In April the statue of Jan Hus dominating the Old Town Square was surrounded by scaffolding and covered up in large canvas to undergo vast renovation, which will take at least two years. In the meantime, tourists visiting the site will only see a huge advertisement in its place. This week the media reported that the scaffolding was causing damage to the statue: rust from the wire mesh, which holds the ad in place, has been dripping down, leaving orange stains on the stone.
The renovation of one of Prague's most famous monument has sparked controversy from the very beginning. Soon after it started, Prague Town Hall fired the director of the City Gallery Prague, which is administering the monument, for signing a contract which was inconvenient for the city. Now, the Czech union of restorers has called the present situation alarming and has already filed a complaint. Pavel Rejchrt, director of the Qeep Agency responsible for repairing the monument, admits there may have been some shortcomings, but points out they have already taken steps to set the situation right:
"We have put up the wire mesh mainly to prevent people entering the building site. It's true it was not treated sufficiently and there was rust, which occasionally dripped off when it rained. But we have already removed the wire as well as the rust that stained the statue. Our restorers easily cleaned it with water. I have a report here saying that the rust has not had a bad influence."
Although Pavel Rejchrt admits that his agency may have made a mistake, he believes the problem could have been resolved without the attention of media and that it certainly wasn't necessary to take legal action:
"What strikes me is the approach of the restorers' union. I know some of the members. They could have just called and told us there was a problem and that we should do something about it. This is really not necessary. The administrator of the monument, City Gallery Prague, also finds it absurd. The rust stains have no negative effect. And it's just ridiculous to deal with the problem by filing a complaint."
On Tuesday, the rusty wire mesh was removed and the stone base of the statue was cleaned. New, stainless netting will replace it. I asked Michal Blazek, a sculptor and the director of the restorers' union, whether it was really necessary to contact the media and institute legal proceedings. Why didn't they try to cooperate with the City Gallery Prague in the first place?
"Because this method is ineffective. I have similar experience with
the National Theatre, where bits of statues were falling down. We
contacted the media and the next day there were workers already fixing the
problem. And the same goes in this case. The next day, workers came to fix
the problem and the monument is not damaged anymore. These officials have
to be punished because these things happen on a daily basis.
Unprofessional steps have caused damage to the St Vitus Cathedral. It's
always the same people at the ministries and the authorities and you
simply can't get justice through the official channels."
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