The controversial statue of Soviet Marshal Ivan Konev has been removed from náměstí Interbrigády in Prague 6. The statue will be stored until it can be moved to the planned Museum of 20th Century Memory.
The Prague 6 administration decided in September 2019 that the Konev statue would be replaced by a memorial to the liberation of Prague at the end of World War II. On the Prague 6 website, district officials said they have fulfilled last year’s resolution to remove the statue. Explanatory plaques at the base of the statue have also been removed.
Prague 6 Mayor Ondřej Kolář (TOP 09), who has been an opponent of the statue, posted a photo on Facebook of its removal by a crane. “He had no face mask. The rules apply equally to everyone. Outside only with just a mask or other covering of mouth and nose,” he said jokingly, referring the state of emergency requirements related to coronavirus.
He took a more serious tone in a Prague 6 press release. “Let me take a little paraphrase. Konev is down, let Konev stand! But in a museum. Today’s removal of the bronze statue of Marshal Konev from the pedestal on the náměstí Interbrigády is the imaginary last note in the etude that took place in 1980 in Bubenec,” Kolář said.
He is not the only one that wants to draw a curtain on the past. “I would consider that, at least in our Bubeneč, a certain chapter of history as closed. It is time to talk about the future and the challenges of tomorrow. Let’s be self-confident, let’s keep our heads up and now only address the everyday needs and problems of [Prague] Six citizens, which the town hall must take care of first of all,” Prague 6 Deputy Mayor Jakub Stárek (ODS) said.
For the time being, the statue, valued at 13 million CZK, will be moved to the premises of the company specializing in storing art objects.
“For the last six months I devoted myself to intensive communication with many institutions and was looking for the most suitable solution for the task assigned to us by the Prague 6 Assembly in September. We finally agreed that the Museum of 20th Century Memory is the most suitable institution and the ideal recipient. The bronze statue of Marshal Koněv, including the famous supplemental plates, will be their first exhibit. It seems symbolic to me,” Prague 6 Deputy Mayor Jan Lacina (STAN), responsible for culture, said.
The sculpture and plates will be lent to the Museum of 20th Century Memory free of charge. “I confirm for our museum the conclusion of an agreement with the City District of Prague 6 on the long-term loan of the statue of Marshal Konev,” Prague City Councilor Hana Kordová Marvanová (United Force for Prague), who is also chairwoman of the board of directors of the planned Museum of 20th Century Memory, said.
“This statue will become a part of the upcoming exhibition at the museum, which will focus on the period of two totalitarian regimes and important historical events in the territory of Czechoslovakia in the last century,” she added.
Czech President Miloš Zeman’s spokesman Jiří Ovčáček condemned the removal. “You can tear down a statue. However, you do not erase the memory,” he said on Twitter. In a second Tweet, he said, “Extremists who … dishonor the heroes and victims of war are not part of Czech politics.”
27. ledna 2020.
75. výročí osvobození Osvětimi. Mezinárodní den památky obětí holokaustu.
— Jiří Ovčáček (@PREZIDENTmluvci) April 3, 2020
He told new server Lidovky.cz that Zeman strongly condemns the removal of the statue. “The President considers the abuse of the crisis situation to be morally unjustifiable,” he said.
Marshal Konev has become a divisive figure in modern times. He played a key role in liberating Prague from German occupation at the end of World War II, which made him a hero during the communist era.
His later involvement in suppressing the 1956 uprising in Budapest, the building of the Berlin Wall, and the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia have called his legacy into question.
Even his role in Prague right after World War II is not without controversy, as some people say he was responsible for the arrest and deportation of Ukrainian, Belarusian and Russian opponents to the Stalinist regime who had sought refuge in Prague, many of whom had become Czechoslovak citizens.
He died in 1973 and is still considered a hero in the Soviet Union.
In 2018, the Prague 6 Town Hall had explanatory plaques installed on the monument to remind people of Konev’s role in events after World War II.
The monument, built in 1980, has been repeatedly attacked with red paint and has provoked demonstrations. After an unknown perpetrator poured red paint on the monument in August 2019, Prague 6 Mayor Kolář refused to have it cleaned and then he had scaffolding with tarpaulin built around it.
The Russian Foreign Ministry objected, saying Czech politicians were initiating a war with the symbols of the victory over fascism.
The Prague 6 authority’s September 2019 plan to relocate the statue and replace it with a different liberation memorial provoked sharp reactions by the Russian Embassy in Prague. Some officials in Russia even called for sanctions against the Czech Republic over the plan to remove the statue. A man also tied himself to the statue in protest.
The statue is not the only memorial to Konev. There is also Koněvova Street in in Prague’s Žižkov district. Changing the name of the street, though, would require thousands of people and businesses to get updated documentation including IDs, business licenses, driver’s licenses and so on. The street has had the name since 1946.