Woodrow Wilson’s Name Restored on Prague Train Station
PRAGUE, Czechoslovakia (AP) _ Forty-two years after Communists removed Woodrow Wilson’s name from Prague’s main train station, the government restored it today, in honor of President Bush’s visit.
Bush’s one-day visit to Prague on Saturday, the first by a U.S. president, coincides with the first anniversary of Czechoslovakia’s ″Velvet Revolution.″ The term describes the mass street protests that ended 40 years of Communist rule and restored democracy with former dissident Vaclav Havel as president.
Wilson’s government was a leading supporter of Czech and Slovak independence from the Austro-Hungarian monarchy. He recognized the sovereignty of a de facto government set up by Tomas G. Masaryk in U.S. exile before the two peoples joined as an independent Czechoslovakia in 1918.
Masaryk became Czechoslovakia’s first president that year. Wilson’s support of Czechoslovak independence established warm relations between the two nations and Prague’s main train station, a glass-domed building near central Wenceslas Square, was named after Wilson to thank him.
After the Communists took power in 1948, Wilson’s name was dropped and the terminal became simply the Main Station.
Prague Mayor Jaroslav Koran said at a brief ceremony today that ″Wilson’s station never stopped being Wilson’s station...even when frightened (Communist) rulers tried to wipe out″ the reference.
″Wilson has returned to Prague, where he always belonged, but never visited,″ Koran said, adding that Bush’s visit would ″complete the magic circle. As if with a message from our ancestors, the president will visit for the first time ever.″
U.S. Ambassador Shirley Temple Black, outlining the special relationship between Wilson and Masaryk, said the station was originally named after Wilson to show the recognition of Czechoslovakia as a world country.″
Bush is returning a visit made to the United States by Havel in February. He was the first Czechoslovak president to visit America officially.
After the Czech lands were occupied by Hitler’s army in 1939, President Eduard Benes made a private visit to the United States from exile in Britain. During the Communist era, America was viewed as a beacon of freedom, and Czechoslovaks’ unabated warm feelings toward the United States are evident on the eve of Bush’s visit.
A simple white plaque unveiled at the ceremony bears a photograph of Wilson and the inscription, ″On the occasion of the first visit of an American president to Czechoslovakia, this station has been renamed the Woodrow Wilson Station.″
A 71-year-old woman was clearly pleased with the formal renaming.
″That is what it was during the first republic and we are comfortable with it,″ she said.