The local council of Prague’s western Řeporyje district has unanimously voted in favour of building a memorial to the Russian Liberation Army troops that helped fight Nazi forces during the Prague Uprising in May 1945. The vote was preceded by a heated confrontation between the district’s mayor and representatives of the Russian Federation about the historical legacy of the troops often referred to in Czech as “Vlasovci”.
Prague was only liberated from Nazi occupation during the last days of the Second World War. The process started with the Prague uprising on May 6, 1945 and ended with the entry of Soviet troops into the city on May 9.
During the key days of the Prague Uprising, local Czechs who had raised arms against the occupying German forces were helped by the Russian Liberation Army (ROA), a force made up largely of Soviet prisoners of war and anti-Soviet minded Russians who were drafted in the final years of the war by the Germans to fight on their side.
These switched sides and seem to have played a decisive role in slowing the progress of the Germans as the latter tried to re-establish control of the city.
On Tuesday evening the local council of Řeporyje, a district in the west of Prague, unanimously voted to build a monument to the so-called Vlasov troops.
“The soldiers of the Russian Liberation Army should be honoured in some way.”
The decision has raised hackles in Russia which sees the Vlasov troops as traitors.
Two weeks ago, the Russian Embassy in Prague came out with a statement that such a monument would be in violation of Czechia’s international agreements based around the Convention on the Non-Applicability of Statutory Limitations to War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity.
In a provocative gesture of defiance, Mayor Novotný personally delivered his reply by driving to the embassy in a cleaning truck while holding his district's flag.
Days later he appeared on a Russian state television show in a hot debate with a panel of Russians who condemned the effort and labelled it a provocation.
His extravagant but also tough stance towards what many see as Russian interference in Czech affairs has been praised by many Czechs, but also slammed by others.
The core of the problem lies in the seeming split in Czech society on how the Vlasov troops should be viewed historically.
One of those who believe that the monument is a mistake is the former Ambassador to Russia and Ukraine, Jaroslav Bašta.
Speaking to Czech Radio, he highlighted that units of the ROA were used as auxiliary police helping Germans crush partisans operating behind the eastern frontlines.
“There is also a problem in the fact that they only swapped sides three days before the end of the war in order to get an alibi. They expected that the Czech rebels would support them, but they did not.
“Those ROA troops that managed to escape to the American side were then handed over to the Soviets and executed.”
“I do not think that we are talking about some sort of monument in the name of the whole of Czechoslovakia.
“We are talking about a very small monument to be built in Řeporyje, where the district is evaluating its experience with these soldiers from the territories of the former Soviet Union on its own lands.
“It certainly is not passing judgement on the situation on the Eastern Front, Belorussia or in the rear of the Red Army or German fronts. That is a misunderstanding and similar to using an elephant gun to kill a gnat.”
The Vlasov troops’ memorial is expected to be finished by May next year, to mark the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. There are plans for it to be protected by surveillance cameras and a special anti-graffiti coating to prevent vandalism.