Czech Lawmaker Who Joked About Annexing Kaliningrad Receives Death Threats

Articles and interviews   |  07.10. 2022

Czech member of the European Parliament Tomáš Zdechovský received death threats on social media after embracing a joke on the Czech Republic annexing the Russian region of Kaliningrad. The joke started when an anonymous Polish account on Twitter wrote about dividing Kaliningrad between Poland and the Czech Republic so that the countries could "finally have access to the sea."

On September 29, Zdechovský—who has been an MEP since 2014—reposted the tweet, translating it in English for an international audience. "I decided to make a joke much more serious," he told Newsweek. "But it's obviously ironic. Everybody knows it's ironic."

But Zdechovský said his statements on social media are followed by many Russian journalists, who are aware that he has a strong pro-Ukraine stance and took the joke as a serious threat.

"They took it seriously because they have an agenda," Zdechovský said. "I know Russian propaganda very well, I spent a lot of time studying their behavior and from the first moment it was absolutely clear that Russia will react. I know how nationalist they are."

Russia's state-affiliated RT published an article on September 30 saying an "MEP wants Russian region split between two EU states" and had suggested holding a referendum in the region.

The Czech MEP said he received death threats on social media from Russians threatening to kill him.

"I received some 2,000 messages of people saying they will kill me, that I need to fear leaving my flat because they will hurt me and they will shoot me, and Russian snipers are waiting for me," he said. "But everybody was joking on Twitter. I'm making fun all the times about these people."

But Zdechovský, who said he has been put under police protection three times in his life, didn't take the threats seriously. "It's not nice, but really you can imagine that if it was a serious threat, they will make it much more intelligent," he said.

"I don't fear the Russians. I think that Russians fear me. This joke reached thousands of people, there's been interest from Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines, the U.K. and Europe."

"I think that this shows that Russia has a very bad image. And many people through these jokes are really making this statement, saying what they think about the Russians."

Kaliningrad is a Russian exclave sandwiched between Poland and Lithuania which doesn't share a border with the Czech Republic. The region became part of the Soviet Union and then Russia after World War II, but had previously belonged to Prussia, Poland and Germany.