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John Lennon's Wall | by Christian Bredfeldt
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John Lennon's Wall

The Lennon Wall was formerly an ordinary historic wall in Prague, but since the 1980s, people have filled it with John Lennon-inspired graffiti and pieces of lyrics from Beatles songs.

 

In 1988, the wall was a source of irritation for the then communist regime of Gustav Husak. Lennon was a hero to the pacifist youth of Central and Eastern Europe during the totalitarian era. Prior to 1989 when communism ruled, western pop songs were banned by Communist authorities, and especially John Lennon´s songs, because it was praising freedom that didn’t exist in the Czechoslovakia.

 

Shortly after Lennon's death in 1980, under the ever watchful eyes of the Communist secret police, an anonymous group of Prague youth set up a mock grave for the ex-Beatle. The event was spontaneous, much in the same way that fans in New York City had gathered at Central Park upon hearing of Lennon's death. But unlike the gathering in New York, mourners in Prague risked prison for what authorities called "subversive activities against the state."

 

Prague's mock tombstone was, in fact, a recess within a garden wall that forms the backside of a 14th century churchyard. Young Czechs would write grievances on the wall and in a report of the time this led to a clash between hundreds of students and security police on the nearby Charles Bridge. The movement these students followed was described ironically as "Lennonism" and Czech authorities described these people variously as alcoholics, mentally deranged, sociopathic, and agents of Western capitalism.

 

Paintings of Lennon began to appear along with lyrics of his songs. The wall quickly took on a political focus and, inevitably, developed into a forum for grievances against the Communist state. The Communist police tried repeatedly to whitewash over the portrait and messages of peace, but they could never manage to keep the wall clean. Even the installation of surveillance cameras and the posting of an overnight guard couldn't stop the opinions from being expressed. Lennon marches also started to take place each year on December 8. Those marches ultimately became linked to dissident protests on International Human Rights Day at December 10. Participants in those early marches say they were channeled through a gauntlet of uniformed and plain-clothes police. Many were jailed or beaten for joining the marches.

 

Some of the writing on the Lennon wall during the 1980s was inane but much of it was quite profound. A running battle developed between the police whitewashers and dissident graffiti writers until November, 1989 when Communism collapsed in the former Czechoslovakia's non-violent "Velvet Revolution."

 

The Lennon Wall represented not only a memorial to John Lennon and his ideas for peace, but also a monument to free speech and the non-violent rebellion of Czech youth against the regime. It was a small war of Czech people against the communist police who cleaned the wall.

 

In 1998, the local "John Lennon Peace Club" and the restituted owners of the wall, a religious order dating from the 11th century called the Knights of the Maltese Cross, worked together to reconstruct its crumbling facade. There has been much criticism of the work. The stone recess that had formed Lennon's original mock grave was covered by a larger cement "tombstone" with the painted words: "John Winston Lennon: October 9, 1940 - Dec. 8, 1980." The wall's original plaster, which was being picked off in chunks by souvenir-hunting tourists, was replaced by a solid white surface, and a "happening" was organized where young Czechs and western backpackers added new messages, none of them as powerful as the scrawlings of dissidents in the days of neo-Stalinism.

 

Sources:

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lennon_Wall

www.prague.net/john-lennon-wall

www.bagism.com/library/lennonwall.html

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Taken on April 19, 2007