Max van der Stoel honored with monument in Prague 6

The Dutch politician helped to bring attention to the Charter 77 movement in Czechoslovakia

Prague, a city in love with monuments, has just added a new one. Dutch politician Max van der Stoel, the first western representative to acknowledge Charter 77, has a new modern and conceptual memorial fittingly in Max van der Stoel Park in Prague 6. Rather than a vertical statue or bust, it is a permanent horizontal shadow of a tree, made out of concrete.

The monument is supported by the Embassy of the Netherlands and made by Czech artist Dominik Lang, a winner of the Jindřich Chalupecký Award, and architect Jakub Červenka.

Max van der Stoel, as Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, 40 years ago met with Charter 77 spokesman Jan Patočka. The meeting would be one of Patočka's last. He died at the age of 69 on March 13, 1977, less than two weeks later. Police interrogation and harassment is thought to have been a contributing factor, as he fell ill after being questioned. Patočka, a philosopher, was one of the last pupils of Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger.

“March 1 is exactly 40 years from the day when the Max van der Stoel, the former Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs, met with professor Jan Patočka, first spokesman of Charter 77, at the InterContinental Hotel in Prague. This meeting can be described as one of the milestones on the long road of Czechoslovakia back to democracy,” Eduard WVM Hoeks, Ambassador of the Netherlands to the Czech Republic, said at the unveiling. “We are pleased that we can recall the merits of both great men, Europeans, in a place where once again their journey is symbolically linked,” he added, pointing out the memorial and park were next to Patočkova Street. The park was established in 2014.

Aside from the Dutch ambassador, the monument unveiling ceremony was attended by Czech Foreign Affairs Minister Lubomír Zaorálek; First Vice-President of the European Commission Frans Timmermans, who worked with Max van der Stoel; and Prague 6 Mayor Ondřej Kolář.

The monument is meant to combine the idea of a brief event, such as the meeting in 1977, with its lasting impact. The event cast a long and permanent shadow, which has now been immortalized in the concrete.

Max van der Stoel died in 2011 at the age of 86. He was the Netherlands Minister of Foreign Affairs from 1973 to '77 and '81 to '82. The 1977 event in Prague drew criticism from Czechoslovak authorities and president Gustáv Husák canceled a scheduled meeting with him.

He became the first High Commissioner on National Minorities of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in December in January 1993 and remained in office until 2000.

Among his many awards is Grand Officer of the Order of Orange-Nassau and Knight of the Order of the Gold Lion of the House of Nassau. Foreign awards include Grand Officier of the Order of Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk from the Czech Republic and Cross of the Order of the White Double Cross from Slovakia.

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