The Foreign Ministry of the Russian Federation harshly responded to another desecration of the Soviet era WWII memorial, this time in Prague. The Czech authorities said there was no political motive hidden in the action, but the incident most likely sprang from the anti-Russian campaign that was conducted in the country after communists had been dismissed from power.
The recent scandalous story had is preamble. On May 20-21, unidentified vandals desecrated 12 graves of Soviet soldiers killed during WWII and buried of the Olsany memorial. The soldiers were slain during liberation of Prague from Nazis in May 1945. At first , the incident seemed to be mere hooliganism. But later on July 10 it turned out that 48 bronze name boards were demounted from the graves.
The Czech authorities immediately reported that there was no political motive of the incident but mere theft of non-ferrous metals. They promised to find the criminals. Nevertheless, the Russian embassy in Prague sent a note of protest to the Czech Republic, and the RF foreign Ministry summoned the Czech ambassador to Russia Miroslav Kostelka. The ambassador expressed his regrets in connection with the incident. But still Moscow’s reaction to the vandalism was very harsh.
Russia's Foreign Ministry made an official statement saying that Russia voiced its resolute protest in connection with the new acts of vandalism on the WWII memorial where Soviet soldiers were buried. “We expect that Prague will immediately take resolute measures and investigate the instances of desecration of Soviet war memorials,” the statement says. Russia also insists that the Czech Republic must restore the monuments and guarantee their absolute safety in the future as is stipulated in the agreements concluded earlier.
It is certainly not ruled out that the incident could be a mere theft of non-ferrous metals indeed. Any country and certainly the Czech Republic has its villains who desecrate war memorials. But the past seventeen years of the Russian-Czech relations and the scandalous desecration of Soviet memorials in Estonia and Poland obviously suggest that if this was not a political action but obviously a demonstration of anti-Russian propaganda. It is not ruled out that the Olsany memorial cemetery was chosen purposefully.
This memorial cemetery is one of the biggest memorials outside the former Soviet Union. It has an Orthodox temple that serves for thousands of people every day. The first Russian burials were made there 200 years ago when the Russian army was fighting Napoleon in Europe. Later, Russian soldiers taken prisoners during the German and Austria-Hungarian campaigns and emigrants who escaped from Bolsheviks were buried on the cemetery. So, it is a long-standing Russian symbol in the Czech Republic.
Prague was still caught in fire in May 1945 when the Soviet army already entered Berlin. Part of the Russian liberation army came over to the side of insurgent citizens of Prague, but Germans suppressed the revolt. It was the Soviet army under the command of Marshal Konev that managed to liberate the city from Nazis and save one of the most beautiful places of the world from ruining. After the fighting, over 400 Soviet soldiers were buried on the Olsany cemetery and a memorial was mounted there.
During the socialist epoch, more monuments to Soviet soldiers were mounted in Prague, and many streets of the place were named after Soviet liberators who defeated Nazis. When socialism fell down in the Czech Republic, the country immediately began fighting the socialist legacy. Many streets were renamed, and the memorial to Soviet liberators was turned into a symbol of the Prague Spring suppression. Soon , the interpretation of the events of 1945 was changed . The liberation of the Czech Republic of Nazis in 1945 was said to be a change of the Nazi occupation for the Soviet one. As a result, it became habitual that memorials to Soviet soldiers were regularly desecrated.
Many Czechs dizzy after the downfall of Communists and hating everything connected with Russia terribly hate a monument to the Soviet army made in the form of a tank. They treat it as the symbol of the events that took place in 1968. In 1991, the monument was painted pink, and several attempts were made to dismantle it or move to some other place. The idea was supported by ex-president Vaclav Havel . Finally, the acting president Vaclav Klaus gave up the idea to move the tank monument.
However, not all monuments are dismounted in Prague. A monument to Marshal Konev, the Fraternization monument and the bronze figures with bent banners around the Soviet Army hall of the National memorial on the Vitkov Mountain are absolutely intact. In the first years of the post-communist epoch in the Czech Republic many people regularly insisted that the monuments must be dismounted but today the issue is never touched upon.
There is every reason to believe that the vandalism on the Olsany cemetery was a political doing. Over the past years since the downfall of the socialist regime in the country many Czechs grew absolutely confident of the idea that Russians are occupants and enemies. So, what was done to the Soviet memorial on the Olsany cemeterycan be considered as an example of ‘the Czech national Russophobia’.
At the time when top leaders of the republic never make harsh statements in Russia’s address, majority of mass media and many politicians keep on presenting Russia as an enemy. Many of them openly declare that the US anti-missile radar must be set to prevent the Russian menace and not to guarantee protection from Iran and North Korea.
Mass media do their best to create a negative image of Russia and Russians in the Czech society.
It is a really hard period for the Russian-Czech relations now. The issue of mounting the US anti-missile radar together with the vandalism on the Soviet memorial may seriously aggravate the situation. It depends basically upon Czech politicians if the relations between both countries regress or not. They should not only emphasize negative instances in the relations with Russia but also lay emphasis on positive moments in the relations with Russia and Russians. This will certainly prevent further vandalism of the kind that was committed on the Olsany cemetery.
Translated by Maria Gousseva