Echo of the Prague Demolition – Spark No. 16 (5611) of 04/27/2020

The dismantling of the monument to Marshal Ivan Konev in the Czech capital threatens to provoke a response flurry of historical emotions in the space from Moscow to Vladivostok.

Konstantin Mikhailov, editor-in-chief of the site “Keepers of Heritage”

The recent demolition in Prague of the monument to Marshal Konev, whose troops prevented the Nazis from destroying the city in 1945, provoked understandable indignation both by the Russian authorities and the Russian public. Meanwhile, discussions about this, of course, unfortunate event in the Czech capital may have an unpredictable continuation stretched in time and space – up to Vladivostok.

Few people know that modern Russia is still implementing a large-scale program for the installation of monuments and memorials dedicated to the so-called Czechoslovak Legion – an armed unit that had an important influence on the course of the Civil War in Russia in 1918-1919. In the context of ostentatious and mocking (no one in Russia will forget the joke of the Czech elder of the Prague 6 region about the absence of a mask on the face of the bronze Marshal Konev) the dismantling of our military monument in the Czech Republic, the further implementation of such a program, and even with the participation of officials of the Russian state, looks more what is strange.

Trailer agreement

The Czech Foreign Ministry officially reminded us of the monuments to Czech legionnaires in April 2020, publishing, in particular, such a “Statement”: “I would like to remind the Russian side that while the Czech Republic properly contains 4224 military graves and memorials on its territory and monuments, on which, unlike the monument to Marshal I.S. Konev, the provisions of the Agreement between the Government of the Czech Republic and the Government of the Russian Federation on the mutual maintenance of military graves of 1999 are being circulated, in the territory of the Russian Federation still has not been able, despite years of negotiations at the local government level, to resolve the issue of updating military monuments to fallen Czechoslovak legionaries in Samara, Novokuybyshevsk – Lipyagah and other places. “

The agreement, cited by the Czech Foreign Ministry, entered into force on August 11, 1999. In accordance with it, Russia and the Czech Republic committed themselves to ensure “the safety of military graves in the territories of their states and their proper maintenance.” Among other things, the 1999 Agreement also referred to the “arrangement” of military burial sites, which was interpreted as including the installation of “monuments or other memorial structures” (we are talking about memorials and monuments directly related to the burial sites, and the monument to the Marshal in Prague formally emphasizes Ministry of Foreign Affairs, this is not). Such “arrangement” could, according to the text of the document, occur, “as a rule, in the locations of the remains or, if this proves impossible, in other places worthy of the memory of the dead.”

In these “other places” it became possible to implement the whole Czechoslovak memorial program in Russia, which, I must say, modern residents of Russian cities and villages who found themselves in the zone of military operations and following the Czechoslovak legion in 1918-1920, could not and did not want to understand and appreciate it. More precisely, they could not understand why monuments to people who walked on it with fire and sword should stand on Russian soil.

Yes, in fact, no one asked the inhabitants about this, according to the old Russian tradition.

Remember or recall?

Two years ago, in the publication Red and White Route, Ogonyok (No. 20 for 2018) spoke in detail about the sad role played by the Czechoslovak corps in the history of Russia, so I will only recall in brief.

During the First World War, the Russian authorities in August 1914 began to form a national military unit – the Czech squad of Czech and Slovak colonists and immigrants living in Russia. The calculation was simple – to win over the soldiers who fought against Russia under the banner of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, showing the prospect: from a separate Czechoslovak army to the Czechoslovak state. There were about a thousand soldiers in the squad, commanded by Russian officers. Since 1915, they began to replenish it at the expense of prisoners of war: by February 1916, it became a regiment, by April – a brigade.

The combat debut of the Czechoslovak Brigade took place in June 1917 at the town of Zborov (modern Ukraine), against the Austro-Hungarian troops. The February Revolution had already taken place in Russia, but the Provisional Government did not prevent the creation of new Czech units, and by the fall of 1917 the brigade had grown into a Czechoslovak corps of three divisions. At the beginning of 1918, it numbered more than 38 thousand people – 37 451 infantrymen and 638 cavalrymen.

While the war was on, the Czechoslovak Corps was a natural ally of Russia. But after the separate Brest peace concluded by the Bolsheviks, the Czechoslovakians ended up in a foreign country in the form of an armed formation with an incomprehensible status.

At the same time, the path through the border to Austria-Hungary was closed to them: for the Habsburg empire that continued to fight, they were traitors. A project arose of transferring the corps to the Western Front through Arkhangelsk or Murmansk, but they were afraid of German submarines; in the end, it was decided to send Czechoslovakians on a world trip – through Vladivostok. In the spring of 1918, the Czechoslovak trains reached the Trans-Siberian Railway. And stretched for thousands of kilometers: in May the vanguard of the Czechoslovak Corps reached Vladivostok, and the “tail of the squad” was in the Volga region.

Perhaps, over time, Czechoslovakians would have left Russia quietly and peacefully, but on May 25, 1918, the drug commander Lev Trotsky issued an order for their disarmament (there are historians who believe that this was done under pressure from the allied Austria-Hungary Germany). The result of the attempts of the local Soviets to disarm the corps was its uprising, which in Soviet historiography was called the “White Bohemian rebellion”. Since mid-1918, the entire Transsiberian, from Samara to Vladivostok, has been in the hands of Czechoslovakians.

The Czechoslovakians were not “white,” as the course of events showed, – just as they had no reason to get involved in a war in Russia. But the Civil War was little interested in their desires. Everyone tried to use organized armed forces for their own purposes: the whites, who saw a natural ally in the Czechoslovak rebels; and the Entente countries, which faced the prospect of restoring the Eastern Front against the central powers; and the Bolsheviks – it was not for nothing that Czechoslovakians extradited Admiral Kolchak to the Soviet authorities … In short, the upheavals of the Czechoslovak combat adventures in Russia in 1918-1919 were bizarre. But it is worth noting: it was precisely as a result of their capture of Samara in June 1918 that it became possible to create there ComUcha (Committee of Members of the Constituent Assembly) – the first all-Russian anti-Bolshevik government. Therefore, a number of historians call the Czechoslovak rebellion the detonator of the Civil War in Russia.

The evacuation of the Czechoslovak Corps from Russia dragged on until 1921. On the way to Vladivostok, Czechoslovakians had a lot of military clashes with the red garrisons, partisans and other armed forces. Establishing their power in different cities and territories or overthrowing someone else’s, the Czechs did not stop at violence, executions, and repressions against the population. There is plenty of evidence about their appropriation of property, food and values. Researchers and publicists attribute to Czechoslovakians the disappearance of part of the “gold reserve of the Russian Empire” that ended up in Siberia in 1918.

Be that as it may, in the perception of Russian public opinion the “military path” of the Czechoslovak Corps in 1918-1919 in our country is not something to be proud of and noted by monuments.

Legion 100

On the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the corps in the Czech Republic (it is now called the Legion), the Legion 100 program was launched, within the framework of which the Czechoslovak Society of Legionnaires, together with the Czech Ministry of Defense, organizes “pilgrimage trips” to the battlefields of the “Legionnaires” in the Central and Southern Urals . This was announced only in 2019 by the Czech Embassy in Russia.

“Pilgrimage” is not limited to. As the Russian media have repeatedly reported, in the framework of the 1999 Agreement mentioned above, at the expense of the Czech side, it was planned to establish monuments and memorials dedicated to the Czechoslovak Legion in more than 50 settlements of Russia.

By order of the Government of the Russian Federation No. 1615-r dated September 24, 2010, the “sole memorial” was defined as the “sole performer” to ensure the safety and maintenance of foreign military (including newly built) memorials on the territory of the Russian Federation. On the official website of this association, photographs of nine already erected monuments to Czech legionaries are presented (Krasnoyarsk, Kungur, Vladivostok, Chelyabinsk, Buzuluk (two), Yekaterinburg, Nizhny Tagil and Mikhailovka, Irkutsk Region). But from open sources you can find out that in fact there are at least a dozen monuments to legionnaires in modern Russia.

So, in 2005, a commemorative stele was installed at the cemetery of Czechoslovak legionnaires in Vladivostok. In 2006, the Czechoslovak memorial was opened at the Trinity Cemetery in Krasnoyarsk. In 2007 – a monument in Buzuluk, Orenburg region. In 2008 – at the Mikhailovsky Cemetery in Yekaterinburg (here the largest Czechoslovak military necropolis in Russia). In the same year, a memorial sign appeared at the Embassy Monastery on the shore of Lake Baikal (Buryatia). In 2009 – in Nizhny Tagil. In the 2010s, a monument appeared to the “legionnaires” in the village of Kultuk, Irkutsk Region. In 2011, in Chelyabinsk. In 2012 – in Kungur and Pugachev (Saratov region). In 2013 – in the Upper Uslon (Irkutsk region). In 2015 – in Penza, Ulyanovsk and Syzran …

The press also discussed the construction projects of Czechoslovak monuments in Miass, Kurgan, Nizhneudinsk, Samara, Tyumen, Novokuybyshevsk, Ufa, Kansk, Zlatoust and other cities. In some places it came to the installation of pedestals. But in no paragraph there was public agreement on the installation of such monuments, but open protests, statements and pickets are, on the contrary, not uncommon. Why the authorities most often did not dare to force the process.

Alien memory and own

For many representatives of the regional authorities in the Russian Federation, it was probably a surprise that the local population does not care what monuments stand on their land. But the story of the perpetuation of the “legionnaires” showed that this is precisely so.

Particularly loud were the protests in Samara, where for seven years now, next to the railway station, there has been an empty pedestal for the monument to “legionnaires”. In 2013, 2016 and 2017, local communists, together with residents of nearby houses, went to protest pickets, collected signatures under an appeal to the president. The local press conducted a survey “Do Samara need a monument to Czechoslovakia?” – 72 percent answered negatively. Residents wrote to newspapers and local deputies: “My grandfather died from them (” white-hatches “.— “ABOUT”) hands ”; “At the Obsharovka station, 11 railway workers were shot by white whales, 4 were buried alive, tortured underground worker Tatyana Lepilina. She was only 22 years old. The grave-monument of Lepilina is still standing in Obsharovka … Will there be a monument to her murderers in Samara? ” etc.

Even the descendants of Vasily Chapaev opposed the erection of the monument in Samara – in 2020, his grand-niece Marina recorded a video message to the Minister of Defense of the Russian Federation Sergey Shoigu, asking: “How does the Czech Defense Ministry completely, and often with the support of your subordinates, implement your ideological project “Legion-100”? Just think: the NATO country participating in the new Cold War against us, through the hands of our association War Memorials, requires the local authorities to establish monuments to the legionnaires of the Czechoslovak corps. ”

However, Samara is not the only “center of resistance.” In Chelyabinsk, the regional branch of the Liberal Democratic Party declared that “the installation of a monument to Czechoslovak legionnaires, who came to Chelyabinsk as invaders and occupiers and left behind notoriety, contradicts common sense and desecrates the memory of Russian soldiers whose bones still lie in the ground throughout Europe in nameless graves. “

In Penza, in 2015, social activists sought an answer from the authorities: why there was no monument to its founders in the city, but a monument was erected to the Czechoslovak Corps: “After all, it is, in fact, established by people who staged an open rebellion in our city against legitimate authorities, and also carried out robberies, artillery shelling of peaceful neighborhoods, torture and murder. What did Czechoslovak legionnaires do so good and worthy for Penza to erect a monument in their honor? ” At the same time, the Penza communists held a picket under the slogans “Monument to white whales – there is no place on Penza land,” etc.

And in the village of Mikhailovka in the Irkutsk region in 2014, a Czechoslovak legionnaire was doused with red paint. It was especially outraged that he was placed near the mass grave of the red partisans, who were shot by the White Guards and Czech punishers. “What did the Czechs become famous for since they erected a monument to them?” – the locals sought an answer.

There are many more examples – from Kansk (Krasnoyarsk Territory), Zlatoust, where veterans of the Great Patriotic War, Ufa, Tolyatti spoke out against the installation of the Czechoslovak monument, where in 2017 the city hall refused to agree on a picket to collect signatures against the installation of the monument to the legionaries, from other places . No matter how you relate to the protest slogans and their initiators, one cannot but admit: the installation of monuments to Czechoslovak legionnaires in the vastness of Russia does not add public consent. The fact that for the Czech side is the perpetuation of the memory of compatriots in Russia is perceived as an exaltation of this memory. This is the national tradition of the perception of monuments, nothing can be done.

How to answer for Konev

After the dismantling of the monument to Marshal Konev in Prague, the situation around Czech monuments in Russia could not but worsen. The context, as they say, is heated: the public council under the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation, for example, even called for renaming the Prague metro station in honor of Konev. And hotheads among publicists began to claim that the very fact of the Prague dismantling of the Czech side had withdrawn from the 1999 Agreement, and therefore, they say, the hands of the Russian side were untied – Czechoslovak monuments could be demolished. The deputy chairman of the Legislative Assembly of the Ulyanovsk Region, concurrently – the leader of the Communists of Russia party Maxim Suraykin, said he would seek the demolition of the Czechoslovak monument in Ulyanovsk in response to the dismantling of the Konevu monument in Prague.

Is it permissible to get involved in the proposed “war of monuments”? In my opinion, by no means. And not only because in the Czech Republic there are about three thousand military burials of Russian and Soviet soldiers, which the Czech side is obliged to take care of under the 1999 Agreement. The main thing is that you cannot become like vandals and stand on the same board with them.

But, of course, Russia’s implementation of the 1999 Agreement should, especially after the Prague dismantling, be limited to preserving Czechoslovak burial sites and standing monuments, without adding new ones to them. You can not be likened to vandals, but you should not even turn their other cheeks to them.


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