The removal of the statue of Soviet Marshal Ivan Konev from Prague’s Interbrigade Square caused significant tension in relations between Moscow and Prague.
Russia’s response shows that in its struggle to disseminate one official interpretation of history, Moscow is prepared to interfere significantly with the internal affairs of sovereign states, even in response to relatively symbolic acts.
Prague’s actions have been strongly criticised by the official Russian leadership, the Czech Communist Party as well as President Miloš Zeman. Even more worrying, however, is a smoke-bomb attack on the Czech Embassy in Moscow by the Russian ultranationalist group The Other Russia. This radical party also hung a “Stop Fascism” banner on the fence outside the embassy building and even threatened to invade Prague with tanks in their official statement. Nevertheless, radical groups are not alone in branding challengers of the Russian version of history as fascists. Similar rhetoric is being increasingly used in the highest government circles as well.
The rupture culminated when The Investigative Committee of Russia announced the opening of the criminal case for the “desecration” of the statue, which was allegedly a cynical act of vandalism. The decision was preceded by the law signed by President Vladimir Putin a few days ago. It lays down criminal liability for the destruction or damage of memorials that celebrate Russian military glory and are located both inside and outside the country. In addition to interfering with the internal affairs and decisions of sovereign states, such legislation also encounters the principle of retroactivity since it was signed only after the removal of the Konev statue.
The dispute between Prague and Moscow can be expected to continue – both at the level of rhetoric as well as bolder actions, as was the case with the attack on the Czech Embassy. The current situation with the spread of the coronavirus and the ban on mass gatherings is helping to maintain calmer progress without any protests. Nevertheless, intensified rhetoric on the part of Russia can further contribute to deepening the divide in the geopolitical orientation of the Czech Republic. Although a significant part of the population is strongly pro-European, still a strong segment feels nostalgia for the communist era. However, the main contours are already quite clear – Russia considers more important to propagate its own narrow interpretation of history than to maintain fair political relations with European countries, not being afraid to interfere with the internal affairs of sovereign states under the pretext of combating the propagation of fascism.
STRATPOL Memos is a project which on a weekly basis provides a short overview of the most important selected moments of Euro-Atlantic security and related areas. Our goal is to provide brief and informative comments with short analysis putting news into a broader context.
Responsible editor Matúš Jevčák.
Author: Diana Motúzová
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