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Wednesday, 16 February, 2000, 19:08 GMT
Prague divided over Kafka Square

Old Town Square, Prague The disputed square is near the Old Town Square


By Ray Furlong in Prague

Franz Kafka, the German-Jewish-Czech author famed for his portrayals of alienation and faceless bureaucracy, is at the centre of a battle between Prague City councillors, the mayor of a downtown Prague borough, and Czech literati who say his legacy has not been honoured.

The dispute concerns whether a small square in the centre of the city will be renamed Kafka Square in his honour.


Kafka would be horrified by the idea of people naming streets and squares after him
Jan Burgermeister
Kafka was born in a house on the square in 1883 - although that was demolished, along with the rest of the old Jewish ghetto, at the turn of the century as the maze of poorly sanitised streets that inspired his work was knocked down and redeveloped.

At present, the square boasts a small bust of Kafka and a gallery in his honour.

Administrative nightmare

Now the Prague City Council has backed a plan to rename the square in his honour - but that has run into the opposition of the local mayor for the Prague 1 borough, the aptly named Jan Burgermeister.

Franz Kafka Franz Kafka: 1883-1924
"Renaming the area behind St Michael's Cathedral would be just so that something is named after Franz Kafka," he said at a news conference.

Mr Burgermeister sees no reason why the area, which lies at the junction of Prague's historic Old Town Square and three other streets, should be renamed after its most famous former resident.

He argues that it would cause unnecessary administrative problems.

At present, the area is part of one of the streets that meet on the junction, so renaming it as a new individual square would mean buildings being renumbered.

Opponents of the scheme have suggested that another street, somewhere on the edge of town, could be named after Kafka.

'Honour author's legacy'

But supporters of the plan are passionate.


Burgermeister's argument is stupid. What's Kafka going to do, rise from the dead?
Marta Zelezna
Marta Zelezna of the Franz Kafka Society says that Prague quite simply has an "ambivalent relationship" towards its famous son.

"He's not viewed as 'our' writer - because he was Jewish and because he wrote in German," she told the BBC.

Kafka's works were largely unavailable during the communist era, and only now is the Franz Kafka Society bringing out a Czech translation of his complete works.

In the Czech edition of Who's Who in History, there is no mention of him.

Shortly after the fall of communism in 1989, there was a boom in Kafka T-shirts and other tacky souvenirs.

"This means that whenever we try to do anything for Kafka, people say we're just trying to make money,' says Ms Zelezna, adding that Prague does not honour the great writer enough.

'Absurdity'

But what would Kafka, the author of works such as The Trial and The Castle, make of the argument?

"Kafka would be horrified by the idea of people naming streets and squares after him," says Jan Burgermeister. "Although maybe he would be pleased by the absurdity of it."

Ms Zelezna has a different view.

"Burgermeister's argument is stupid. What's Kafka going to do, rise from the dead? Streets are named after people to honour them, so we can express our respect for them.

"Kafka is one of the most significant people this city has produced."

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See also:
11 Oct 99 |  Iron Curtain
Writers without a cause

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