Two clouds hang over commemorations marking the 75th anniversary of the Prague Uprising against Nazi rule at the end of the Second World War. The first is an “invisible enemy” – the novel coronavirus – which has scuppered grand plans to honour those who fought to liberate the Czech capital. The second is the allegation of a plot to assassinate two Prague district mayors: one who tore down a statue to a Soviet marshal who Russia considers a hero; and one who erecting a statute to a Red Army general who Russia considers a traitor.
“We are calling the Czech police, the Czech gendarmerie, the Czech army to come to Czech Radio immediately.”
Radio announcer Zdeněk Mančal broadcast that appeal on May 5, 1945, shortly before noon, as SS troops stormed Czechoslovak Radio headquarters to cut off broadcasting, which had been airing in Czech since that morning. He spoke into the microphone in the dark, hoping not to draw the soldiers’ attention.
Throughout the day, radio staff issued instructions to people manning barricades erected to protect the headquarters. Well over a hundred people died defending the building; hundreds more fell elsewhere in Prague and in skirmishes across the country.
After the radio headquarters were bombed on May 6, broadcasts began at the nearby Czechoslovak Hussite Church, where organ concerts had aired during the war years and a line there was secretly preserved. Historian Martin Jindra:
“The radio played an essential role during the Prague Uprising in May 1945. Word spread far faster because broadcasts continued during the insurgency, which was far more intense than it would have been otherwise. …
“The Germans deliberately focused on the radio because they were aware of its irreplaceable role. In most European capitals, where uprisings broke out, radio broadcasting could not be maintained, unlike in Prague.”
Normally, the Prague Uprising anniversary is marked outside the radio headquarters, with wreath-laying ceremonies attended by large crowds. This year, due to the coronavirus outbreak, Czech Radio is instead airing a special broadcast including a reconstruction of the “Battle for the Radio”.
Another shadow is hanging over the 75th anniversary of the Prague Uprising. Last week, the Czech weekly Respekt, citing unnamed security sources, reported Prague district mayors are under round-the-clock protection due to a reputed Russian plot to poison them.
Ondřej Kolář (mayor of Prague 6) ordered the removal from his district of a statue of Soviet Marshal Ivan Konev – who led the army that liberated much of Czechoslovakia, but also oversaw the suppression of the 1956 Hungarian Uprising and helped plan the 1968 invasion that crushed the Prague Spring.
Pavel Novotný (mayor of Prague-Řeporyje) has led an effort to erect a memorial to the Russian Liberation Army, Soviet prisoners of war and anti- Bolsheviks who late in the war fought under the Germans but switched sides to aide Czechs during the Prague Uprising. After the war, the Soviets hanged their leader, Andrej Vlasov, for treason.
Czech officials have yet to confirm or deny a Russian agent was sent to poison the Prague officials, as well as Lord Mayor Zdeněk Hřib – a charge Moscow has vehemently dismissed as a total fabrication. Meanwhile, the diplomatic battle over the memory of the Soviet figures carries on.