Stalin survives village poll

14-05-2008

The inhabitants of Studenec, a small Moravian village near Brno, have voted to keep a bronze relief depicting Soviet dictator Josef Stalin on their community’s monument to the victims of the First and Second World Wars. Just over a half of the village’s adult inhabitants turned up to cast their ballots in the local referendum, while a majority of them said they wanted to keep the controversial portrait in its place.

The world’s largest monument to Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin was built in Prague in 1955. The huge, 17,000-ton statue did not survive the period of de-Stalinisation and the authorities had it blown up seven years later. Another memorial to the Soviet generalissimus, a small bronze piece on a monument honouring the victims of the two world wars, can still be seen in Studenec, a small village some 40 kilometres west of Brno. Josef Zahradníček, of the Communist Party, is the village mayor.

“The monument was erected in the summer of 1920 to honour the local inhabitants who were killed in the First World War. The original monument featured a relief of President Masaryk. In 1939, during the occupation, Masaryk’s portrait was destroyed and after the end of the war, people wanted to restore it. This happened in 1947 when the monument was decorated with reliefs of President Masaryk, President Beneš and Soviet leader Stalin.”

The portraits of all three politicians survived four decades of communism intact, despite the communist regime’s aversion to the two democratic presidents of Czechoslovakia, as well as its ultimate reluctance to endorse Joseph Stalin’s legacy. After the fall of communism, some locals suggested that Stalin’s portrait be removed but the real problems started in 2007 when Studenec won the title Village of the Year in the Vysočina Region. The region’s governor Miloš Vystrčil recommended that some of the prize money should be used to remove the relief of the dictator. Instead of that, the village council hall decided to hold a referendum and let the people determine whether Stalin should remain in Studenec. The poll took place on May 1 and the majority of votes were for keeping the controversial portrait on the monument. František Komárek, independent, is the community’s deputy mayor.

“We just needed a decision. Unfortunately we can’t do anything about the result but I think it shows that people believe the monument is part of our history. Many of them also feel resentment because our village has often been presented in the media as if all we did was worship Stalin. This really annoys them.”

StudenecStudenec The governor of the Vysočina region Miloš Vystrčil says that there’s nothing his office can do about the monument at the moment.

““We will respect the decision of the inhabitants – that’s all we can do anyway. On the other hand, I personally believe that reliefs of mass murderers – and Stalin was certainly one of them – don’t belong on village squares.”

The portrait of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin will therefore remain in the Moravian village of Studenec, together with the reliefs of Presidents Masaryk and Beneš – with one addition. The council is planning to place a plaque next to the monument that will explain its curious history.

14-05-2008