On April 3rd, the bronze statue of General Ivan Konev, a marshall of the Soviet Union during World War II, was dismantled and taken down in Prague, Czech Republic.
This was a result of a vote by a local assembly.
Konev is regarded as a hero in Russia for retaking much of Eastern Europe from Nazi German forces during World War II. He led the Soviet troops that entered Prague after it had been liberated from the Nazis by resistance forces.
Erected in 1980, the statue honoured Konev for leading the Soviet forces credited with liberating Prague from the Nazis in 1945.
However, his later involvement in suppressing the Hungarian revolution in 1956, as well as suggestions he took part in planning the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia by Warsaw Pact forces, meant it attracted both zealous gatherings and vandalism.
The Russian Embassy in Prague protested the removal of the monument on April 3 in a note sent to the Czech Foreign Ministry.
“The dismantlement of a monument to Marshal Ivan Konev will not be left without the Russian side’s appropriate response,” the Russian Embassy said.
Czech President Milos Zeman said local authorities “abused” a public-health lockdown aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus.
Prague’s local officials said a new monument will be erected at the site to honor the Prague uprising resistance fighters who liberated the city from the Nazis at the end of World War II, days before Konev’s Soviet troops arrived.
Konev’s statue would be moved to a planned history museum.
In its letter, the Russian embassy accused the Czech authorities of “seeking to worsen the entire complex of Russian-Czech relations”. This “vandalism” would “not remain without an appropriate response”, it said.
“What happened causes deep indignation. Of particular note is the cynicism of the massacre of the monument on the eve of the 75th anniversary of the Victory over Nazism. There is no doubt about the provocative actions of the fighter with the monument, the headman of Prague-6 O. Kolarzha. This is confirmed by his comment on social networks, in which he mocks the memory of the liberator, including Prague, Auschwitz and Terezin. At the same time, the Russian Embassy in the Czech Republic receives numerous appeals from caring Czech citizens condemning the act of “municipal vandalism”.
We express our strong protest against the vandal actions of the untied municipal leaders. We regard the incident as an unfriendly step that directly contradicts the 1993 Agreement on Friendly Relations and Cooperation between the Russian Federation and the Czech Republic. This is, in particular, a violation by the Czech side of obligations arising from the provisions of Articles 18 and 21 of this agreement, according to which the Czech Republic must ensure the protection of historical and cultural monuments on its territory, as well as the preservation of Russian military monuments and their care.”
Ondrej Kolar, the mayor of Prague 6 questioned what response could follow.
“I’m not sure what they mean by an ‘appropriate response,’ but I don’t think that it should include attacking our embassy.”
In September 2019, Kolar and the municipal council voted to move the sculpture. The mayor said Marshall Konev should be on view again in a new Museum of Memory of the 20th Century being established by the city by January 2021.
The decision triggered violent protest from local activists in 2019.
There was also a condemnation from Moscow, which in recent years often accuses other states of seeking to “rewrite history” and with good reason.
“World War II and the defeat of fascism is a sacred cow for the Russian authorities,” said Jiri Pehe, a political analyst who was an adviser to the first Czech president, Vaclav Havel, and is now director of the New York University in Prague.
“They know very well that the removal of the statue is a local issue, not an attempt to reinterpret history or an outbreak of fascism, but it plays well for the purposes of their propaganda.”
On April 6th, the embassy of the Czech Republic in Moscow sent an official note to Russian diplomacy today in protest against an “extremist attack” on the embassy over the removal of Soviet Marshal Ivan Konev’s statue from a Prague square.
A masked group put a Stop Fascism sign on the embassy’s fence and threw several smoke bombs over the fence on April 5th. No one was arrested during the incident.
“The Czech Republic is protesting against the attack on its diplomatic mission’s compound that the host country is obliged to protect,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zuzana Stichova said.
“We expect the Russian authorities to take steps to prevent similar incidents from repeating,” she added.
The non-registered far-right and nationalistic party The Other Russia claimed responsibility for the sign. “Our tanks will be in Prague,” the party writes on its website.
The Other Russia calls on the Russian Foreign Ministry to take diplomatic and, if necessary, other steps that will show the European colleagues that Russophobia (anti-Russian sentiment) will not stay unpunished.
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