Czechs summon Russian envoy amid Soviet-era statue row

Prague (AFP) –

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The Czech foreign ministry summoned Russia's ambassador on Friday amid a row over a controversial Soviet-era statue in Prague that city authorities want to replace with a World War II memorial.

Prague authorities put a tarp over the vandalised statue of Soviet General Ivan Stepanovich Konev in August, triggering a sharp reaction from Moscow.

Russian Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky called Ondrej Kolar, mayor of Prague's sixth district who approved the tarp, a "gauleiter", or a regional Nazi Party leader during World War II.

Medinsky also accused Kolar of supporting hooligans and tarnishing the memory of Soviet soldiers.

While Konev is regarded as a hero in Russia, many Czechs see him as a symbol of Soviet-era oppression.

He led Red Army troops that liberated Prague from the Nazis in 1945, but he was also in charge of Operation Whirlwind, which crushed the anti-Soviet Hungarian Uprising of 1956.

Konev, who died in 1973, also played a role in the 1968 Soviet-led crackdown on the Prague Spring, a democratic movement in then-Czechoslovakia.

Czech deputy foreign minister Ales Chmelar on Friday "summoned Russian Federation ambassador Alexander Zmeyevsky to protest against untrue and insulting statements of a Russian minister aimed at the Prague (district) six mayor," the foreign ministry said in a statement.

On August 21, the anniversary of the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia, someone sprayed "No to the blood-covered marshal, we shall not forget" on Konev's brass statue that was erected by the then communist regime in 1980.

City hall then covered up the statue, but pro-Konev protesters tore down the tarp and held a rally in support of the statue.

It was attended by several lawmakers with Russian sympathies and Jiri Ovcacek, the spokesman for pro-Russian, pro-Chinese Czech President Milos Zeman.

Prague authorities decided on Thursday to replace Konev's statue with a memorial of the liberation of Prague during WWII.

Konev's daughter told Czech media his statue could be moved to Russia.