Prague Braces for M.J.: Planned Michael Jackson Sculpture not a 'Thriller' for Local Residents

By Jessica Donath

Just one year after the American pop star's death, fans in the Czech Republic want to erect a statue memorializing Michael Jackson in the same park that was once home to the world's largest bust of Stalin. The city has given its approval to the project, but local resistance is growing.

Photo Gallery: A Monument to the 'King of Pop' Photos
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His hometown of Gary, Indiana, has one. London and Rio de Janeiro each have one, too. And fans in Munich have appropriated an existing statue to create their own makeshift memorial. Now a group of fans in Prague want to get into the action as well by erecting their own statue to honor Michael Jackson, the self-annointed "King of Pop."

But Prague? The deceased pop star launched his last-ever world tour in Prague in 1996 and even had a 35-foot statue of himself erected at the same location in the city's Letná Park to promote his concert there. Fourteen years after the last concert in the Eastern European city and one year after Jackson's death, local fan Helena Babická says it is time to honor the King of Pop's contributions to the Czech capital.

Organizer Babická, a member of a Prague-based Michael Jackson fan club, says she wants to celebrate the performer as a good Samaritan and not merely as a pop icon. "For me he was an idol when I was young because he was nice and didn't take drugs like other stars do," the 35-year-old told SPIEGEL ONLINE.

Although city officials have given their approval for the statue, many residents feel a monument to the pop star would be unfittingly chintzy for a city with as much historical beauty as Prague, which is often called the "City of 100 Spires" for its gorgeous towering edifices. "Recent Czech history had so many moments one could commemorate with a statue," but not a pop concert, gallery owner Olga Dvoáková recently told the Czech weekly Týden. And more than 2,000 people have signed up for a Facebook page opposing the memorial to the Moonwalker.

A Sculptural Monstrosity

Previously, the site had been home to arguably more serious, but certainly no less controversial projects. During the early Cold War years, the Letná Park was home for a time to the world's largest statue of Stalin. But once Soviet Premier Nikita Kruschev came into power seven years after the sculpture was built, the Soviet leadership wanted nothing more to do with the former leader. Removing the sculptural monstrocity, which was 50-meters tall, from the park required 800 kilograms of explosives.

In recent years, the Letná site had been designated as the building site of no less than Prague's new national library. After initially praising the modern design for the structure, Prague Mayor Pavel Bém withdrew his support and described the futuristic building as being "too arrogant."

Sculpture initiator Babická has defended the project on her website, saying the pop star had a special relationship with Prague and its people and that the memorial has the potential to boost tourism. "A two-meter (6.5 foot) statue tucked in between trees is not the reason other projects will not be build there," Babická wrote.

'We Think About Michael All The Time'

In a recent interview with Radio Prague, Czech sculptor Daniela Kartáková -- who previously designed medals to honor Pope John Paul II and former Czech President Václav Havel -- explained her motivation for crafting the Jackson sculpture. "We think about Michael all the time," she said, "and one of the goals of our organization and our activities is to bring people together."

The group says it needs 150,000 Czech crowns (around €5,800) to complete the statue -- money that would come from private donors and not corporate sponsors. According to Babická, about half the money has already been collected. The group is confident the remaining crowns will come in before the planned unveiling of the statue on August 29, the day that Michael Jackson would have celebrated his 52nd birthday.

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