Prague’s divisive Konev statue set for removal after council vote

Photo: ČTK/Roman Vondrouš

The fate of a controversial statue of Soviet Army commander Ivan Konev in Prague 6 has finally been decided. On Thursday, the local council voted in favour of moving it to a new location and replacing it with a monument to the soldiers who liberated Prague in 1945. The Russian Embassy has hit back, calling the decision outrageous.

Photo: ČTK/Roman Vondrouš

The decision to remove the statue of Marshal Konev from Prague’s district of Dejvice was preceded by a stormy public session, during which the councillors rejected a proposal by the Pirate Party to hold a local referendum on the issue. In the end, 33 out of 45 councillors voted in favour of the statue’s removal.

The mayor of Prague 6, Ondřej Kolář of TOP 09, said that while he had the utmost respect for the soldiers who had liberated the country from Nazi oppression, the Red Army had not only brought peace to the country, but in later years terror as well.

“Don’t expect that we will bring down the statue or destroy it in any way. We are going to search for a dignified use, most likely in some museum or a memorial.

“The council has been tasked to take necessary steps for the removal of the art object.”

Ondřej Kolář,  photo: Tereza Melicharová,  CC BY 1.0
The dispute flared up at the end of August, when an unknown perpetrator spray-painted the statue in connection with the anniversary of the Warsaw Pact invasion in 1968.

The monument to the commander of Red Army troops that liberated Prague from the Nazis at the end of World War Two, who also personally backed the intelligence surveillance that preceded the Warsaw Pact invasion, had been vandalised many times before.

This time, however, local district authorities, who have repeatedly sought to move the statue to the nearby Russian Embassy, refused to clean up the damage until the embassy started a constructive discussion. As a result, the Russian Embassy accused them of provoking the incident.

According to Pavel Fischer, chairman of the Senate’s Committee for Foreign Affairs, the decision to remove the statue is an elegant solution to a problem which has escalated to such an extent that it had to be resolved one way or another.

“We have a freely elected municipal government and it is entirely up to the councillors whose monuments they want to build and where they decide to place them.

“In such a case, it is necessary to summon the Russian ambassadors and ask them not to interfere.

“As we have heard, the statue will be taken care of and so will the memory of the liberators.

“It is crucial to determine the playing field. We should also bear in mind the way the Russian side tried to take advantage of the situation, using inaccurate and false arguments.”

The new location of the statue is yet to be decided. Among the possibilities is the newly planned Museum of 20th Century Memory, approved by Prague councillors just this week, or the military section of the Olšany Cemetery.