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Czech embassy in Moscow attacked following removal of controversial Soviet-era statue in Prague

The statue of Soviet marshal Ivan Konev being removed in Prague

Prague, Czech Republic – The Czech embassy in Moscow was attacked by a group of protesters on Sunday. According to Russian media, the incident is linked to the removal in Prague, a few days ago, of the statue of marshal Ivan Konev, the Soviet commander who led the liberation of Prague in 1945.

Czech embassy in Moscow attacked over Konev controversy

The small group of protesters gathered in front of the Czech Republic’s diplomatic representation in the Russian capital, wearing masks, putting up a “Stop Fascism” banner on the embassy’s fence and throwing some smoke bombs on the compound’s premises.

On their website, the group ‘Other Russia’, made up of member of the former National Bolshevik party banned in 2007, claimed responsibility for the attack, “a response to the Czech authorities who, on Friday removed the monument of the marshal Ivan Konev in Prague”, and further declaring: “Our tanks will be in Prague!”.

In a statement, the Czech Foreign Ministry condemned the attack as an “act of vandalism” by an “extremist” group. “We expect that the Russian authorities will take measures to prevent such incidents from reoccurring”, the statement read.

A problematic Soviet marshal

The Czech Republic and Russia have crossed swords over the controversial bronze statue of General Ivan Konev, a Red Army commander during World War II praised by some for liberating Prague from Nazi occupation, while others see him as a symbol of Soviet occupation and repression in the former Eastern bloc.

Konev, hailed as a war hero in Russia and whose remains are buried in the Kremlin, also oversaw the crushing of the anti-Soviet uprising in Hungary in 1956 and played a reconnaissance role in planning the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia. Local Czech politicians also reminded that portraying him as the “saviour” or “liberator” of Prague was not historically accurate.

“When Soviet troops arrived in Prague on May 9, 1945, there was only one SS division here and that was on the outskirts of the city”, Ondrej Kolar, major of Prague’s 6th district, said. “The Wehrmacht had surrendered to the forces of the Prague uprising, and left the previous day […]. The city was basically free, but that wasn’t something Soviet propaganda wanted to use. We are not denying the role of the Red Army or saying the Soviets didn’t suffer. They suffered a lot – but not in Prague”.

Tensions have been rising ever since municipal authorities of the Bubenec district, where the monument was located, voted to remove it and replace it with a World War II memorial monument to the liberation of Prague from Nazi occupation. President Milos Zeman, known for his pro-Russian leaning, criticized the removal last week as “an abuse of the state of emergency” currently in place due to the coronavirus crisis, along with the head of the Czech Communist Party Vojtech Filip.

Tensions rise over statue removal

The Russian embassy in Prague also sharply criticized the move, accusing it of violating the 1993 Czech-Russian Friendship Agreement and threatening Prague with “an adequate reaction from the Russian side”.

Last summer, on the anniversary of the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia by Soviet-led troops, the statue was vandalized and defaced with red and pink paint.

After months of diplomatic spat, the statue was finally removed last Friday. Prague 6 council said it would be put into storage for the time being before being included in the collection of the Museum of the 20th century, which should open in the coming years in the Czech capital.

Czech-Russian tensions further escalated in February when Prague renamed the square where the Russian embassy is located – also in Prague 6 – after Boris Nemtsov, a human rights activist and vocal Putin critic murdered in the streets of Moscow in 2015. A promenade in the nearby Stromovka park was also named after Anna Politkovskaya, a Russian journalist and outspoken Kremlin critic killed in Moscow fourteen years ago.