Tuesday, April 27, 2010
The Pink Panther
Arguably the best tank of World War II was the Soviet IS-3 Iosif Stalin heavy tank. Designed to beat the German Tiger tank in head-to-head combat, it was slow, but had very heavy sloped armor and an enormous 122 mm gun. It was produced in massive quantities - over 6,000 (vs. less than 2,000 Tigers). The IS-3 made such an impression in the September 1945 Allied Victory Parade that it was the catalyst for a generation of British heavy tank designs.
23 years after the fall of Berlin, the IS-3 once again rolled through the streets of a central European capital city. The Prague Spring ended with a bang, as the Brezhnev Doctrine allowed no relaxation of the top-down central planning model favored by Moscow.
But time stands still for no man, not even Leonid Brezhnev. Another 23 years were to pass, but what was to fall was not Democracy movements, but rather the sputtering top-down Eastern European governments. And when they fell, the resentments that had before been stamped down bloomed:
The Monument to Soviet Tank Crews in Prague's Štefánik Square saw some visitors on the night of 27 April, 1991. Student David Černý and some friends who styled themselves the "Neostunners" turned the IS-2 on display into a, err, "Pink Panther" tank. The Soviet Union was outraged; the tank was repained, and Černý was arrested. But the times were indeed a-changin': Černý was released, and fifteen newly-elected members of the parliament painted the tank pink again. The U.S.S.R. was not well-loved in Prague.
Two decades later, Russia is still not well-loved in eastern Europe. While the recent airplane crash that killed the Polish President and many senior government figures was very likely accidental, conspiracy theories will continue to swirl. A half century of Soviet occupation showed the subject peoples what the Bear's face looked like when it wasn't smiling.