Czech President criticised for refusing to take part in commemoration of ’68 invasion by Soviet-led forces

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Politico: Czech President Miloš Zeman was roundly criticized for refusing to take part in Tuesday’s commemoration of the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia by Soviet-led forces.

The chairman of the center-right TOP 09 party, Jiří Pospíšil, accused the president of neglecting his constitutional duties by not taking part in events marking such an important moment in the country’s history.

An estimated 250,000 Warsaw Pact troops and more than 6,000 tanks invaded Czechoslovakia in the early hours of August 21, 1968, to suppress the political liberalization that came to be known as the Prague Spring. The invasion and subsequent occupation resulted in the deaths of 137 Czechoslovak civilians.

Ivan Bartoš, the head of the Pirate Party, said he is not surprised by the president’s “sad” announcement considering his political worldview, a reference to Zeman’s close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Zeman has repeatedly defended Putin against criticism from the West, calling for an end to economic sanctions against Russia and even denying that Moscow has deployed soldiers in Ukraine.

Zeman’s spokesman, Jiří Ovčáček, justified the president’s absence in a tweet that read, “Mr. President delivered a courageous speech when he said during the start of the normalization [or post-invasion period] that he did not agree with the occupation. He was ousted from his job at the Economic University for this statement. Such a statement is more valuable than the thousands of purely formal and unfaithful speeches that will certainly be delivered on August 21.”

The tweet inspired a Czech political activist, Robin Suchánek, to lobby public broadcaster Česká televize to show a commemorative speech by Slovakia’s president, Andrej Kiska, which is being shown on Slovak television.

The broadcaster agreed. As a result, the major Czech event commemorating the 1968 invasion will be a speech by a foreign head of state, which will almost certainly be regarded as a black mark against Zeman’s statesmanship.

Zeman’s no-show is puzzling since he has in the past condemned the invasion as a crime, and during a recent visit to Moscow strongly criticized a magazine article that claimed Czechs should have been grateful for the Warsaw Pact aggression.

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