On the night of April 27-28, Czech student David Černý and a group of friends painted a Soviet commemorative monument in pink in a self-declared “act of civil disobedience”, kick-starting a still ongoing 30-year-long makeover of notorious Tank No. 23.
Inaugurated on July 29, 1945, by Soviet general Ivan Konev, the Monument to Soviet Tank Crews was originally conceived as a World War II memorial to commemorate the arrival of Konev’s Fourth Tank Army and the end of the German occupation of Prague.
Located on Kinsky Square – named at the time Square of Soviet Tank Crews – in Prague’s Smíchov district, the imposing tank was installed on a five-meter pedestal and declared a National Cultural Monument following the communist takeover of Czechoslovakia in February 1948.
But after the Velvet Revolution of 1989, many Czechs stopped perceiving the monument as a memorial to the 1945 liberation of Prague and the end of Nazi rule, instead seeing it as a cruel reminder of the decades-long communist oppression imposed by the Soviet Union, especially since the 1968 invasion of Warsaw Pact troops.
As debate raged on what to do with the inconvenient monument, a group of students led by 23-year-old David Černý used the cover of the night on April 27-28, 1991, to paint the tank in pink as an artistic sign of protest and derision, and add on its turret a large erect middle finger whose meaning is all too obvious.
“Having to pass this symbol of the Russian dictatorship which was here since I was born, I did not take the tank as a symbol of freedom – the end of the Second World War,” Černý later explained. “Of course it was a political statement, and at the same time it was an artistic action. And it was a lot of fun.”
Černý was arrested for hooliganism and the tank was quickly repainted in its original green after Soviet authorities, which still had troops present in Czechoslovakia at the time, protested. But on May 16, a group of more than a dozen newly elected Czech Parliament MPs repainted the tank pink to protest against Černý’s arrest.
The Czech artist, who would become known for his controversial and provocative works, was eventually released after a few weeks in jail, and the monument lost its status as a national cultural monument.
But the tank’s continuous metamorphosis did not stop here, as it was repeatedly painted green and pink several times over, before being transferred to the Military Museum Lešany, south of Prague.
In 2002, a fountain called “Trapdoor of Time” (Propadliště času) was installed on the tank’s former spot. Six years later, Černý came back to the scene of the crime and installed a semi-buried pink statue, Tank Torso, soon removed after protest from Miloš Zeman, then Prime Minister and now President of the Czech Republic.
Painted in green, the Tank Torso reappeared on the square in 2018 and has remained there since, even donning the blue-yellow colours of the Ukrainian flag since early March 2022 as a sign of protest against the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The now notorious Pink Tank briefly returned to Prague on June 20, 2011, to mark the 20th anniversary of the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Czechoslovakia, and placed on a floating barge in the middle of the Vltava River.
Find out more about Central European history in our On this Day series.