Prague Castle defends decision to host Auschwitz liberation events

Let My People Live forum, photo: CTK

Remembrance events marking the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp, organized by the European Jewish Congress in the Czech Republic have strained relations between Prague and Warsaw and left Czech politicians fending off accusations that the country is pandering to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who was not invited to attend the commemorative events in neighbouring Poland.

Viatcheslav Moshe Kantor,  photo: CTK
Invitations to commemorative events marking the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp were sent to world leaders both from Prague and Warsaw. While Prague Castle, under whose auspices the Czech events are being held, claims it is not trying to compete with the official ceremonies in Poland, Warsaw appears far from happy with the situation. The Polish press has repeatedly criticized the fact that the Let My People Live forum on anti-Semitism in Prague is organized by the European Jewish Congress headed by the Russian billionaire Viatcheslav Moshe Kantor who is believed to be close to Russian President Vladimir Putin and even more so the fact that President Putin was invited to attend the remembrance events in the Czech Republic after getting the cold shoulder from Poland.

Let My People Live forum,  photo: CTK
Prague Castle has been staunch in defending its decision to mark the anniversary “on a small scale and so as not to overlap with the official ceremonies in Poland” and argues the need to address the issue of growing anti-Semitism on as broad a platform as possible. The European Jewish Congress has also stressed that the main topic of the forum – the role of politicians, the media and legislation in the fight against anti-Semitism – has become even more urgent since the terrorist attacks in Paris.

Nevertheless, Prague Castle’s hopes of attracting a broad array of world leaders to the Czech Holocaust remembrance events were dashed. Both President Obama and President Putin declined the invitations and the presidents of France, Germany and Austria said they would be attending the events in Poland. Slovak President Andrej Kiska who accepted the invitation to the Czech events will have a hectic schedule – he will lay wreaths at the site of the Terezín concentration camp a day ahead of the official ceremony there and then travel to the Auschwitz memorial events in Poland. Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka will do likewise.

Auschwitz death camp,  photo: Barbora Kmentová
Among the 500 foreign visitors who have descended on Prague for the Holocaust Remembrance events are 30 heads of parliament who are expected to meet in a closed session on Tuesday to produce a joint declaration on the issue of anti-Semitism. Afterwards Czech President Miloš Zeman, visiting Bulgarian President Rosen Plevneliev and the head of the European Parliament Martin Schultz will make public statements. The speeches will end with a minute of silence for the 1.1 million people who perished in the Nazi death camps of Auschwitz-Birkenau between 1940 and 1945.