|The Connections . . .|
|. . . between Jaroslav Hašek's first equestrian statue in the world, Mt. Rushmore, and the Lenin Mausoleum in Moscow's Red Square|
First there was the mythical-proportion victory of the Czech Hussite rebels over Europe's best, the Crusaders in 1420. The Hussites were led by the one-eyed landless squire-warrior Jan Žižka who led them on this occasion to defend themselves in the Battle At the Vítkov Hill. A few centuries later the hill was referred to by the locals as Žižkaperk, i.e. Žižka Hill (from the German "Berg").
By the end of the nineteenth century, as the intensity of the Czech nationalist sentiments and desire for independence rose toward their peak, Žižkaperk was just "a bush-covered hill where the independent municipality of Žižkov meets Karlín and Prague." However, in 1882 Association To Erect Žižka Memorial was established.
In 1913 proposals were solicited to enter a competition for a winning memorial design to adorn the top of the hill. "The competition became part of the history Czech graphic arts, sculpture and architecture. .... First place was not awarded. By the same token, the honor of taking the second place was bestowed on three proposals. .... None of them were ever used even in part." The Czechoslovak Legionnaires developed an idea of a National Monument as a backdrop to the Žižka Memorial.
"More competitions [for the design of the] so conceived [Monument] took place in 1924 and 1927. Even then there were no winners. However, in them the concept began to crystallize; the statue became a part of the planned Monument."
On November 8, (anniversary day of the battle) of the year 1928 (ten years after Czechs and Slovaks had gained their independence), the cornerstone for the eventual National Monument At Vítkov was laid instead of the originally intended Žižka Memorial. Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, "President - Liberator", broke the ground, although he "refused the idea that he would buried here" one day. The project was the work of a Czech Legionnaire from the Russian front, Jan Zázvorka, and his associate, Jan Gillar.
In 1932, Bohumil Kafka responded to a request and tendered a proposed design for the equestrian memorial to Jan Žižka. In five years he produced a life-size model an had the mold ready in 1941, having finished it while his homeland had already been occupied by the German invaders. Yet, the statue was cast from the mold only after World War II had ended and Kafka had passed away. "It was ceremoniously unveiled on July 14, 1950, under altogether different circumstances, in a different ideological context. The previous, religious concept of Žižka, as it appeared in the 1913 competition was replaced by an interpretation of him as a leader of a plebeian revolution. Times have changed." For those who don't remember, in February 1948 the Communists assumed and quickly solidified power in Czechoslovakia.
Unlike the statue, the work on the unfinished National Monument was interrupted by the German occupation of Czecho-Slovakia in 1938. The German National Socialist (a.k.a. Nazi) armies of occupation "misused the Monument as a military material warehouse".
When the Czechoslovak Government took the Monument over after the war it was "in a sorry shape. Although the concept of the facility remained more-or-less the same, it was given an added role of honoring the dead of the just-ended war. It became the new venue for the Grave of an Unknown Soldier; the original site in the Chapel of the Prague Old Town City Hall was desecrated and destroyed by the foreign forces of occupation.
In 1953 an Annex was added that became The Hall of the Soviet Army. ... In 1955 it was opened to the public in the current, paradigmatic form of pure socialist realism." The main building was also undergoing changes and additions, while "the word 'liberation' was infused with a different meaning". It did not refer to the liberation of Czechs and Slovaks from the 300 years of Germanic domination under the Habsburg dynasty, in which the Czechoslovak Legions played an important part. Instead, it was to mean liberation from the German occupation by the Russian-dominated Soviet Union that turned Czechoslovakia quickly into its own vassal state. "The history of the Czech Legions evaporated from the facility only to be replaced by celebration of class warfare and the proletarian working class."
The original idea of the Monument serving as a mausoleum was revived, although with a pagan twist in a demonstration of servility of the Czechoslovak Communists to their Soviet "teachers". Instead of making it a place of internment for the Legionnaires, the local lackeys inspired by their Moscow masters decided in 1953 to turn it into a venue for the public display of the embalmed remains of Klement Gottwald.
Source: The official website of the Vítkov National Monument.