Vrchlického sady: President Woodrow Wilson

The collapse of the Austro-Hungarian empire in 1918 saw the emergence of a number of independent European nation-states, of which Czechoslovakia was one. Instrumental in the creation of the new republic was the then president of the United States of America, Woodrow Wilson. The story of his monument in Prague is one which – as so often – acts as a metaphor for the subsequent tumultuous history of the country.

On 4 July 1928, an 11-foot bronze of Wilson by the Czech-American sculptor Albín Polášek was erected in Vrchlický Gardens next to Prague’s main train station. The larger-than-life figure – hands outstretched in a gesture of benediction – stood on an impressive plinth bearing the president’s name and the legend ‘The world must be made safe for democracy’, a line from Wilson’s 1917 declaration of war against Germany.

In 1941, four days after the 7 December attack by the Japanese on Pearl Harbor, Reichsprotektor Reinhard Heydrich ordered the destruction of the statue, which was subsequently melted down for arms.

The end of the Second World War saw the main station named after Wilson, but the statue was gone, its place marked only by a plaque with words by Jan Masaryk:

“The monument was destroyed by the Germans in 1941 and will be re-erected by Americans of Czech descent in the United States of America.”

This prophecy has since been realized:  as part of a general reconfiguration of Vrchlický Gardens, an almost-exact copy of the statue has now been erected, the work of the winning architectural team of Václav Frýdecký, Michal Blažek and Daniel Talavera. The new statue was unveiled on 5 October 2011, in the presence of the Czech president Václav Klaus, his predecessor Václav Havel, and Madeleine Albright, the  Czech-born former US Secretary of State.