In 1991 I moved to the small Czech town of Havířov, situated just a few miles from the Polish border. The coal mining town officially became a town in 1955 having been constructed on the site of several villages with Polish populations. The main street took a long straight path from the railway station up to the top of Bludovice Hill. The Russian army was still based in the country, there was still a May Day Parade with floats and so on which went up through the town. The Communist Red Star was still to be seen atop buildings. Monuments commemorating Russian soldiers killed in the World War Two battles were still about those somewhat less cared for as they had been prior to summer 1989.
Within a couple of years, those monuments to brotherhood and sacrifice were gone. It was as though history had been erased. Statues, Red Stars, flags, signs, monuments, plaques etc all disappeared as Czechoslovakia sought to become more nationalistic and more westernised. The country called Czechoslovakia ceased to exist and the nationalists on both sides wages economic and verbal wars against each other. Some of the monuments turned up in storage spaces – I found a statue of Lenin behind the museum in Děčín. It has probably now been destroyed. There were several monuments rumoured to be hidden in an old church just outside Ústí nad Labem. As the whole suburb was due to be razed to the ground, those have probably been erased too. The Czech governments after Václav Havel turned increasingly to the right as a total opposite to the Communist ideology.
The same phenomenon can be observed in other countries which are close neighbours of the Czech Republic – Slovak Republic, Hungary, Austria, Italy, Bulgaria and Poland. Up in Estonia, the government removed the statue of the Unknown Soldier and placed it in a cemetery. Most other monuments have been removed. Some though were hiding in the undergrowth behind the National Museum some years ago. In Latvia they have mostly gone except for the huge freedom monument across the river, In Lithuania quite a few were still on the streets of Kaunas last time I visited. In Hungary you can find the Communist Museum just outside Budapest where you can buy souvenirs as well as look in awe at the monuments. Life for these countries has moved on but they have not tried to remove all traces of their history.
In Poland the situation is something different. For the PIS government rewriting history and boosting Polish nationalism is a major occupation. Just in case there is any doubt – it was the Germans what did it! Did what? Everything. Polish hands are squeaky clean over the persecution of Jews, building the ghettos, building, running and supplying the concentration camps. Don’t try to suggest otherwise or present evidence to the contrary. It is illegal. The Poles suffered. There is no doubt about that. Monuments to the Katyn massacre abound. The Russians were both saviours and prison guards. They both rescued and killed. They rebuilt and destroyed. However, they were there and nothing can change that fact.
I was driven to this reflection by an excellent article in the British Guardian online about the increasing nationalism in Poland and the removal of Soviet Era statues.
I think I need to spend some time going around the country and photographing anything which remains before the evidence is removed and destroyed.