depression. The phenomenal economic growth of the provinces and the relative prosperity of Prague were over. Although Czechoslovakian industry grew 80 percent during the 1920s, ...

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Chapter 9. National Heroes and Nazi Rule

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pp. 158-169

Recent books on Prague during World War II carry titles such as Prague in Black and Prague in Danger.1 This was a dark time indeed in the city’s history, as citizens witnessed the partition and occupation of their state. The religious issue that dominated politics during this era was, of course, the deportation and annihilation of the Jewish population. In Bohemia ...

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Chapter 10. God’s Warriors on Vítkov Hill

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pp. 170-188

Like the nation’s previous governments, that of the Czechoslovak Communist party invested major resources in symbols of its power. From red stars affixed to all state buildings to statues of fallen heroes of the Second World War, new emblems marked public space for the party that declared itself the exclusive ruler of postwar Czechoslovakia. Unsurprisingly, the Communist ...

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Chapter 11. Rebuilding Bethlehem Chapel

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pp. 189-209

On the 539th anniversary of Jan Hus’s death, the doors opened to the restored building where the martyr had preached. Representatives of the city and national government attended the opening ceremony alongside leaders of local Protestant churches. Czech politicians had been lauding the golden Hussite era since the nineteenth century, yet the leading role of ...

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Chapter 12. Old Symbols Oppose the New Regime

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pp. 210-227

Of the postwar era in Europe, Pierre Nora has written, “No era has ever been as much a prisoner of its memory.”1 In Czechoslovakia, as in other parts of Eastern Europe, the term “prisoner” seems particularly apt. Citizens were indeed jailed, put under house arrest, or silenced for questioning the official memory of the state. ...

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Chapter 13. Religious and National Symbols in Post-Communist Prague

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pp. 228-245

It was November 17, 1989. The crowd that gathered on Wenceslas Square to protest the dictatorial Communist regime strained to listen to the small man standing on a balcony above. As he began to speak, a chant energized the people, “Havel na hrad! . . . Václav na hrad” (“Havel to the castle, Václav to the castle”), encouraging their new leader to take the helm at Prague Castle, seat ...

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Epilogue—New Times, New Monuments

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pp. 246-254

Tomáš G. Masaryk once remarked, “We have more serious business than statues.”1 Masaryk’s comment can make one question the point of writing about a century of nationalism, genocide, and harsh totalitarian rule by focusing on statues and festivals in one Central European city. Yet the stories of these sites of memory elucidate the centrality of nationalism, the passion ...


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pp. 255-278

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 279-296


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pp. 297-309

E-ISBN-13: 9780822977674
E-ISBN-10: 0822977672
Print-ISBN-13: 9780822960355
Print-ISBN-10: 0822960354

Page Count: 328
Illustrations: 31 Illustrations
Publication Year: 2009

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Historic preservation -- Czech Republic -- Prague -- History -- 20th century.
  • Prague (Czech Republic) -- Politics and government -- 20th century.
  • Sacred space -- Czech Republic -- Prague -- History -- 20th century.
  • Church buildings -- Czech Republic -- Prague -- History -- 20th century.
  • Collective memory -- Czech Republic -- Prague -- History -- 20th century.
  • Nationalism -- Czech Republic -- Prague -- History -- 20th century.
  • Political culture -- Czech Republic -- Prague -- History -- 20th century.
  • Prague (Czech Republic) -- Religion -- 20th century.
  • National monuments -- Czech Republic -- Prague -- History -- 20th century.
  • Prague (Czech Republic) -- Buildings, structures, etc.
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