Prague Risks Russia’s Ire Naming Square After Slain Putin Critic

(Bloomberg) -- The Czech capital city will rename the square that’s home to the Russian embassy after a murdered critic of President Vladimir Putin, risking a confrontation with its Cold War master Moscow.

The Prague city council agreed on Monday to change the name of the Pod Kastany square in the northern Bubenec neighborhood after Boris Nemtsov, a former Russian deputy prime minister and later opposition leader who was shot dead on a bridge near the Kremlin in February 2015.

It was the latest in a string of decisions by the city of 1.2 million that has put it at odds with the governments of large foreign powers. In January, Prague triggered tensions with China when it signed a sister-city agreement with the Taiwanese capital Taipei. It canceled a similar accord with Beijing and rejected demands from China that it sever ties with Taiwan and Tibet.

“Our decision is in line with the Czech democratic tradition and respect for human rights,” Prague Mayor Zdenek Hrib said in an email. “We are joining cities like Washington D.C., Vilnius and Kyiv in this international initiative.”

In a growing trend of liberal capital cities diverging from the policies of populist national governments, the leadership in Prague has clashed with Milos Zeman, the country’s anti-immigrant president who has built ties with far-right politicians and is an admirer and supporter of Putin. Zeman denounced the change as a “definite political step.”

Putin Critics

As the center of the “Velvet Revolution” in which anti-communist dissidents led by late President Vaclav Havel helped topple the Iron Curtain 1989, the city has a long tradition of opposing totalitarian ideals.

As mayor, Hrib reinstated the practice of flying the Tibetan flag above City Hall, a tradition halted by his predecessor that is a rejection of Beijing’s “One China” principle that rejects the recognition of Tibet.

City officials will make the name change official at a ceremony on Thursday, the fifth anniversary of Nemtsov’s killing. The city council is also seeking to name a site after Anna Politkovskaya, another prominent Putin critic, who was gunned down in 2006.

It’s not the first time Prague has clashed with Russia. The Foreign Ministry in Moscow protested last year when a district mayor sought to remove a statue of Ivan Konev, the Red Army commander who helped push Nazi forces out of the Czech capital in the final days of World War II. Konev’s later actions included a role in crushing Hungary’s 1956 anti-communist uprising.

Hrib said the square was chosen in line with an international campaign that includes the renaming of streets outside Russian embassies in Washington D.C. and Lithuania’s capital, Vilnius. The mayor said he sees no reason for Moscow to be upset.

“Nemtzov was a former Russian deputy minister and successful regional politician who was assassinated,” Hrib said.

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