Prague Castle says commemorative events in Czech Republic marking liberation of Auschwitz will not ‘compete’ with Poland’s

Auschwitz death camp, photo: Barbora Kmentová

Later this month the Czech Republic will hold commemorative events over two days to mark the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz at the end of World War II. The initiative, the daily Gazeta Wyborcza suggested, has Polish representatives seeing red, not least over fears the Czech ceremonies could overshadow Poland’s own. According to the daily, Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka was contacted by his Polish counterpart over the matter.

Auschwitz death camp, photo: Barbora Kmentová
From the start planned ceremonies on January 26th and the 27th in the Czech Republic marking the liberation of Auschwitz 70 years ago have caused something of a stir largely because Czech President Miloš Zeman invited Russian President Vladimir Putin as a representative of one of the victorious powers in WWII. Mr Putin was far from being the only head-of-state invited, but some certainly found the timing questionable given Russian annexation of Crimea and further intervention in Ukraine last year. Czech TV quoted an unnamed source at the Polish prime minister’s office as criticising the invitation as “a gift” to the Russian president; it has to be said Mr Putin has not confirmed attendance. Only one head-of-state, Bulgaria’s, has; others, like American President Barack Obama, apologised for not being able to attend.

That has not stopped the events planned on Czech soil from being further questioned in the media: given Auschwitz is in Poland, many feel that attention on January 27th should primarily be focussed there. This week the daily Gazeta Wyborcza reported that Polish Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz had called her Czech counterpart, Bohuslav Sobotka, over the matter, something he quickly denied.

“It reminds me of reporting by the fictional radio station Radio Jerevan. It is not true that I was called by the Polish prime minister. I was the one who brought up the matter during my meeting with her in Prague. At the time, I informed her that the ceremony in Prague was in no way meant to compete with Poland’s.”

Miloš Zeman, Bohuslav Sobotka, photo: archive of Czech Government
The Czech president’s foreign policy advisor, Hynek Kmoniček, meanwhile, took a similar line on Thursday explaining at length that the schedule in Prague had been specifically tailored not to overlap with Poland’s. He also said if there was a problem for the Poles, it was never once raised last year by their president.

“President Zeman and President Komorowski, marking the fall of communism last year, had at least seven or eight opportunities to discuss the planned ceremonies. They did not. Why? Because they are completely different events, focused on a different public and they are not in competition with each other. We even organized the schedule so that they wouldn’t clash.”

For now, it is unclear which top representatives will attend the ceremonies in the Czech Republic: originally it was thought the head of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, would make the trip, but a Czech Foreign Ministry official made clear this week that was not in the cards.