Pink tank returns to Prague to mark the 20th anniversary of Soviet troops withdrawal

PRAGUE – A pink tank has temporarily returned to the heart of Prague to mark the 20th anniversary of the Soviet troops’ withdrawal.

Tank No. 23 was originally put on display on a Prague’s square in 1945 to commemorate the liberation of Czechoslovakia by the Red Army after the WWII occupation by Nazi troops.

For many, it became a symbol of the 1968 Soviet-led invasion that crushed the liberal reforms of Alexander Dubcek and ended an era known as the Prague Spring.

The presence of the soldiers was called temporary by communist authorities but lasted almost 23 years.

When the Velvet Revolution led by Vaclav Havel toppled the communist regime in 1989, the country’s new officials immediately demanded the troops’ withdrawal, Defence Minister Alexandr Vondra, a former anti-communist dissident, said Monday.

“Immediately after the Velvet Revolution, one of the first requirements was that those troops must go home,” Vondra told the AP in an interview.

David Cerny, a Czech visual artist painted the tank pink with friends in April 1991. The Soviet troops left by the end of June that year.

Some opposed the move, saying it dishonoured those who liberated the country but Cerny insisted Monday it was the right thing to do.

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“I’m not ashamed of what I did,” Cerny said. “It was a pretty good thing to do. At that time, most of the nation understood that we didn’t want them here any more.”

After Cerny’s action, the tank received its original look before it was painted pink again by a group of lawmakers from the Czechoslovak parliament. Since June 1991, the tank has been at the Military Technical Museum in Lesany, south of Prague.

It was taken to Prague from the museum Monday to be placed on a pontoon on the Vltava river near Prague’s famed Charles Bridge till July 1. It’s arrival kicked off a series of commemorative events called “The Week of Freedom” that marks the troops’ withdrawal.

“It’s one of the most important anniversaries in the Czech modern history,” said Pavla Kantnerova of the Curtain, a non-governmental group that’s organizing the events.

“People tend to forget it even though it was a great victory to get rid of the occupying troops,” Kantnerova said. “For our generation … the pink tank is the real symbol of the end of the occupation.”

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