Koněvova Street in Prague’s Žižkov district is facing a backlash over its name. A group of over 100 residents has petitioned for it to be changed, while others say the move will lead to unnecessary trouble since everyone living on the street would need new IDs and all businesses would have to file address changes, among other things.
The street since 1946 has been named for Soviet Union Marshall Ivan Stepanovich Konev. He was a key participant in the liberation of Prague from German forces at the end of World War II, and in post-war Czechoslovakia, he was considered a hero.
But he also later had a role in the brutal suppression of the Hungarian Uprising of 1956, using a tank division. This led to large numbers of casualties. Some 2,500 to 3,000 people died on the Hungarian side and 13,000 were wounded.
Konev played a role in the occupation of East Germany in the 1960s at the time of the construction of the Berlin Wall. Some people claim he also played a role in gathering intelligence for the 1968 Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia. Others say his role is exaggerated as he only held ceremonial posts at that time.
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 was considered a hero in the Soviet Union.
Prague 3 Mayor Jiří Ptáček (TOP 09) already opened the question on Facebook, and received hundreds of responses ranging from people very eager to rid the street of the Soviet name, others who think it is not worth the effort and then those who still consider Konev a hero for liberating the city.
Ptáček sees the petitioners’ point. “None of us are very happy that the street is named after the inconsistent Konev,” he told daily Hospodářské noviny. The Prague 3 Town Hall plans to start compiling more complete information about Konev and then have a debate on what to do.
The most common argument for leaving it is that most of the offensive street names were removed in the very early 1990s. “Why bother with it now, if it wasn’t seen as important back then?” is a common refrain.
People also point out that changing the name opens a can of worms. Many of the Hussite heroes whose names are on Žižkov streets were also responsible for questionable actions during and after the Hussite wars, including high casualties in battles and destruction of property.
Over 1,000 people would have to deal with address changes if the name is altered. Aside from a new ID they will have to change all their mail subscriptions, insurance details, and any other contacts. Pubs and other businesses would have to make changes to official paperwork as well as to social media and advertising materials.
Several alternate names have been suggested including naming it for 19th-century Žižkov mayor Karel Hartig. Another is to return it to its pre-war name of Poděbradova or wartime name of Brnenská.
The name of Husitská Street, which changes into Konevova, could also be extended for the entire length.
A similar statue honoring Konev was taken down in Kraków in 1991.
A statue of Konev stands in Prague 6 at náměstí Interbrigády. There had been efforts to tear the statue down, but in the end, a compromise was reached and in 2018 new plaques were added to the statue mentioning his role in events in Hungary, Berlin, and the 1968 invasion.
Changing names of streets, public buildings even awards has become an issue worldwide, as people look more critically at the past. In Liverpool, some people have been complaining about Penny Lane. The street made famous by the Beatles is named for a slave trader.
A university theater in the US state of Ohio named for actress Lilian Gish was recently renamed due to concerns over a controversial 1915 film she appeared called Birth of a Nation. Statues in the US put up to honor Confederate soldiers have been taken down in numerous places, mainly in the southern part of the US, sometimes at night to avoid protests.