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Controversial Sobieski statue displayed in Kraków after being rejected by Vienna

Kraków, Poland – After being rejected by the mayor of Vienna last summer for having an “anti-Turkish tone”, the controversial statue of Polish king Jan III Sobieski, who famously defeated the Ottoman army at the Battle of Vienna in 1683, will now be displayed in Kraków, where it was initially cast.

The First News reports that the statue has been put on temporary display on a platform trailer in front of the Papal Window, at the heart of the Polish city. According to local authorities, it should stand there for a maximum of two weeks before moving on to places that are connected with the life of the king, such as Nowy Sącz, Brzeg, Nysa and possibly Warsaw, where it would stand in front of the Royal Castle.

A controversial statue

The memorial was initially supposed to be erected on Kahlenberg hill in Vienna, from where the Polish king launched his now famous attack, and unveiled to the public on September 12, 2018, to mark the 335th anniversary of the liberation of Vienna. However, the authorities in Vienna, fearing that the monument may be perceived as anti-Turkish, stated that it was not an appropriate time to erect military monuments.

Czes³aw DŸwigaj
The author of the project, Czesław Dźwigaj there are “no anti-Turkish tones” in his statue. Credit: PAP/Jacek Bednarczyk

“On 11 July, President Jacek Majchrowski and I were invited to meet the new mayor Michael Ludwig. And there we were told that a new committee had said that the monument did not meet the artistic standards, was archaic and therefore Vienna withdrew its consent”, stated Piotr Zapart, initiator of the project and chairman of the monument’s organising committee, in an interview with radio station RMF FM.

Arguing that there were “no anti-Turkish tones” in his statue, the author of the project, Czesław Dźwigaj from the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków, responded to the news at the time by saying that “it’s like a situation when you’ve built a house and have all the necessary paperwork, and a committee comes along and says that it needs to be torn down because they want something different.”

That being said, Piotr Zapart remains determined that the eight-metre long work weighing three tonnes will stand in Vienna one day. “Neither before nor now have we considered any other final location of the monument than Vienna. We believe that the worthiest place for the king is the Vienna Kahlenberg,” he said. In the place where the statue was to be erected, everything is ready. Only the statue is missing.

A divisive figure

In fact, since 2013, when the foundation stone for the monument was laid in Vienna, there have been no less than thirteen attempts to erect a memorial for the Polish king in the Austrian capital. None of which were succesful.

The fact of the matter is that, in recent years, Jan III Sobieski has become somewhat of a divisive figure in Europe and disquiet has surrounded the erection of his memorial for some time. Having led the united Christian armies of Europe against the invading Ottoman Empire, which then stretched from the shores of the Persian Gulf to modern-day Budapest and Morocco, the Polish king is regularly depicted by Christian and right-wing nationalistst as having saved Christendom from Islam.

King-Sobieski-statue-vienna-krakow-2
Jan III Sobieski, who famously defeated the Ottoman army at the Battle of Vienna in 1683.

As a result, the siege of Vienna has increasingly become a central part of the European far-right ideology who see the Battle as a turning point at a time  when “Islam seemed poised to overrun Christian Europe”, as stated by the influential anti-Islamic blog Gates of Vienna. The Norwegian terrorist Anders Breivik, who killed 69 people at a Labour Party annual summer camp in 2011, even payed hommage to the Battle of Vienna in his manifesto, 2083 – A European Declaration of Independence.

“By September 11th, 2083, the third wave of Jihad will have been repelled and the cultural Marxist/multiculturalist hegemony in Western Europe will be shattered and lying in ruin, exactly 400 years after we won the Battle of Vienna on September 11th, 1683. Europe will once again be governed by patriots”, he wrote in his manifesto

Not so black and white

Many historians have argued that the Battle was far from a mere fight between Islam and Christianity. According to Dag Herbjørnsrud, “if we examine the battle closely, we can understand it rather differently, as a battle based on inter-ethnic cooperation”.

He argues that “John III Sobieski, the king of the multilingual and multi-religious Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, might not have won the battle were it not for the help of his country’s Sunni Muslim Tatars, known as the Lipka Tatars”, whose “light cavalry became a vital factor in almost every battle in Polish-Lithuanian history”.

In fact, many historians have claimed that “there is no ruler so revered among the Muslim Tatars as John III Sobieski”. He even ensured the construction of several mosques in the region and secured “the only example of a lasting Muslim community in a non-Islamic European country”, according to Boguslaw R Zagórski.

King-Sobieski-statue-vienna-krakow-3
In Vienna, everything is ready but the statue. Credit: polskieradio.pl

Similarly, one can argue that the defeated side of the Battle of Vienna was rather multi-religious as well, since the Ottomans, led by the Sunni Muslim Sultan Mehmed IV, were allied with the Roman Catholic King of France, Louis XIV. Additionally, the Protestants of Europe, such as William of Orange’s Netherlands and the Hungarian Lutherians, often had high hopes for help from the Ottoman Muslims against the Pope and the Catholic powers of Spain and Vienna.

Dag Herbjørnsrud concludes that the Battle of Vienna wasn’t a war between the cross and the crescent, it was not a clash of civilisations, nor was it a mighty Christian victory over Islam. In fact, he even adds that “the Battle of Vienna didn’t matter as much in European history as some would like to believe”.

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