on Bohumil Hrabal

ImgresJacob Mikanowski at The Point:

In 1949, on the occasion of his seventieth birthday, the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia decided to honor Stalin by building a monument to him in Prague. It was going to be the largest statue of its kind in the world. A contest was held to decide who would have the honor of designing it. Every sculptor in Czechoslovakia was required to participate. Most sabotaged their chances on purpose by portraying the great leader in unsuitable poses, smiling or spreading his arms like Jesus. Otakar Švec who learned the art of sculpture as a child from his pastry-chef father, took the extra precaution of getting blind drunk. Unfortunately for him, he won anyway.

For the next four years, party dignitaries visited Švec every week in his studio to offer their advice on his vision. In Švec’s design, Stalin stood at the head of a line of people, who symbolized the People. Behind him followed a worker, an agronomist, a female partisan and a Russian soldier. Every time they came, they tried to make Stalin taller, and the followers lower. Construction began, granite blocks were carved, and still the critiques kept coming. Švec’s wife couldn’t stand the pressure, and committed suicide.

At long last, the monument was done. The night before the unveiling, Švec took a ride to inspect his sculpture. The cab driver told him he wants to show him something. The lady partisan is holding onto the Russian soldiers’ fly. “Whoever designed that is going to be shot for sure,” he told Švec. He killed himself that same night. For fifty days, no one found his body.

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