Czech leader slams Russia's 'insolence' over 1968

Czech leader slams Russia's 'insolence' over 1968

PRAGUE: Czech President Milos Zeman on Friday (Dec 27) lashed out at Russia's "insolence" for protesting against Prague's decision to turn the anniversary of the 1968 Soviet-led invasion of then-Czechoslovakia into a memorial day.

His came as a something of a surprise as the veteran leftwinger is known to have pro-Russian views.

Czech lawmakers passed a bill earlier this month to designate Aug 21 as "a day commemorating the victims of the invasion and subsequent occupation by the Warsaw Pact armies".

Zeman signed the bill into law on Dec 13.

Five days later, the Russian foreign ministry voiced "big disappointment" over the law, adding that it would "hardly contribute to successful bilateral cooperation".

It said the law ran counter to a bilateral cooperation agreement from 1993 anchoring "a wish to draw a line under the totalitarian past linked to the unacceptable use of force against Czechoslovakia in 1968".

In an interview published on his website, Zeman said Friday that Moscow's commentary was "absolute insolence".

"Some time ago, I accepted President (Vladimir) Putin's invitation to the 75th anniversary of the World War II victory, and now I'm considering whether to go," said Zeman, who attended military parades in Moscow in the past.

"But I may go and tell the Russians - what if you turned the page and stopped recalling this anniversary?"

The 1968 invasion occurred as the former Czechoslovakia - ruled by Moscow-led Communists since 1948 - embarked on a more liberal period known as the "Prague Spring".

The movement was crushed by Moscow, which placed its soldiers in the country for the next two decades until communism was toppled in 1989.

Four years later, Czechoslovakia peacefully split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

Zeman joined the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia in 1968 and was expelled two years later for his disapproval of the Soviet occupation.

Prague and Moscow have traded heated remarks in the past months when a Prague district decided to remove the statue of Soviet Marshal Ivan Konev, perceived as a World War II hero by Moscow.

Another rift was caused by another Prague district's decision to build a memorial to the so-called Vlasov Army which helped liberate Prague in May 1945 after having defected from the Red Army in 1942 to join Nazi German troops.

Source: AFP/ec