War veterans and representatives of the government and the military remembered the anniversary of the World War Two battles of Dunkirk, Dukla and in the Middle East at the Defence Ministry today. Thousands of Czechoslovaks joined the fights in Africa, defending the port city of Tobruk on Libya's eastern coast. Czechoslovaks also participated in the Battle of Dunkirk and the Carpatho-Dukla Offensive.
At the event, Slovak ambassador Peter Weiss noted that the soldiers who freed Czechoslovakia from the Nazis near the end of the war should not be punished by Russian politicians, reacting to the recent complicated diplomatic situation surrounding the debate about the removal of the statue of Ivan Stepanovich Konev.
Konev was a Marshal of the Soviet Union who led Red Army forces on the Eastern Front during World War II, responsible for retaking much of Eastern Europe from occupation by the Axis Powers, including a large part of Czechoslovakia.
Last year, the Prague 6 Town Hall added a plaque to the statue that explains Konev's role not only in the liberation of 1945 but also in suppressing the 1956 Hungarian uprising, in the 1961 construction of the Berlin Wall and in the preparation of the 1968 Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia. The statue is a frequent target of vandals and its planned relocation sparked heated debates in the public space.
Weiss said he welcomes that the Czech Republic remembers Czechoslovak heroes and denounced the way the Communist cadres divided them according to where they fought, in the East or the West, as well as based on their political views.
"They were all patriots who risked their lives for the freedom of the Czechoslovak Republic (the first Czechoslovak state that existed from 1918 to 1938)," Weiss noted, adding that all members of the anti-Nazi coalition made sacrifices.
He also condemned how the victims of the liberation of Czechoslovakia are being belittled and even punished for the actions of contemporary Russian politicians.
One of the veterans present at the event, Jiri Kaderabek, fought on the Eastern Front of World War II. Unlike most Czechoslovak citizens who joined the First Czechoslovak Army Corps in the USSR, he wore a Red Army uniform.
Kaderabek told journalists today that the Red Army did not want to enlist him, but he insisted since most of his peers were already fighting against the Nazis. In the end, he did convince the Red Army officials, but had to sign an agreement stating that his enlistment is voluntary.
"I do not regret my choice. I have nice memories, the relations between the soldiers and the officers were very good," he said.
Kaderabek took part in the liberation of Gdansk in Poland. He was wounded twice, returning to the fighting in two months after his first injury but having to stay in hospital until the end of the war after being wounded for the second time.
His brother Jaroslav, assigned to the Czechoslovak unit, died during the fighting at Dukla.
National Archive historian Roman Ster remembered other Czechoslovak heroes of World War II, for example Arnost Steiner, who received seven Czechoslovak War Cross medals and his fellow soldiers gave him the alias Invulnerable. Steiner participated in the Carpatho-Dukla Offensive, where he assisted in the capture of two important defensive sites.