Saturday

20th Jul 2019

Czech and Slovak leaders divided over Russia's 9 May parade

  • Fico will meet the Czech president in Moscow (Photo: coalition for the ICC)

Controversy around Russia’s 9 May WWII memorial has shown the extent to which Russia relations are shaping public debate in the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

Czech president Milos Zeman, bowing to public pressure, announced last week that he will go to Moscow but will skip the military parade included in the official programme of the 9 May ceremony.

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At the same time, Prague inadvertently revealed the travel plans of Slovak prime minister Robert Fico.

“President Zeman will lay wreaths, and he will use the time designated for the parade for a bilateral meeting with the Slovak prime minister,” the Czech presidential spokesman, Jiri Ovcacek, said on Friday (10 April).

He said the Moscow meeting with Fico was evidence of the two countries' excellent relations and a symbolic reference to the Red Army having liberated both the Czechs and Slovaks in 1945.

The statement came as a surprise to the Slovak public, however - Fico had said he had not decided where and how he would pay tribute to the WWII victims.

“I will find the most suitable form to do this ... and I will announce my programme for 9 May in due time,” he said Friday in reaction to the press reports from Prague.

This is the second time Fico’s potential Moscow plans were revealed by a foreign official.

Russian news agency Tass in March quoted Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov as saying that the Kremlin expected both Fico and Zeman - along with the Greek PM and the Cypriot President - to attend the 9 May ceremony.

The Russian event is being boycotted by most EU leaders and by the US as a reaction to Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.

But the leaders of China, India, North Korea and Cuba are also expected to attend.

Tribute to victims or Putin?

In Prague and Bratislava, the Moscow trip has become yet another point of division over the Ukraine war and Europe’s relations with Russia.

Zeman sparked a diplomatic row in early April by saying the door of Prague Castle, the presidential seat, is closed to the US ambassador, who had made critical remarks about the Czech politician’s plan to attend the 9 May military parade.

Zeman’s change of mind has come as a relief to the Czech coalition government, which is struggling to avoid a domestic political row and to maintain unity on the EU’s official line towards Russia.

In Bratislava, the discussion of the Moscow ceremony originally centred upon president Andrej Kiska, the most outspoken critic of Russia among Slovakia's top officials.

Kiska has confirmed he will not attend the 9 May parade and will instead visit cemeteries in Slovakia to pay tribute to Soviet soldiers buried in the country.

He urged citizens to help him make sure that each Soviet grave has a lit candle on the day of the commemoration.

On 4 April, Kiska said Crimea’s annexation cannot be accepted and that Moscow has “both the capability and responsibility” for ending the war in Ukraine.

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