The district of Prague 1 has given permission for the installation of a new memorial honouring the more than 2,500 Czechoslovak airmen who served in Britain’s Royal Air Force in WW II. Officials acted with a deadline looming: the statue, an imposing bronze winged lion, is to be unveiled in less than three weeks. The problem is that the site was not approved by the National Heritage Institute, which says the location is highly inappropriate.
The Prague 1 Department of Housing and Urban Development on Monday issued approval for the siting of a statue in honour of more than 2,500 Czech and Slovak airman who served in the RAF. The bronzed Winged Lion, designed by sculptor Colin Spofforth and paid for and supported by the British community in the Czech Republic, has been anticipated for months with the official unveiling, to be attended by many including the Winston Churchill’s grandson, MP Nicholas Soames, on June 17.
However, the site agreed by Prague 1 – Klárov Park in Malá strana – was not welcomed the National Heritage Institute. The head of the institute’s planning authority Petr Šefců says issues with the site were never discussed:
“We are certainly are not against there being a monument of this kind in Prague. What we have a problem with is the chosen location which we only learned about at the last minute. We got the application from Prague 1 at the end of April and would have welcomed a chance to sit down and discuss the project and our reservations. But that never happened, we weren’t invited.”
Conservationists were particularly irked by the fact Prague 1 opted for the site without complex discussion of the park’s layout and aesthetics. Particularly important is how the Winged Lion might clash with a fairly imposing monument already in the park dedicated to Czechoslovakia’s resistance fighters in WWII. Petr Šefců again:
“The park has a certain layout… there is already quite a dominant monument there… We are of the opinion that the park is too small a space for two such memorials. Certainly, they are similar in what they represent, but the new monument will be there for dozens of years if not ‘forever’. Such decisions should not be taken ad hoc.”
Prague 1 denies a lack of communication over the matter but in any case at this point time is too short to consider other options: the unveiling is a little over a fortnight away. Prague 1 Mayor Oldřich Lomecký explains:
“Prague 1 was drawn into the matter because the British ambassador offered the monument as a gift. We filed an application to get the institute’s standpoint but didn’t get one within 30 days. The Department of Housing and Urban Development, therefore, chose to green light the project to avoid a major embarrassment.”
On June 17th, the Winged Lion will be in place and no doubt be unveiled with great fanfare. The question is, how long will the memorial remain? Conservationists have warned they will challenge the location chosen, meaning the Winged Lion may yet be moved to another site.
Others will note that the Winged Lion will not be the only memorial dedicated to RAF airman: there is one in in Prague Bubeneč honouring those who died: 493 lost their lives in combat.