Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Commentariat: Neo-Nazi march yields no clear winner

22 November 2007

The long-planned, City Hall-banned neo-Nazi march that took place Saturday may have been anticlimactic, with right-wing extremists vastly outnumbered by police, anarchists and members of the press, but it still left many with a bitter aftertaste. Czech commentators said as much in op-eds and editorials this week.

Some 1,600 police officers were stationed in the streets that day. Police detained 395 people, but most of them were left-wing anarchists protesting the march. A quarter of those arrested were foreigners, who journeyed to the Czech Republic to take part in the rally. Six of those detained have been accused. Of those six only one was a neo-Nazi and the rest were anarchists. Of the thousands of people gathered in Prague's downtown, many were simply onlookers.

What do these statistics mean?

According to Právo§s Jiří Franěk, the actions of the police were largely preventative and maybe too tougher than necessary. A lawyer hired by the Young National Democrats has filed a complaint against the police commander directing the action in Prague§s Vysočany for detaining a group of neo-Nazis who were allegedly just walking peacefully without causing a disturbance.

"I wonder if that police success on Saturday might have ever so slightly overstepped the boundaries of what is legal," Franěk wrote in Právo yesterday. "What is the legal basis of frisking groups of people right when they get off the train or metro?" he wrote. "When drunk football fans – clearly people of similar ilk – walk through the streets, police leads them to the stadium without intervening."

Franěk argued that the police handling of the situation actually worked in favour of the neo-Nazis because it made them feel like victims of police brutality, who were in the right. He noted that several extremist web sites called the event a success.

In Lidové noviny Monday Bob Fieldr noted the anarchists didn§t help matters at all by joining the dozens of Jewish supporters who turned out to help protect the Jewish part of town. "Anarchists aren§t regular volunteers. They often fight when it§s not really necessary," he wrote. "Rather than helping, the created more work for the police and made it seem as though they weren§t really all that different from the neo-Nazis. So the neo-Nazis haven§t really been defeated.

According to Karel Steigerwald, writing in Monday§s Mladá front Dnes, the nature of the police intervention would have been criticised no matter what happened.

"Extremist rightists and leftists will continue to exist and so will street fighting," Steigerwald wrote. "There is only a few of them, and they are all idiots with no influence, so why do we find them so disturbing? Because the older generation knows that suddenly they can multiply into millions.

"How is it possible? After tens of millions have been murdered by Nazis and tens of millions by the communists," Steigerwald wondered. He noted that writer Arnošt Lustig may have had a point when he said Satruday that all those marching idiots would deserve to spend 15 minutes in Auschwitz. "Maybe this would get the message through their not very bright minds," Steigerwald wrote.

Hospodářské noviny§s Tomáš Němeček evaluated the Saturday event more optimistically. "It was a demonstration of force – of the Czech state of Prague residents and of the Jewish community," he wrote Monday.

Němeček criticised how public television covered the event. "With routine blindness, Czech Television focused on a conflict involving several young thugs beating up one skinhead and made it the main news event of the rally," he wrote. "But the biggest news was the solidarity of those demonstrating in front of the synagogues and on Old Town Square, waving Israeli flags, wearing David§s stars on their lapels. Even a number of politicians from all democratic parties attended. In how many Western European countries – given the current attitudes to Israel – would something like this happen?"

This solidarity might be put to the test again this Saturday. Far-right extremists are planning another rally, this time on the anniversary of the Velvet Revolution.

Kristina Alda is the Monitor's managing editor. She likes writing about buildings and public space.
You can reach her at kristina@praguemonitor.com. You can read more of her stories here.