‘Red is beautiful’ says mayor of Prague 6 after refusing to remove paint from vandalised statue

Prague’s statue of Soviet Marshal Ivan Konev, photo: ČTK / Vít Šimánek

On Wednesday, Prague’s statue depicting Marshal of the Soviet Union Ivan Konev was covered in red paint by unnamed vandals. The monument has been similarly abused many times before. However, this time the local district authorities, who have been trying to move the statue to the Russian Embassy, say they will not clean up the damage until the embassy “starts constructive discussions”.

Prague’s statue of Soviet Marshal Ivan Konev,  photo: ČTK / Vít Šimánek
It has almost become a regular happening for someone to spray-paint Prague’s statue of Soviet Marshal Ivan Konev during annual anniversaries of the Warsaw Pact invasion in 1968 and Communist May Day celebrations.

The statue, which stands in Prague 6’s Dejvice district, was originally unveiled during the Victory Day celebrations on May 9, 1980 to honour Konev as the commander of Red Army troops that liberated Prague from the Nazis during the final days of World War Two.

However, since the Velvet Revolution, the marshal’s likeness has been vandalised at least five times, most recently on Wednesday, during this year’s anniversary of the August 1968 and 1969 events.

Unknown individuals poured red paint on the statue and wrote "No to the red marshal! We will not forget", with historic dates related to his life.

Once the damage was discovered the next day, Czech police started searching for the perpetrators of the incident and the district authorities of Prague 6 announced they would remove the damage within 24 hours.

However, shortly thereafter, the district’s Mayor Ondřej Kolář came out with a Facebook post which said that the monument will remain unwashed, finishing with the words “red, after all, means beautiful in Russian”.

He provided more detail for his reasoning on Friday.

Ondřej Kolář,  photo: Tereza Melicharová,  CC BY 1.0
“When a thing such as this happens we always activate our standard procedure following the acts of vandalism. However, this time we decided to leave it as it is, because, and this is my subjective opinion, the writing on the statue is true. It complements the information we have put on the new plaques accompanying the monument.”

The plaques Mr. Kolář refers to replace the original accompanying text to the monument.

The new text honours Red Army troops as liberators of much of Bohemia and “the first to enter Prague on 9 May 1945”.

However, it also states that in 1968, Konev personally backed the intelligence surveillance that preceded the Warsaw Pact invasion, a statement approved as valid by leading Czech historians. It is these new plaques, as well as the authorities of Prague 6 who installed them, that a subsequent Russian Embassy statement has described as responsible for provoking Wednesday’s “barbaric” act of vandalism.

The Mayor refuses the allegation.

Russian Embassy | Photo: Archive of the Russian Embassy in Prague
“This is the standard language of the Russian Embassy. They keep accusing us of something. Those plaques are not provocative. They state in very simple and truthful terms who the marshal was…I see no reason why I should spend the money of Prague 6 citizens on something they do not want to be here, something that bothers them and keeps bringing up controversies.”

Mr. Kolář says Prague 6 is now drafting a letter to the Russian Embassy that will offer to move the statue onto their premises. A solution, he says, that will prevent further vandalism, because the monument will find itself on the territory of another state.

It is not the first time Prague 6 has attempted to do so and it has not yet been successful.

The statue is not the only symbol of Marshal Konev, which some have sought to remove since the fall of the Communist regime.

Koněvova  (Konev’s) street,  photo: Packa,  Wikimedia Commons,  CC BY-SA 3.0
Two years ago a plaque honouring the soldiers of the 1. Ukrainian Front, which Konev commanded, was taken off the walls of Prague’s Old Town Square astronomical clock tower during reconstruction works and not returned.

Meanwhile the district authorities of Prague 3 are currently discussing a citizens’ initiative, which calls for the renaming of the capital’s Koněvova (Konev’s) street.

According to their statement, the Russian Embassy representatives see these actions as attempts by some district halls to tamper with the history of World War Two.