Tags: Prague | statues | Virgin Mary | Ivan Konev

Prague: Ivan Down, Mary Up

Prague: Ivan Down, Mary Up
A statue of the Virgin Mary on a column stands in front of Tyn Church on Old Town Square after it had been installed two days earlier on June 6 in Prague. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

By Thursday, 25 June 2020 10:56 AM Current | Bio | Archive

With statues being toppled left and right in the U.S. and Western Europe, the Czechs have also joined the battle of monuments. Theirs, however, is not an Antifa- or BLM-driven effort. To the contrary. The Czech brand of iconoclasm is anti-Communist and pro-Christian. In Prague, they restored one of Saint Mary, and took down one of Soviet Marshal Ivan Konev.

Actually, the Czechs have been at it since 1989, when Communism began crumbling and the good folks in the capital city and elsewhere resolved to get rid of their Lenins and other comrades. They either smashed those monstrosities of socialist realism or carted them off. Usually located at outdoor ranges, these little shops of horror serve as a mocking warning against totalitarianism. They display their socialist "saints" in a carnivalish junkyard fashion. Incidentally, this tends to be default throughout the region. For example, Lithuania has its Grūtas Park and Poland set up Kozłówka to house the discarded statues. Instead of destroying them, they teach a lesson of a horrific past.

The latest bout in the battle of monuments in Prague commenced this March. The city fathers resolved to replace the statue of Saint Mary. Erected initially in 1652, the original column was destroyed by Czech liberals, radicals, and socialists on November 3, 1918, when the nation gained its independence during the collapse of the Habsburg Empire. Since their erstwhile rulers were arch-Catholic and since there was really no fighting involved in gaining their sovereignty, many Czech patriots believed that getting rid of St. Mary would mark their symbolic liberation.

Now they have changed their mind. Fittingly to the ecumenical spirit of the times, St. Mary returned to the Old Town to stand next to the statue of Jan Hus, a Czech national hero who was burned for heresy in the early 15th century.

However, the city fathers have found themselves quite incapable of compromising with their Communist past. Therefore, they decided to take down the statue of Marshal Konev. To add insult to injury, they also countenanced the creation of a plaque to commemorate General Andrey Vlasov's 1st Russian Liberation Army (ROA). Vlasov was a Soviet general who, upon being taken prisoner, turned coat and started collaborating with Germany against the Soviet Union. Under Berlin's auspices, he formed an army of former Soviet POWs like himself, which, however, changed sides during the final stage of the collapse of the Third Reich. After the Czech resistance launched their uprising in Prague on May 5, 1945, the ROA joined the fray and saved the Czech capital from the Nazis.    

Only later did Konev's Red Army units arrive to occupy Prague. Admittedly, the Soviet marshal accumulated an impressive record of fighting against the Wehrmacht. After all, there is no sweeter sight than the Communists and Nazis killing one another. But, as they pushed Hitler's soldiers out toward the West, Konev's troops also enslaved much of Central and Eastern Europe for Stalin. After the Second World War, now promoted to the top of the Red Army, the Kremlin's favorite commander distinguished himself by crushing Hungary in 1956, securing the erection of the Berlin Wall in 1961, and planning the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968.

By the spring 2020, the capitol city authorities had enough. A borough president decided to get rid of Konev. He enjoyed the full support not only of his constituents, but also of the rest of the city fathers, including Prague's Mayor Zdeněk Hřib of the Pirate Party. The actions of the municipal authorities were immediately challenged by the central government.

Czechia's social democratic President Miloš Zeman was not amused. Staunchly pro-Russian (and pro-Chinese), Zeman objected to no avail. Neither did anyone heed the complaints of the post-Communist oligarchic Czech prime minister Andrej Babiš. The monument scandal came close on the heels of the China tiff, when the Prague mayor apparently broke off relations with Bejing and strengthened them with Taipei. Both Zeman and Babiš were livid. Thank God for the devolution of power, though.

Meanwhile, Vladimir Putin and his strongmen were furious. Imagine: Putting up the Virgin Mary, taking down a Soviet marshal, and honoring a Russian anti-Stalinist, whom many in Moscow view as a renegade. Any post-Communist would be losing his cookies. And did I mention that the Pirate Party mayor also changed the name of the address of the Russian Embassy to the Boris Nemtzev Square to commemorate Russia's opposition leader who was allegedly assassinated by the Kremlin's stooges? That must have really sat well with Moscow.

Next, an even bigger scandal erupted. Czech counterintelligence claimed that a Russian diplomat had smuggled in a highly toxic chemical agent, ricin, to assassinate the Czech capital's mayor. Two Russian diplomats were subsequently expelled. Later, the Putinofilic prime minister Babiš claimed that the assassination fear was based on disinformation. Apparently, an aggrieved Russian diplomat at the Embassy confessed to have falsely accused a colleague of such plans to the Czech counterintelligence. Now that we have cleared things up, there is nothing to see anymore, move on folks. At least that is the official Russian and Czech government message.

The city fathers and the counterintelligence services do not buy it. Mayor Hřib and two borough presidents remain under security service protection. This has turned out to be quite a Czech circus.

Ultimately, however, it has also worked out quite all right: Mary's up; Ivan's down. That's the way it should be.

Marek Jan Chodakiewicz is Professor of History at the Institute of World Politics, a graduate school of statecraft in Washington D.C.; expert on East-Central Europe's Three Seas region; author, among others, of "Intermarium: The Land Between The Baltic and Black Seas." Read Marek Jan Chodakiewicz's Reports – More Here.

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The Czechs have also joined the battle of monuments. In Prague, they restored one of Saint Mary, and took down one of Soviet Marshal Ivan Konev.
Prague, statues, Virgin Mary, Ivan Konev
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2020-56-25
Thursday, 25 June 2020 10:56 AM
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