Statue of "red" Soviet tank commander gets clean-up following vandalism

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And finally a rather curious tale from the Northern Bohemian town of Decin. Workers in the town have just finished cleaning up a bust of a Russian tank commander, which vandals covered with red paint just after Christmas. The authorities have now filed charges against the unknown perpetrators of the rather cheeky stunt, but the story has raised questions about whether the statue should be there at all. Rob Cameron has more.

Marshall Pavel Semyonovich Rybalko commanded the Third Tank Guards Army, which liberated eastern Czechoslovakia from Nazi occupation in 1945. The Social Democrat-controlled town council bought the bust last year from a local factory, which bore Marshall Rybalko's name until the collapse of Communism in 1989. The council said Marshall Rybalko deserved respect for his role in the liberation of the country, and installed the bust in front of Decin's Cemetery.

But not everyone was happy with the decision. On January 7th, someone plastered the bust in red paint. The mayor of Decin said he was shocked at the vandalism, and has filed charges against whoever was responsible. The Russian Consul even telephoned the mayor in person, asking to come and have a look. Apparently, he never turned up.

The statue may be clean now, but the controversy hasn't ended. Many locals say the mayor was asking for trouble by putting up the bust in the first place. Local members of the centre-left Social Democrat Party, which dominates the council, recently rejected a proposal by right-wing councillors to have the disputed sculpture relocated to a museum. And even historians aren't quite convinced that Marshall Rybalko deserved a bust in the first place: they say his role in the 1945 liberation is indisputable, but point out that immediately afterwards, he ordered the summary execution of two hundred Russians who fought with the German army. So how long mourners arriving at the cemetery will be met by the steely gaze of a Red Army war hero, with or without a gleaming coat of red paint, remains to be seen.