Not going gently

Went with some friends to Lidice last Saturday. After a 20-minute trip, the bus stopped in a wide spot in the road. The bus LED display said 'Lidice' but there was nothing in sight. Then again, what did I expect?

But about 50 metres behind us, I could see something that was plainly a monument. We crossed the road and a path led us to a plaza of sorts that overlooks the valley where the village of Lidice once stood.

What's there now is a well-maintained and exquisitely peaceful park dotted with reminders of the tragedies of 1942. Peaceful except for the roar of jets taking off from nearby Ruzyně airport. Memorials stand on the sites of the village church and school. The foundations of the buildings of the Horak farm have been excavated. Largely obscured by a row of evergreens is a low wall that marks where the men of Lidice were shot by a firing squad in groups of five and ten.

Just up the hill from the wall is a memorial where the men's bodies were buried in a mass grave. The memorial was covered with wreaths from the 10 June anniversary of the massacre. Many of these were from Czech and German cities. There was one from President Klaus. Her Britanic Majesty's Ambassador had brought a wreath, as had representatives of France, Germany, Japan and Russia. But not the U.S. I'm not sure why not. Hell, even Belarus brought a wreath, so you would think Washington could pony up for some flowers. I'm going to put in a call to the U.S. Embassy and ask about it. If I'm mistaken, I'll let you know.

The memorial museum is small but very well put together with lots of artefacts. I hadn't known before that villages in Illinois and Mexico were named for Lidice, as is a square in Montevideo.

A new Lidice was built soon after the war. One of the children who survived the war is the current mayor.

The Nazis flattened the old village graveyard, but the locations of the old family plots are marked. Next to these is the new cemetary where villages are buried nowadays. Not a few of the graves bear the words 'Lidická žena' -- Lidice woman, indicating the grave of a woman who had survived the massacre, deportation and the war.

Several tombstones bear identical inscriptions, which I translate:

There were millions of us ...
But even the cruelest death will have meaning
if like millions of stars
our fate tells you the way to humanity

Other epitaphs are bleak nearly to the point of absurdity. One had to be there to appreciate it, I suppose. But still:

Why was fate so evil
and did not let me live
Why did I have to leave so early


My life was only suffering,
my life was only full of tribulation

Scott recently asked a very good question: What effect did Heydrich's assassination have on the war? I've been over the political reasons Beneš wanted it to happen, and we've seen the adverse effects it had on Bohemia and Moravia. And of course it removed an extremely unpleasant Nazi from the picture. But did it help defeat the Nazis? I'll get back to you on that.

Meanwhile, back in Prague, voters were staying away from the polls in droves. Early exit polls put voter turnout very low -- under 30% -- with most voters supporting the centre-right Civic Democrats (President Klaus' party) or the not-so-centre-left Communists. PM Špidla ruling Social Democrats seem to have received a proper spanking, finishing third behind the Communists. Behind the Communists is historically not a good place to be.

Last week I was interviewed by Greek public broadcaster ERT3 about the then-upcoming elections. Main question was: Would a poor showing by the Social Democrats have repercussions for Špidla and his government? I told the reporter then that SocDems had been suffering in the polls almost since the gained power, but that the low numbers at the polls wouldn't be a death knell for this government. Now I'm not so sure. It depends on what the media does with it, I think. If the press and pundits play into the CivDems hands, we could see a shake up before Senate elections in November. I expect that in the normal course of events, Špidla will step down as head of the party. Heir apparent: Stanislav Gross, the 'baby-faced Minister of Fear'. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, back in Lidice, the Czechs and Germans are snatching enmity from the jaws of reconciliation again. As ČTK reports, Klaus and Špidla oppose efforts to rewrite history (like you do). (See also this AP backgrounder.)

Colour me a sentimentalist, but why can't we all just get along? I don't think anyone considers the destruction of Lidice anything other than heinous and barbaric. The Beneš decrees, while understandable to an extent considering what the Czechs had suffered, were a failure of humanity. Germany's efforts to irrigate the wounds of the war are noted; the world made a significant step in its continuing recovery when Germany was invited to the recent D-Day anniversary observation at Normandy.

But the Czech Republic refuses to engage in constructive communication on the Beneš decrees. There are some, notably exiled Sudetens and the survivors, who want the decrees repealed -- as well they should. I'm not saying that the decrees actually should be repealed, but the Czechs should commit to dialogue on the issue for as long as it takes, which is probably a generation or so. Burying the issue, as both countries agreed to do in 1997, only poisons feelings on both sides.


At 10:12 AM, Blogger Footbiscuit said...

re: Benes decrees
I'm not convinced that the Benes decrees are entirely about Germans or Hungarians; it's about Czechs. Czech politians defend the decrees and the expulsion of the Germans and Hungarians as a red herring. The real meat of the decrees is the nationalisation of industry at the end of the war. The communists wanted power and without the industries there was little they could do. By branding any Czech industrialist as a collaborator after the war in a kangaroo court appointed by local representatives (typically communist party members) they effectively stole all the industry. Now, one can defend this by saying that the industrialists were collaborating, but realistically, if you still owned your company by the end of the war you either worked with the occupiers or were dead.
If the Benes decrees should ever be declared null and void, the Czech government would be a serious pickle. All the industries that were state-owned in 1989 and had since been privatised would have to either be bought back at market value and returned to the rightful owners, or the rightful owners would have to be compensated by the Czech state. Bankruptcy of the Czech state would ensue.
Benes was not the only signatory of the Benes decrees. There is a fairly long list of names under his and a quick look as to what those names did shortly after 1948 tells the whole story.

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