An article published on the website of Russian state-wide television channel Zvezda on Tuesday has drawn very sharp responses from Czech politicians, including Miloš Zeman, the Czech head of state. He called the article, which argued that Czechs should be grateful for the 1968 Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia, an insult to the nation.
The timing of the article by Russian publicist Leonid Maslovskij indeed seemed very much a provocation. It appeared on the first day of President Miloš Zeman’s official five-day visit to Russia. Zeman met with Russian leader Vladimir Putin and has long been regarded as strongly pro-Russia, criticising, for example, the lifting of sanctions against the country since its intervention in eastern Ukraine and annexation of Crimea.
For him, the article must have come as a slap in the face.
Sources such as iDnes reported Mr Zeman was deeply angered when he learned of the report, which claimed that Czechs should be grateful that Soviet-led troops invaded in 1968 for helping socialist Czechoslovakia prevent the West from orchestrating a coup. The suggestion that Czechs should be appreciative outraged numerous politicians as well as ordinary citizens.
On August 21st, 1968, tanks rolled into Czechoslovakia, crushing the period of cultural and economic reforms known as the Prague Spring. Some 137 people were killed by the invading troops from August to December – 50 on the first day alone – shot or run over by tanks or killed by grenades. The events of 1968 then ushered in the Normalisation period during the 1970s and Soviet troops would remain on Czechoslovak soil for more than 20 years.
On Tuesday, Foreign Minister Lubomír Zaorálek slammed the Russian article as twisting and misinterpreting historical facts and made clear such articles were no way forward for good relations with Russia. Defence Minister Martin Stropnický called the story “outright lies” and expressed regret it had come during an official state visit by the Czech head of state. Online, some readers wondered in related threads why the head of state didn’t cut short his official visit in protest.
Instead, President Zeman has made clear he will seek an apology. He also didn’t mince words, calling the author of the article in question a journalistic madman who was “completely brainwashed”. President Zeman will push for the Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev to distance himself from the article in question; earlier, the TV station Zvezda, which is run by the Russian Defense Ministry stressed that the opinions expressed in the article were the author’s own. Mr Zeman’s spokesman Jiří Ovčáček said this:
“According to the president, this article is an insult to the Czech nation. He considers the article, which was published on the website of the army’s TV channel, a deliberate provocation.”
It is not the first time Russian sources have sparked similar outrage: in 2015, Russian state television screened a controversial documentary which also took the Soviet line that the 1968 invasion was ‘brotherly help’.