Burial of Czechoslovak legionaries: graves of soldiers or bandits?

An echo of the civil war and Chelyabinsk reply for Marshal Konev

Burial of Czechoslovak legionaries: graves of soldiers or bandits?
Photo: topcor.ru

White Czechs aren’t hero soldiers who sacrificed their lives for somebody’s freedom but merchants and bandits, believes an economist from Ufa Rustem Shayakhmetov who reacted to damage done to a monument to Czechoslovakian legionaries in Chelyabinsk with a column in Realnoe Vremya. The fact that the vandals left a phrase “You will be held accountable for Konev” adds some zest to the latest event, which gives to understand that it is a reaction to the demolition of the monument to the Soviet marshal in Prague. We should note that during the civil war, the White Czechs left enough heritage both in Kazan and Ufa. Shayakhmetov urges to transform monuments to the Czechoslovak Legion put up in Russia into monuments to victims of the legionaries.

Is it a military burial?

Somebody damaged a monument to Czechoslovak legionaries in Chelyabinsk in early May, as a result of which the Embassy of the Czech Republic in Russia expressed a protest and claimed: “We hope the Russian side will start to meet its commitments in the Agreement between the Governments of the Czech Republic and Russian Federation on Mutual Maintenance of Military Burials”.

Indeed, 262 Czechs and Slovaks were buried in Chelyabinsk, moreover, the inscription on the monument reads:

“Czechoslovak soldiers, brave fighters for freedom and independence of their land, Russia and all Slavic peoples rest here. They gave their lives for the sake of revival of humankind on brotherly land. Bare your heads in front of the heroes’ grave.”

But is it true to state that a military burial of Czechoslovak troops is located in Chelyabinsk?

A bit of history

Yes, in 1914, the Russian Empire created Czechoslovak military commands out of citizens of Austro-Hungary, as a result of which there was created a Czechoslovak league as part of the Russian army chaired by Russian officers. And on 26 March 1918, the Soviet of People’s Commissars of the RSFSR (Stalin), the Czechoslovak National Council in Russia and the Czechoslovak Legion signed an agreement according to which:

“Czechoslovaks advanced not as military units but as a group of free citizens who take a known amount of weapons to protect themselves from attempts at their lives from counter-revolutionists... The Council of People’s Commissars is ready to help them on the territory of Russia if their loyalty is honest and sincere...”

It was determined that every echelon would have an armed company of 168 people for their protection, including a machine gun, 300 bullets were given per rifle, 1,000 bullets were given per machine gun. The Czechoslovaks were obliged to hand the rest of the weapons over to representatives of Soviet authorities.

This fact proves that on 26 March 1918 the Czechoslovak Legion as a military subdivision was dissolved. As a consequence, all militaries of the Czechoslovak Legion became civilians.

Orlik armoured train. Penza group of Czechoslovaks. Ufa, July 1918. Photo: wikipedia.org

An incident that occurred in Chelyabinsk between legionaries and captive Hungarians on 14 May 1918 became a cause of the Czechoslovak revolt, as a result of lynching a Hungarian was killed, which led to a revolt of the Czechoslovak Legion against the Soviet power. All Trans-Siberian Railway was seized by the legionaries on 9 June. The rebellion of the Czechoslovak Legion kindled our civil war like a spark. It was predetermined by the following circumstances. As for the Czechoslovak Legion in June 1918, First President of Czechoslovakia Tomáš Masaryk indicated the next:

“The only thing is clear is that we had an army, and in Russia we were the only significant military organisation”.

At Masarik’s initiative, France made a decision by that time to bring the Czechoslovak Legion under control of French command, and on 18 May, the French ambassador to Russia told the military representative of the legion Huene that the Entente decided to begin intervention and considered the Czech army as the flagship of the allied army.

The Czechoslovak Legion was effectively used by the Entente to occupy Russia. But when it got really tough, the legionaries surrendered Kolchak and a part of the gold reserves of Russia for an opportunity to go home. And as contemporaries noted, they didn’t go back empty-handed. When in Russia, the command of the Czechoslovak Legion chaired or influenced the production in 105 enterprises (18 mines, 17 industrial factories, 10 railway plants).

Czechoslovak legionaries near their echelon, Russia, 1918. Photo: svoboda.org

Time to remember White Czechs’ victims

To be honest, Czechoslovak legionaries during the civil war were citizens of Austro-Hungary, demobilised citizens of the Russian army who rebelled against the Soviet power. And murderers of thousands of Russians, who made quite a fortune on the confiscation of civilians and who betrayed the Whites when it became profitable for them.

This is why the dead Czechoslovak legionaries aren’t hero soldiers who sacrificed their lives for somebody’s freedom but merchants and bandits killed in a murder.

We can say the Soviet soldiers killed during the events in 1968 in Czechoslovakia have more foundation to have monuments in the Czech Republic than Czechoslovak legionaries in Russia because they were militaries and citizens of the Soviet Union, and the Russian-Czech agreement on mutual maintenance of military burials must be applied to them. While the Czechoslovak legionaries weren’t militaries of the Czechoslovak army but civilians many of whom were guilty of crimes against humanity.

The modern time is so contradictory that it is sometimes hard to understand the logic of many politicians. For instance, a monument to the Vlasov Army is put up in Prague, many of them killed, tortured, robbed, raped rebelled Warsaw citizens in 1944 as part of the 29th Waffen-SS division of VS-KONR under Bronislav Kaminsky. It is European super-tolerance, in a word. And here monuments to occupants and murderers of Russians are erected with the state’s support — it is Russian politicians’ tolerance.

Monument to Marshal Ivan Konev in Prague. Photo: radio.cz

Is it perhaps time to remember honesty and decency, the White Czechs’ victims? But our country doesn’t deal with the maintenance of their graves. I think it will be correct to transform the monuments to White Czechs into monuments to victims of Czechoslovak legionaries without touching their graves so that the cruelty of the civil war will be remembered, especially when invaders kindle it. And at the same time we can see and know the guilty of the tragedy. This doesn’t contradict the current intergovernmental agreement on military burials and will comply with the historical truth. As a rule, monuments are municipal property, this is why corresponding decisions can be made at municipal level, like in case of the monument to Konev.

By Rustem Shayakhmetov
Bashkortostan