Pilsen…Ottawa….The story o two monuments to the victims of Communism (Příběh dvou památníků obětem komunismu)

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Obětem zlaAuthor: Josef Cermak (CzechFolks.com PLUS)

The garden of his soul

The Pilsen monument is today known as the Meditation Garden of Luboš Hruška (the author of a book on the monument and its creator, Irena Kastnerová, named her book “Luboš Hruška and the garden of his soul”). It is also known as “The Monument to the Victims of Evil.” Originally, it was planned by its creator as a monument to the victims of communism. This is what he wrote about communism in January, 1998: “Even today we still don’t know all the catastrophes caused by communist power in the world. Tens of millions dead and mentally or physically marked, thousands of disrupted families, a ruined environment, crippled economy, but worst of all, sick human souls.

Those are the results of a few decades of communist rule.” And he “did experience on his own body the searing sting of ‘bejčák'” (the deadliest kind of truncheon). But then he realized (there was political pressure as well) “that imprisoned with us were countless heroes of the second world war, some of whom had already fought in the first world war and others in the third resistance movement, and changed the name to ‘the Monument to the Victims of Evil‘. And it is also a monument to the three young Americans who came to liberate Pilsen, and then were buried in the Japanese sea.”

Památník obětem zla v PlzniBut back to the story. In the spring of 1948 – not long after the communist coup d’etat – Hruška, with other young men of his class, graduated as lieutenants. Only a year later he decided to leave his country. On October 31st,, he travelled by train to Černá in Šumava, and walked in the twilight towards the border. Just about a hundred meters from his goal he was captured by two border guards and their dog. He was arrested and taken to a prison in Spilberg, where he witnessed the inhumane beating of a fellow-prisoner. There he also learned that every prisoner caught in an attempt to escape the prison is first beaten almost to death and then forged into chains… From Spilberg Hruška was taken to the infamous Pankrác prison, where he was sentenced, less than two months after being arrested, to 18 years of hard prison. But at Pankrác he also had an experience which changed his life: “I knew that the absolute punishment was averted but I had no idea what was coming.

And at that point I saw coming towards me a diminutive man in a brown frock, girded by a white cord, with a shaved circle on the top of his head, greeting me with a smile, open arms and his heart in his palm – Father Ondřej (civilian name Karel Frgal), the head of the smaller Franciscan brothers monastery in Sokolov. Shortly before me, Father Ondřej was sentenced for treason and espionage to fifteen years of hard prison. Only later did I realize that this was my first meeting with Christ”. It was the beginning of the road, at the end of which the atheist Luboš Hruška found God. The beginning of the road which led from Pankrác to Bory, Opava, Leopoldov, Ruzyň and Bytíz (where he met František Otta from Rakovník, later the moving spirit behind the erection of a monument to the victims of communism in Toronto). The beginning of the road which led to the monument to the victims of communism in the form of a cross, to the garden of his soul, in Pilsen.

The spot where the garden is located used to be a lovely orchard, planted some twenty years earlier by Luboš’s father, who gave it to his son to do with it as he pleased. To create his monument, Luboš was forced to cut down some ninety trees. Then he learned everything he needed, to choose plants, to plant them, prune and shape them. And he learned it well. This is how Irena Kastnerová describes his garden: “It is difficult to say what makes the place so overwhelmingly charming. It presents hundreds of picturesque views, constantly changing during the passing seasons as well as in a single day. Its beauty is composed of conifers of manifold shades of green, velvety lawns, tiny water lily-covered lakes inhabited by red-scaled fish, and numerous exotic trees and bushes of grotesque shapes, each of which was planted, pruned, shaped and tended by Luboš Hruška’s loving hands. Aside from the natural elements …the “magic garden” is populated by a dozen sculptures, ingeniously situated in the verdure.” The sculptures, fourteen stops in twelve sandstone sculptures symbolizing Calvary, were created by Roman Podrázský. After the completion of the Chapel of St. Maxmillian Kolbe on the garden’s lands, Hruška donated the whole complex to the Bishopric of Pilsen.

One of the visitors to the garden (Jirka from Liberec) left this message: “You have a magnificent soul and Mister – you who have all this on your conscience – smell sweet of humanhood.”

Memorial in Ottawa

Two years ago, the Czech and Slovak Day in Toronto-Scarborough was attended by a member of the Canadian Federal Government, Jason Kenney. During the opening ceremonies, Mr. Kenney stood next to the ambassador of the Czech Republic, Pavel Vošalík, close to the monument to the victims of communism “Crucified Again“, erected by the Club of Czechoslovak Political Prisoners (the leading initiator of the project was František Otta, Luboš Hruška’s fellow-prisoner in Bytíz). Mr Kenney looked at the monument and after a while remarked to ambassador Vošalík: “Too bad, this monument doesn’t stand somewhere where more people could see it.”

Ambassador Vošalík agreed and the idea of a memorial to the victims of communism in Ottawa was born. Mr. Vošalík invited to Ottawa Zuzana Hahn, a talented artist and organizer in Toronto. Mrs. Hahn, who runs a charitable organization Hearts Open Toronto, formed – with Sokol Canada and Dare Theatre – a working group, Open Books Group (OBG) and organized several highly successful meetings of a dozen ethnic groups (the Czech and Slovak Association was represented by Blanca Rohn and Radmila Locher). Later, several members of the group separated and formed an entity called Tribute to Liberty (TTL). The two groups jointly submitted an application to the National Capital Commission (NCC), which approves (or rejects) proposals for the erection of memorials and structures on government lands in Ottawa. The application stated that OBG “should play a leading role in planning and executing fundraising events, as well as the project in its entirety.” The Application was considered by the NCC board of directors at its meeting on September 10, 2009. The board was prepared to approve the project but was not happy about its name, suggesting that the memorial should be dedicated to the victims of every suppression. Some members asked that the word “communism” should not form part of the name at all, because Canadians, sympathizing with communism, might see its inclusion as excessively critical (Luboš Hruška was familiar with this argument). Two leading Canadian dailies – “The Ottawa Citizen” and “National Post” – covered the meeting fairly intensively (and were not particularly complimentary about some of the comments). Their stories created a massive reaction from the readers, which most likely influenced the board to arrange two telephone conferences with representatives of the two applicants. In the end, the NCC board approved the proposal with the name “Memorial to the Victims of Totalitarian Communism – Canada, Land of Refuge“.

lubos-hruskaIn the next few weeks, artists across Canada will be invited to submit their ideas. In the meantime our two groups will try to raise enough money to build the monument. All monies raised by our group will be deposited into a special account and used – except the costs of fundraising – for building a memorial to the victims of totalitarian communism in Ottawa.

I don’t think it’s likely that we will succeed in creating a second Meditation Garden in Ottawa. Groups usually lack the lyricism of individuals of the Luboš Hruška clan. We shall be satisfied if we build a memorial, reminding this and future generations of the sacrifices in life, souls and property to the extent we don’t often encounter even in history as bloody as that left behind by the descendants of Adam and Eve. I hope that we – who perhaps only from a distance and indirectly – in the lives of our families and friends – tasted the bitter fruits of communist power, will contribute a few coins (a tax of honor) for building a monument in Ottawa in memory of their sacrifices too. The first opportunity will be the Gala evening, Voices within Walls, in the Great Hall in Toronto, on November 26th. Hope to see you there.

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