A Russian television film that depicts the Soviet suppression of the 1968 Prague Spring as having been in response to a supposed attempt by Nato to engineer a coup in the then-Czechoslovakia has angered the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
The 43-minute “documentary” entitled Warsaw Pact – Pages Declassified was broadcast on Russia’s Rossiya 1 channel on May 23, a few days before Slovak prime minister Robert Fico was due to arrive in Moscow for June 2 talks with president Vladimir Putin and prime minister Dimiry Medvedev on matters including transit of Russian gas via Slovakia and crude oil supplies.
Media reports in Slovakia said that Fico, among EU politicians who criticise the bloc’s sanctions on Russia because of Moscow’s aggression in Ukraine, was unlikely to raise the Ukraine issue with Putin.
On Rossiya 1’s website, a description in Russian of the film, which is also posted online, said that in 2005 Poland had said it would declassify Warsaw Pact documents, but after that nothing further was heard about the matter.
The site said the makers of the film had access to documentation and met many witnesses and participants in the most important events in the history of the Warsaw Pact, including the invasion of Prague in 1968.
“As a result, on the screen comes to life a story that still remain ‘behind the scenes’,” the website said.
The Slovak ministry of foreign and European affairs said that it had been “unpleasantly surprised” by the misleading presentation of the invasion of Czechoslovakia by the Warsaw Pact armies in 1968.
“In the parts concerning the military invasion and the subsequent 20-year occupation of Czechoslovakia by Soviet armies, the documentary used misrepresentations and old ideological clichés, from which both Soviet and Russian representatives have gradually dissociated themselves and officially apologized for the invasion and the following occupation,” the foreign ministry in Bratislava said.
“The fact that the state television Rossija 1 broadcast this false and truth-distorting work is even more striking in that only a few weeks ago the Slovak government vigorously and unequivocally refused all the attempts to purposefully revise history vis-à-vis the liberating of Europe from Nazism – casting doubt on the role of the Red Army. Victory stays victory and occupation stays occupation. Therefore, we insist on respecting the truth also about the events of 1968, which meant a great and long-lasting tragedy for Czechoslovakia and its citizens,” the Slovak foreign ministry said.
This was a reference to the fact that Fico had gone to Moscow at the time of Russia’s Victory Day celebrations. So did Czech president Milos Zeman, with the two among very few European leaders to not boycott the Kremlin’s Soviet-style commemorations, although reportedly neither Fico nor Zeman attended the centrepiece grandiose parade of Russian military weaponry and soldiers in Soviet uniforms.
“Broadcasting this documentary, which attempts to rewrite history and to falsify historical truths about such a dark chapter of our history, damages the traditionally good relations between Slovakia and Russia.”
The foreign ministry said that given that Rossiya 1 was state television, “we are confident that the government of the Russian Federation will take the appropriate steps to prevent the distortion of this tragic chapter of the history of Slovak-Russian bilateral relations”.
The Czech foreign ministry said on June 1 that foreign minister Lubomir Zaorálek had summoned the Russian ambassador in Prague, Sergey Kiselev, to express dissatisfaction about Moscow’s recent list of persona non grata people, which includes Czech citizens, and to express concern about the Russian TV film.
The foreign ministry said that the film presents a view of the occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1968, which is fundamentally inconsistent with the facts.
“Just as we cannot allow a skewed history of World War 2, we cannot afford the truth about the events of 1968 in Czechoslovakia to be so grossly disregarded,” Zaorálek said.