Putin aide: Prague’s Konev statue should be returned to original location, not Russia

The fate of the bronze statue has been at the center of diplomatic row since it was removed in April.

Raymond Johnston

Written by Raymond Johnston
Published on 12.11.2020 13:08 (updated on 12.11.2020)

The statue of Soviet Marshal Ivan Konev should not be handed over from the Czech Republic to Russia but should be put back in its original Prague 6 location, according to Vladimir Medinsky, an aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Returning the statue might inspire other Central and Eastern European countries to follow suit and send Soviet memorials to Russia, Medinsky said at a history conference in Russia. Medinsky was Russia’s culture minister from 2012 – 2020 before becoming an aide to Putin.

The bronze statue of Konev was removed from náměstí Interbrigády in Prague 6 on April 3, 2020, fulfilling a promise that the Prague 6 district administration made in September 2019.

Konev statue surrounded by scaffolding. (photo: Raymond Johnston - Expats.cz)
Konev statue surrounded by scaffolding. (photo: Raymond Johnston - Expats.cz)

Czech Foreign Minister Tomáš Petříček (ČSSD) in April said the Czech Republic was ready to negotiate the transfer of the statue to Russia. Petříček at the time said Russian authorities had asked the Czech Defense Ministry for a chance to take the statue and install it on its territory.

Putin’s aide, though, now wants the statue put back on its plinth in Prague 6. “It would be fair to return Marshal Konev as a hero of the liberation of Prague to his (original) place. This will be a sign of justice,” Medinsky said.

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He made his comments in St. Petersburg as the chairman of a Russian society dealing with military history, and they were initially reported by news agency TASS said.

The statue, valued at CZK 13 million, was installed in 1980. It depicts the smiling Soviet marshal holding a bouquet of flowers and waving. The statue has has since been moved into storage in Měšice, Central Bohemia.

Explanatory plaque at the base of the Konev memorial. (photo: Raymond Johnston - Expats.cz)
Explanatory plaque at the base of the Konev memorial. (photo: Raymond Johnston - Expats.cz)

The Prague 6 Town Hall wants the statue to be displayed at the planned Museum of the Memory of the XX Century, which will contain exhibits about both the wartime Nazi occupation and the post-war communist era in what is now the Czech Republic.

At the square where the statue stood, Prague 6 would like to create a new memorial to the liberation of Prague.

Marshal Konev has been a divisive figure. During the communist era, he was credited with liberating Prague from German occupation at the end of World War II. His subsequent involvement in suppressing the 1956 uprising in Budapest, building the Berlin Wall in 1961, and the 1968 Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia has called his legacy into question.

His role in Prague right after World War II is also not without controversy. Some historians say he was responsible for the arrest and deportation of Ukrainian, Belarusian and Russian opponents to the Stalinist regime who had sought refuge in Prague, many of whom had become Czechoslovak citizens.

Konev statue with explanatory plaques. (photo: Raymond Johnston - Expats.cz)
Konev statue with explanatory plaques. (photo: Raymond Johnston - Expats.cz)

In 2018, Prague 6 added explanatory plaques to the base of the memorial to put Konev’s legacy into context.

The statue was often vandalized with red paint. After an unknown perpetrator poured red paint on the monument in August 2019, Prague 6 refused to have it cleaned and then he had scaffolding with a tarpaulin built around it to keep it from public view. Supporters of the statue took down the tarp.

After the statue was removed, a vandal on May 9 placed a toilet bowl on the plinth. May 9 is the anniversary of the liberation.

Russian diplomats have protested against the removal of the statue, and have even launched a criminal prosecution against Prague 6 representatives for the removal. The Czech Embassy in Moscow saw protests over the issue in April.

Prague 6 authorities maintains that the removal of the statue did not violate any Czech–Russian treaties.

The Czech Republic and Russia agreed over the summer on consultations to discuss the statue and other topics. Czech top elected officials said in a statement after a coordination meeting at the end of September that it can’t be a one-sided process.

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