Foreign minister summons Russian ambassador over “revisionist” documentary

Lubomír Zaorálek, photo: Filip Jandourek

Czech Foreign Minister Lubomír Zaorálek summoned the Russian ambassador, Sergei Kiselyev, to Černín Palace on Monday, for urgent talks following two separate incidents, which have cast a fresh shadow over relations between the two countries. The first bone of contention was the revelation of a list last week of 89 EU politicians declared persona non grata in Russia – the list included four prominent Czechs, including TOP 09 chairman Karel Schwarzenberg. The second incident relates to the recent airing of a documentary in Russia, which, critics argue, is seeking to rewrite the history of Soviet military aggression.

Lubomír Zaorálek, photo: Filip Jandourek
“A military coup was being prepared in Prague…” so says the narrator of a documentary aired on the state-owned Rossiya-1 TV station on May 23, part of a series entitled “Warsaw Pact – Pages Declassified” covering the Cold War. The programme’s portrayal of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 as saving the country from a NATO-fascist-tinged coup has caused outrage in both the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

The documentary comes at a time when relations between the Czech Republic and Vladimir Putin’s Russia were already dealt a fresh blow by Russian authorities handing over a list to an EU delegation of 89 politicians from across the EU banned from entering Russia – the list included four Czech politicians accused of being particularly vocal in their support for the 2014 revolution in Ukraine. President Miloš Zeman was among those voicing criticism of the ban, arguing that such measures undermine diplomatic efforts.

The airing of the documentary, coupled with the publication of this list, led to Czech Foreign Minister Lubomír Zaorálek summoning the Russian Ambassador to the Czech Republic, Sergei Kiselyev, to Černín Palace on Monday for urgent consultations. Zaorálek later told Czech Television the content of these talks:

Warsaw Pact troops in Prague in August 1968, photo: Dusan Neumann, Wikimedia Commons Free Domain
“The main thing I told the ambassador was: ‘How, in heaven’s name, can you be talking about us this way in Russia?’. When you look at the film, then you see that it is of the kind that propagates a black and white world view. Here is the evil West, and our side is the good and ‘white’ one, which was only acting defensively. And into that they happen to throw in the events of 1968.”

Among the claims made in the Russian documentary was that outside of Prague, Czechs largely welcomed the crushing of the Prague Spring in August 1968 by Warsaw Pact troops. The Czech foreign minister described such a re-telling of history as “outrageous”. Zaorálek also told Czech Television that the Russian ambassador sought to downplay the significance of the documentary:

“The ambassador reassured me that nothing has changed in the official Russian position on the events of 1968. He said: ‘take no notice of this. It is just some film on television. You are attaching too much significance to this.’”

Sergei Kiselyev, photo: archive of Russian Embassy in the Czech Republic
Analysts have suggested the documentary’s assertions form part of a new line being pushed by the Kremlin, seeking to portray past Russian military interventions as justified and patriotic deeds – echoing similar sentiments put forth regarding the current intervention in Ukraine. Speaking to Czech Television, Foreign Minister Zaorálek adopted a combative tone with regards to alleged Kremlin revisionism:

“The Russians must know that in 1993, we signed a treaty of mutual friendship and cooperation between the Czech Republic and Russia. And this treaty begins with the words: ‘We seek a definitive end to the totalitarian past, with the unacceptable use of force against Czechoslovakia in 1968, and any further illegal presence of the Russian military on Czech territory.’”