The most divisive construction of the year in Prague is surely a Marian column that recently appeared on Old Town Square. It replaced a column in the same spot torn down by a mob shortly after Czechoslovakia received independence. I discussed the response to the new structure with Eugen Kukla, a member of the group that campaigned for its erection for some years.
Some people were surprised when permission was given to build this Marian column. How surprised were you and the other initiators of it?
“I was extremely surprised. To be totally frank, I would never, ever have thought about being able to see the column in place.
“It was like when you are a forester and you plant trees, you expect you will never see your offspring [laughs] in their full beauty.
“So this is an extra bonus. It’s something really, really great for me. I was totally surprised.”
Many people have welcomed the erection of the column. But others say it doesn’t really belong here – what do you say to those people?
“What do I say to them? It’s been here from 1650 to 1918 and now, after one hundred and one and a half years of steady work and patience, it’s back. So it does belong here.
“I don’t care about religion so much. I don’t care about ideology. I see the column almost totally from the perspective of its beauty and the architectural and urbanistic value.
“The square has become so much better. So much better. Every day I come here and I am really amazed.”
There has been speculation that in future there could be a different government of Prague who could take steps to remove the Marian column. Do you think that’s a real possibility?
“Well, it’s one of the possibilities. I think the political and social environment for such an act would be so different from today that probably society would be solving far more serious and important issues, and the liquidation of the column in those times would be something really miniscule, something that doesn’t matter so much.
“I try to be optimistic that it’s going to be here for several hundred years more, for sure.”
You’re not neutral, you have a horse in the race, so to speak. But from what you observe of people’s reactions, how do you think people are for it or against it – is it fifty-fifty?
“No, no, not fifty-fifty. I cannot be objective – you mentioned that – but I spend a lot of time here, so what I see is that most people, especially tourists, don’t notice at all, they probably think it’s just some reconstruction of an old column.
“People come here, mostly Czech people, to intentionally look at this and I would say nine out of 10 are happy with it and one or two out of 10 are not happy with it.
“So I would say that the general feeling is pretty much positive toward the column.
“Mostly people say, Wow, it’s so beautiful, I never thought it would be so nice, or, Why the ‘fff’ did it take so long before it returned?”
Why is the barrier still around it here on Old Town Square?
“The barrier is here because the construction is not over yet.”
There are kind of steps at the bottom of it – aren’t you afraid that in future it could be a gathering place for people, hanging out?
“We want this to be a gathering place. For us it’s a pity that the steps over there at Jan Hus [the monument]. I know why – because people would want to climb on Jan Hus and it may cause damage to it.
“But the column should be a great place to have a date, to sit together with friends and rotate in the shade of the column.
“And I wouldn’t be very happy to have extra bars or something like that preventing people from touching it. So hopefully people will respect this.”