geopolitics-00346
Marshal Ivan Stepanovich Konev

By Arthur Evans – What should municipal authorities be doing at the height of a global pandemic? Obviously, to provide much-needed quarantine measures, make sure that essential goods, including medicines, are readily available and to monitor the work done by local health institutions. This is not the case with Prague district 6 mayor Ondrej Kolar and his team though because, instead of ensuring the health of their own people amid the coronavirus outbreak, they finally realized a longstanding plan and cynically dismantled the monument to one of the best military commanders of the Second World War – Soviet Marshal Ivan Konev.

In May 1945, it was none other than Ivan Konev who scrambled his forces and quickly deployed them in Prague in an effort to prevent the destruction of one of Europe’s most beautiful cities. Before that, he liberated the prisoners of the Auschwitz concentration camp and kicked the Germans out of Silesia… But people tend to rewrite history, and in Czech textbooks, it is the poorly armed rebels, assisted by Nazi collaborators of General Vlasov, who are portrayed as the liberators of Prague. The latter hoped that betrayal of their German masters would win them forgiveness. You can’t run away from facts, however, and the hard fact is that it was not 20,000 or so poorly armed people, but the tanks and battle-hardened troopers of Ivan Konev who wiped out almost a million-strong German force deployed around Prague. Unlike many Russian and German cities as well as the capital of neighboring Poland, razed to the ground by war, Prague remained intact.

The monument to Marshal Ivan Konev was erected in Prague’s 6th district in 1980. It shows the Marshal holding flowers, a gift from the crowds of liberated people. With his other hand he is waving. After the collapse of the socialist camp, however, monuments to Soviet soldiers became a “thorn in the flesh” of the new democratic regimes. The fact that, having revised its past history, the new Russia now respected the memory of the Czechs who fought in the Civil War against the Bolsheviks (and stole part of Russia’s gold reserves in the process), was completely ignored. A series of barbaric demolitions of monuments to Soviet soldiers followed across the post-Soviet space. If a monument was hard to take down, vandals doused it with paint, trying to either break or deface it. The vandals were never caught simply because their actions sat well with the authorities, who could now cover the damaged monument with tarpaulins and keep it that way for a long time… until it was cleaned up! In another mockery of historical memory, they would set up explanatory plaques to add a politically distorted context to the historical figure. For example, a board set up outside the monument to Marshal Konev described him as the strangler of the 1956 Hungarian uprising and one of those who suppressed the Prague Spring in 1968. Meanwhile, you will never find on American memorials any information about the commander of US forces in Europe General Eisenhower having drowned the Korean Peninsula in blood and having killed hundreds of thousands of civilians. History can be very selective indeed…

For example, the history of the Czech Republic gives a somewhat strange account of the perfidious Munich conspiracy and the bloodless surrender of the country in March 1939, when, almost without a single shot fired, an independent country became a protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. Well, the Soviet troops did establish a socialist system in the country, but they still restored its independence and gave back to its people the right to speak their own language, freely move around their country and not to be regarded as second-class citizens – all this much thanks to Ivan Konev, who is now portrayed as the enemy of the Czech Republic.

On the eve of the 75th anniversary of the Victory over Germany, mayor of Prague 6, Ondrej Kolar, took decisive action. It looks like his employees have a lot of free time amid the current COVID-19 outbreak and believe that dismantling the monument is far more important than helping their quarantined fellow citizens. The monument was removed by a crane with Ondrej Kolar cynically commenting that “We dismantled it, because the marshal did not have a mask.” Sounds strange since only recently the Czech Republic appropriated a huge batch of face masks and other medicines donated by China to Italy. Why not share at least one such mask with the savior of Prague? Apparently, they had all been sold on the black market…

According to Czech law, Kolar as a municipal official answers to local deputies. The Russian embassy in the Czech Republic will lodge an official protest with the country’s Foreign Ministry, but even though the federal authorities are already mildly critical of the overzealous Kolar, this doesn’t mean that the monument will be returned to its original place. Moreover, Kolar curried favor with the local nationalists. Besides, he can always blame the Russians for any jump in the number of cases of coronavirus infection in his district.

What is clear, however, is that this local official most likely acted with the tacit approval of the central authorities. The government apparently thought that in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak Russia would be too busy to vigorously protest. Czech politicians apparently forget that the Russians do not abandon their Marshals, and will see the monument’s removal on the eve of Victory Day as a slap in the face.

Adding insult to injury, the Czech Republic, in the person of the authorities of Prague 6 district, is not going to give the dismantled monument back to Russia but, instead, will move it to a certain Liberation museum, where it will be broken up in the depositories. The Russians do not forget their heroes and will always find a good place for the monument to the heroic Marshal, but jokester Kolar apparently has no guts to at least give the monument back to the Russian Defense Ministry and look the Russian officers in the eye.

Amid the current pandemic, Moscow has enough leverage to punish the Czech Republic. For example, it could confiscate medical supplies from China, but the Russians will never sink so low. Suffice it to mention the assistance provided by Russian military doctors, which Italy is so grateful for, and the help they recently gave to Serbia…