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Prague To Remove Statue Of WWII Soviet Marshal, Sparking Moscow’s Ire

A monument to wartime Soviet commander Ivan Stepanovich Konev in Prague, Czech Republic.

A Prague district assembly vote to remove a statue of wartime Soviet Marshal Ivan Konev has sparked a diplomatic row between Russia and the Czech Republic.

The Czech Foreign Ministry summoned the Russian ambassador on September 13 over remarks by Russian Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky that likened the mayor of the Prague district that voted to remove the statue to a Nazi party official.​

Meanwhile, Russia's Foreign Ministry countered that the decision "won't be left unanswered."

Some view Konev, whose forces liberated much of Czechoslovakia's territory in World War II, as an enforcer of Soviet rule in Central and Eastern Europe for the roles he played after the conflict.

The statue to the Soviet military commander has been defaced several times, most recently on August 21, the anniversary of the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968.

Prague 6 district Mayor Ondrej Kolar subsequently had a tarp cover it, exposing deep divisions in society as pro-Russian supporters repeatedly removed it, with many coming to lay flowers at the statue.

Russia's Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky likened Kolar to a “Nazi” last week when the Prague mayor proposed removing the monument.

"Deputy Foreign Minister Chmelar reminded the ambassador of the Treaty of Friendly Relations and Cooperation between our countries, which the Czech side strictly respects, assumes mutual respect and equality, and stressed that the issue of the statue of Marshal Konev in Prague 6 is an internal affair of the Czech Republic," the Czech Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

"He also warned against abusing history for political purposes and fomenting passions in this area," it added, referring to Medinsky's comments.

On September 12, the Russian Embassy in Prague said Prague 6 had launched “a campaign that offends the memory of Red Army soldiers, and the Czechs and Slovaks who were fighting to liberate Czechoslovakia and its capital from Nazism.”

Soviet Marshal's Statue Reveals Monumental Rift In Czech Society
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A day later the Foreign Ministry in Moscow warned that the decision could become "a noticeable irritant" in bilateral relations and and "seriously darkens their atmosphere."

"We hope that the initiators of the unprecedented action, which is being prepared, will come to reason and will realize all consequences of their actions," it added.

Czech President Milos Zeman, who touts his close relationship with Kremlin leader Vladimir Putin, criticized Kolar's proposal earlier and said the statue should remain in place.

After the August act of vandalism, district authorities attached a plaque near the monument in Russian, Czech, and English outlining Konev’s roles in suppressing the 1956 uprising in Hungary and in building the Berlin Wall.

Some historians say Konev also participated in planning the 1968 Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia.

Kolar told the AP news agency that he wanted to give people “full information that would not conceal what happened.”

The mayor has since been put under police protection after receiving death threats against him and his family.

Kolar wants to hold a competition for a memorial to the liberators of Prague to replace the Konev statue, Reuters reported.

Meanwhile, a "dignified" place will be found in "a memorial institution" for the statue, he said calling it "a consensual solution."

Controversy has accompanied Soviet-era monuments that stand elsewhere in Europe as well.

A towering monument in Bulgaria's capital, Sofia, depicting nine Soviet solders advancing against the enemy has often been vandalized.

Estonia suffered a cyberattack in 2007 that briefly paralyzed the country's Internet system after Tallinn authorities moved a bronze statue of a Red Army soldier from its centrally located spot in the capital. Protesters also clashed in the Estonian capital after the announcement was made to displace the monument.

Russia was blamed for the nationwide cyberattack, an allegation that Moscow denied.

With reporting by Radio Prague International, Reuters, TASS, and AP
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