21 April 2020. PenzaNews. The removal of a monument to the twice Hero of the Soviet Union General Ivan Konev, which was inaugurated on the Interbrigade Square in Prague on 9 May 1980, at the initiative of the residents as a historical reminder of saving the city from complete destruction by the Nazi during its liberation from the invaders in May 1945, caused the tide of discontent both in the Czech Republic and Russia and became one of the most talked about events of recent weeks.
The decision to remove the statue of the commander from the pedestal was made by the municipal authorities of Prague-6, on which administrative territory it was located. This was the initiative of the district head Ondřej Kolář, member of the pro-European center-right party TOP 09 on 12 September 2019. After that, protests against the demolition of the monument were held in the capital of the country. One of the young people even chained himself to the monument, saying that this situation concerns him personally, since his grandfather fought against fascism. Czech President Milos Zeman called what was happening a shame.
However, the plan was nevertheless implemented. On April 3, a group of people with the help of a crane and ropes dismantled the three-meter bronze figure of the military leader and shot down memorable inscriptions. At the same time, none of the activists could interfere with the work: a state of emergency was introduced in the country starting with March 12th due to the spread of a new coronavirus infection COVID-19 (Coronavirus Disease 2019).
“He didn’t have a mask. The rules apply to everyone equally. Out with only a mask or another mouth and nose overlap,” Ondřej Kolář wrote on his Facebook. The sarcastic post expectedly provoked a strong reaction: it has several thousands of comments in different languages. Some accused the district authorities of rewriting the history of World War II and disrespect for the feat of the Soviet soldiers who saved Europe from the ‘brown plague,’ others, including those from Ukraine, on the contrary, welcomed the demolition.
The Russian Embassy in Prague on the same day expressed a strong protest to the Czech Foreign Ministry against the “the vandal actions of the untied municipal leaders”, noting the particular cynicism of the monument demolition on the eve of the 75th anniversary of the Victory over Nazism.
“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 [...] Obviously, with their provocative actions, the initiators of the war against monuments, with the connivance of the Czech republican authorities, are seeking to worsen the whole range of Russian-Czech relations,” says the document, which was distributed by the diplomatic mission.
On April 12, Czech President Milos Zeman told Prague’s iPrima TV channel that he considers the demolition of the monument to the Soviet commander a dumb move.
“Marshal Konev, who liberated [from the Nazi] not only Prague but also [Hitler’s death camp] Auschwitz, fully deserved his place in Prague. Those behind it have achieved nothing in their lives. They are jealous of those who succeeded. Sadly, there are quite a lot of such people. They are driven by hatred and envy,” he said.
At the same time, according to Milos Zeman, Russia’s official reaction, including a criminal case on the grounds of a crime under Part 3 of Art. 354.1 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation ‘Rehabilitation of Nazism,’ launched by the Investigative committee against the officials responsible for removing the monument, can be considered as an interference in the Czech Republic’s internal affairs.
It is known that the municipal authorities also plan to dismantle the pedestal on which the figure of the military leader stood for 40 years, and establish there a new memorial reminding of the liberation of Czechoslovakian capital in May 1945. In the future, the statue of the Marshal is scheduled to be transferred to a museum in the memory of the 20th century, which is not yet constructed. The city hall of Prague is ready to allocate funds for its creation. Until this time, according to the municipality, the monument will be located on the territory of one of the commercial companies specializing in the storage of historical sculptures.
Earlier, Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu wrote a letter to his Czech counterpart Lubomír Metnar asking him to hand over the monument to Marshal Ivan Konev to Russia and announced that the Russian side was ready to pay all the financial costs associated with this move. The Czech military department promised to officially respond to the proposal, but according to the comment of their representative that appeared in the media, it became clear that the Ministry of Defense has nothing to do with the monument – it is the property of the Prague-6 district.
Meanwhile, Ivan Konev’s family members, began collecting signatures via the global online platform Change.org for a petition addressed to Russian President Vladimir Putin on a transfer of a bronze statue of the commander to Moscow. They propose to erect it in the street named after the marshal.
Soon, the readiness to accept the monument demolished in the Czech Republic was announced in Slovakia, in order it could be further used precisely as a monument, and not as a museum exhibit. During an online discussion of the Valdai club on the ideological constructs of World War II in modern discourse, Former Prime Minister of the Republic, member of the board of directors of the Pan-European University of Bratislava, Ján Čarnogurský reminded that Marshal Ivan Konev commanded the army whose mission was to get to Eastern Slovakia through the Carpathians. In his opinion, each country has the right to decide which monuments should be erected on its territory, however, “the problem is more complicated.”
“Monuments, I mean military monuments, remind of the victories of the past, and in the event of victory over fascism in the Second World War – [they remind] of victory over historical evil. [...] Such monuments are devoted both to the past and to the future,” Ján Čarnogurský said.
As some analysts note, the systematic and sometimes barbaric demolition of monuments in Europe is connected with the desire of some politicians to permanently erase from history and memory of their people the feat of the Soviet soldier and destroy his image. Along with this, there is a growing tendency to falsify the facts of World War II. Some countries adopt documents, which hush up the true role of Western countries – primarily the United States, Britain and Poland – in the formation of the Nazi regime, the creation of a Wehrmacht military machine, pandering to Hitler’s aggressive aspirations and provoking attack on the Soviet Union.
At the same time, the West’s role in the victory over fascist Germany is intentionally hypertrophied, the importance of opening a second front and the financial aid provided to the USSR during the war by the United States and Great Britain is unreasonably exaggerated. However, the victory, as the vast majority of researchers indicate, was achieved thanks to the heroism and courage of the soldiers of the Red Army.
In their opinion, against this background, it seems ridiculous that some political figures of post-Soviet countries try to separate their own national history from the history of the state which was once united and to imagine the Great Patriotic War as a confrontation between two dictatorial regimes, while emphasizing that the Soviet regime was alien to the interests of “peoples enslaved by Moscow.”
Moreover, many consider it necessary to publicly and at all levels condemn the heroization of members of organizations that fought against the Soviet soldiers in the territories liberated by them, which now takes place in Poland, Ukraine and the Baltic countries. These states not only justify Nazi accomplices, but also glorify them, supporting various movements. For instance, according to media reports, in early 2020, the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports of Ukraine allocated to nationalist organizations almost half of the budget – about 8 out of 20 million hryvnias. Earlier, some of them had already received state funding, including as part of a competition for national-patriotic education projects for the current year.
Commenting on the demolition of the monument to Marshal Ivan Konev in Prague, Pal Steigan, Norwegian politician, publisher, writer, independent entrepreneur in the field of culture and information technology, stressed that the problem wasn’t so much about the demolition of the monument to Marshal Konev, which, no doubt, was “an abuse of the state of emergency,” but a part of a general rewriting of the history of WWII.
From his point of view, another striking example of such aspirations is the European Parliament resolution of 19 September 2019 on the importance of European remembrance for the future of Europe. According to the expert, the resolution is an utter distortion of the history of WWII as it puts the blame for the outbreak of war on the one country which “bore the brunt in destroying Nazi-Germany.”
“The Red Army and the Soviet Union destroyed the legions of Hitler and sacrificed millions of lives. Without that heroic struggle the Nazi armies would have won. At the same time the EU collaborates with fascist and Nazi organizations in Ukraine and the Baltics and accept their rehabilitaions of fascists like Stepan Bandera and the like. This is not so much about history as it is about a frantic anti-Russian policy,” Pal Steigan said.
In his opinion, those politicians who are trying to put the USSR on a par with Germany and make it responsible for unleashing the Second World War, “want to hide their own sins.”
“Britain and France wanted Hitler to make war on the Soviet Union, so the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact came as a hindrance for them and it gave the Soviet Union time to prepare for war. The US monopoly capital supported Hitler until Pearl Harbor, and even after the war the US utilized Nazis in the Cold war,” the analyst said and added that Washington still uses these tools in war provocations.
According to him, states need to constantly fight for historical truth.
“It is always a great task to educate people about historic truth, it is a long task, and it never ends,” Pal Steigan said.
Founder of the European Center for Geopolitical Analysis, Polish political scientist Mateusz Piskorski shared the view that the adoption of the resolution by the European Parliament is closely related to the desire to damage the international image of Russia.
“This document is purely political and is not related to scientific historical discussion. Unfortunately, in many countries history is turning into an instrument of political struggle. As for historical discussions, they are practically unknown to the public, because everyone focuses on what a politician – who often doesn't know anything about history and historical facts – will say,” the expert noted.
At the same time, Russophobic sentiments in the Czech Republic, in his opinion, are local.
“Most central-level Czech politicians did not support the decision of the head of one of the Prague districts to dismantle the monument [to Marshal Ivan Konev]. Both Czech President Milos Zeman and Prime Minister Andrej Babis have very different views on these historical issues, as does neighboring Slovakia, where Bratislava’s liberation from Nazi invaders was recently celebrated at the state level,” Mateusz Piskorski said.
He added that discussions about the fate of the monuments to Soviet soldiers had previously been held in Berlin, but almost all the political forces of the country came to the conclusion that they must not only keep, but also preserve this evidence of history, which is albeit very sad.
“In addition, in Austria that was also part of the Third Reich, they are going to open new monuments. The approach of these countries, unlike other states, is very balanced. It is the result of a more objective and realistic view of history as a science, not a political tool,” the political scientist emphasized.
According to him, scientists in most European countries cannot rely on government support in preserving the historical truth.
“I know that such support is provided to objective historians in Russia. Unfortunately, in other states, which could become partners in scientific historical discussion, there is no such support: in many countries, authorities, on the contrary, impede scientific activity. Nevertheless, without state support, it is possible to establish contacts between historians, create conditions for cooperation between academies of sciences, independent research institutes and universities,” Mateusz Piskorski said.
In turn, Lewis Siegelbaum, Professor Emeritus of History, Michigan State University, suggested that in the case of the dismantling of the monument to Marshal Konev in Prague, local authorities responsible for the monument’s removal “clearly were sending a message to fellow Czechs as well as to Russians that whatever debt the Czech people owed to the Soviet army for helping to liberate Prague from the scourge of Nazism had been paid” and also were trying to remind that the relations between the countries were overshadowed by subsequent Soviet intervention during 1968.
“Monuments are expressions of the way governments and other institutions choose to connect themselves to the past. In honouring particular individuals or collective subjects, those who erect and maintain monuments seek to reinforce their own legitimacy. Likewise, the removal of a monument signifies an attempt to separate an institution from earlier associations,” the analyst explained.
According to him, the resolution of European Parliament “seeks to goad the Russian state into disassociating itself from its Soviet predecessor by casting the USSR as no less guilty than Nazi Germany for the horrors of World War II.”
“Some European politicians are seeking to rebalance the onus of responsibility for World War II in order to reduce the opprobrium against fascism. Such politicians generally can be situated on the extreme right of the political spectrum. Describing themselves as ‘nationalists’ or ‘patriots,’ they seek to whip up populist, and often racist sentiments,” Lewis Siegelbaum said.
In his opinion, the best way to combat historical falsification is to promote broad-based discussion of current events by situating them in historical context.
“By ‘broad-based’ I mean respectful exchanges of viewpoints within each country as well as across national borders, recognizing that ‘historical truth’ can be represented in different ways according to different historical narratives,” the American expert said.
Jacques Sapir, Director of studies at the School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences (EHESS) in Paris, Head of the Center for Research of Industrialization (CEMI-EHESS), Foreign Member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, drew attention to the fact that the idea of putting Soviet Union on par with Germany is a long-standing idea not just of European politicians since the 1960s at least.
“The point is to explain why this idea is now resurfacing. The only explanation is that for some European politicians, this idea is central because they hate Russia and the Russians. This kind of hate can’t be explained rationally. It’s a kind of hysteria. It began soon after Vladimir Putin replaced the late Boris Yeltsin in 2000 and developed with successes of Russian policy to rebuild the country after the complete disaster of transition in 1992-1998,” Jacques Sapir said.
Commenting on the adoption of a resolution on World War II by the European Parliament, he emphasized that it could be fully considered politically motivated, and explained why.
“The first reason is that this very kind of resolution amount to politician inroads into Historians territory. The second reason is that this resolution is not putting a historical event, the beginning of World War II and the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, into its context. When one has to discuss such a matter it is important to remember that what could be perceived as ‘actions’ are quite frequently actually ‘reactions.’ The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact cannot be understood once we forget the Munich Agreement of 1938 and the betrayal of Czechoslovakia by France and the United Kingdom. Soviet Union could have reasonably feared to be too betrayed by Western powers,” the expert said.
“The third reason why this resolution can be criticized is that it didn’t mention the common invasion by Nazi Germany and Poland of [...] Czechoslovakia in March 1939 and the close relations the Polish government maintained in the 1930s with Nazi Germany. The fourth reason is that this resolution doesn’t make a difference between the Pact in itself and the ‘secret protocols’ which, them, are amounting to a form of ideological cooperation between Stalin and Hitler. These protocols are to be condemned and have been condemned [at the Congress of People’s Deputies of the USSR on 24 December 1989],” he added.
He also called unacceptable any attempts to equate the Wehrmacht soldiers with Soviet soldiers, representing both as victims of the totalitarian regimes of Hitler and Stalin.
“And I am not contesting the fact that the Stalinist regime was very bad, very cruel, and killed millions of people. But, there are significant differences between the Nazi regime and the Stalinist one,” the professor explained.
Speaking about the desire of individual politicians to somehow justify countries’ complicity with the Nazis during the Second World War, Jacques Sapier pointed out that such actions require denunciation.
“Heroization of Nazi accomplices is obvious now in Ukraine but can be seen also in some Baltic states. This is something done by far-right groups or parties in these countries, which harbour ideological and historical links with Nazism. This is to be denounced publicly,” the expert said.
At the same time, according to him, countries should be extremely careful in protecting the historical truth, since it cannot be absolute.
“Let us speak of the destruction of Jews in Europe perpetrated by the Nazis and their accomplices. Of course some statements, like ‘there was no genocide’ are outrageous lies. That million people died is sure. But how many? Is the right number 6 millions or 5 millions as it is said now? There are still some elements of uncertainty. [...] That’s why history is to be let to historians. And, we know that some legitimate debates can arise among historians. History is not to be politicized. History is to be studied,” Jacques Sapier concluded.