Most Czechs think modern history being reinterpreted falsely, survey shows

Statue commemorating marshal Ivan Konev in Prague’s Bubeneč, photo: Šjů, CC BY-SA 3.0

More than half of Czechs believe that Czech modern history is being falsely reinterpreted and over 60 percent have a problem with constructing new memorials that change the accepted view on history, according to a fresh MEDIAN poll conducted exclusively for Czech Radio. The news comes in the wake of controversy surrounding the suggested transfer of a memorial to Soviet marshal Ivan Konev and the construction of another to the controversial Vlasov troops who helped liberate Prague.

Statue commemorating marshal Ivan Konev in Prague’s Bubeneč,  photo: Šjů,  CC BY-SA 3.0
The story of two memorials, one repeatedly vandalised in recent years, the other only just approved for construction, has made headlines in both domestic and foreign media outlets in recent months.

The former is a statue commemorating marshal Ivan Konev, who commanded the Red Army troops that moved into Prague on May 9, 1945. It was constructed during the Communist era and still stands in Prague’s Bubeneč neighbourhood.

However, in recent years many leading Czech historians have pointed to the marshal’s post-war activities such as the brutal crackdown of the Hungarian uprising in 1956.

Meanwhile, some 12 kilometres away, the previously little-known suburb of Řeporyje has garnered much attention due to its plans to construct a memorial to a unit of another armed force whose role has been highlighted by some post-communist historians – the Russian Liberation Army.

This unit, which previously fought on the German side, turned coat during the Prague Uprising and seems to have played a significant role in halting Nazi troops moving through the suburb days before the Red Army arrived.

The debate has raised hackles in Russia, which has strongly protested against the changes, but has also given rise to concern among Czech citizens.

At least according to a MEDIAN agency poll which shows that 55 percent of Czechs think that modern history is currently being distorted.

MEDIAN’s Michal Geisler says that there is a stark divide between older and younger respondents in this respect, with 66 percent of the former fearing falsification. According to Geisler, the data also show a political cleavage.

Andrey Vlasov,  photo: Bundesarchiv,  Bild 146-1984-101-29 / CC-BY-SA
“Basically voters of parties at the opposite ends of the political spectrum share this opinion the most strongly. For example, 85 percent of Communist Party voters and 76 of Freedom and Direct Democracy voters. Furthermore 67 percent of [government] ANO Party voters think so. Supporters of the Pirate Party and the Civic Democrats share this opinion less, but it is still over 50 percent of respondents.”

Political beliefs and age are also the main dividers specifically in connection with the memorial question.

Over 60 percent of respondents stated that they had a problem with the removal of objects commemorating events or personalities connected with the Second World War and the construction of new memorials resulting from a shift in historical narrative.

Mr. Geisler also points out that, somewhat surprisingly, the survey did not indicate stark differences in opinion according to education-level and regional origin.

“There could be an assumption that people would be facing this debate more frequently in Prague than in other regions. However, there was no huge difference in the regions in regards to this attitude.”