The Public Space versus Racist and Neo-Nazi Groups
In recent years, the public space has increasingly become the site of attacks on certain groups of the population, most often at the instigation of the Neo-Nazi movement. The children in the dialogue are presented with a situation that is at increasing risk of occurring. On the one hand, the children defend freedom of speech and expression, while on the other hand, they try to find a solution to a situation where that freedom could lead to the spread of racist and Neo-Nazi ideology. When working with this dialogue, it is useful to focus mainly on the issue of the public space and its protection, and on the ways in which the public space is disturbed and how to protect it against such attacks.
Battle for the streets: Permeating public life through demonstrations and other public activities.
Battle for minds: Gaining new followers, perfecting the party’s or movement’s membership ranks.
Battle for parliament: In the Czech political environment, the battle to gain entry into representative bodies at the national, but first of all at the local, level.
Battle for organised will: The effort to unify all extreme-right subjects and to present their interests as the interests of all the inhabitants of the given state or locality.
I. The public space against racist and Neo-Nazi groups
The public space encompasses the environment outside the individual and his family, the space of public areas, the media, and the Internet.
The difficulties attached to the perception of and the need to protect the public space against abuse lies in its lack of concreteness and its consequently ungraspable nature. One of the results of forty years of state control over every sphere of civic life followed by the wild capitalism of the 1990s is the loss of a sense of responsibility for anything that does not directly impinge on the private interests of an individual. The sphere of an individual’s interest is frequently restricted to the confines of their house or flat. Citizens relinquish responsibility for the public space to the state, especially its security units, or to private firms mainly in pursuit of economic interests. The loss of control over the public space is the result of a voluntary resignation of responsibility for creating a common, and in the economic sense unowned, space.
Yet the public space is host to very serious processes that influence not just the everyday life of the individual, but also the long-term direction of entire localities. It is the site of clashes between the needs of various interest groups, often in pursuit of contradictory interests. If people who reside in a given space adopt a resigned approach to what goes on there, they do not have, or they may even be denied, the opportunity to have a say in the direction of the public space, and a disproportion arises between the just development of the space and a development that takes into account only the particular interests of one a narrow group of people, or even just several individuals. The designated space deviates from its natural equilibrium, becomes vulnerable, and can become an easy target of the power interests of marginal political groups. This is why an interest in the development of the public space should not remain outside the scope of interest people identify with their immediate living space, that is, their home or flat.
While in this text we talk mainly about subjects on the extreme right, primarily because we are reflecting on political developments in the period since 1989 (where subjects of the extreme left have represented only a small threat from the perspective of local and national security), it must be remembered that it is these groups who introduce the controversial themes into the public space, manipulate public opinion, and stir up social conflict. They try to interpret problematic instances in the coexistence of individual groups of inhabitants as the natural condition of the inequality of the human races, which they subsequently plan to solve by eliminating some groups of the population from public life, functions, or work, or they otherwise have a system of repression and intolerance planned for them.
But basically it is about seizing political power wherever subjects that would otherwise normally be active in the public space (community organisations, civic associations, churches, interest groups) are entirely or partly absent or have not yet managed to take shape and do not naturally create coexistence in the given locality. Politically oriented subjects (not just) of the extreme right turn social issues into political ones.
Various interest groups try to control the public space, and racist and Neo-Nazi movements are no exception. The concept that Neo-Nazis employ in their effort to take control was defined over the course of the 1990s by the National Democratic Party (NPD) as a three- or four-pillar struggle: the Battle for the Streets, the Battle for Minds, the Battle for Parliament, and (added in 2004) the Battle for Organised Will.
The battle for the streets is about permeating the public space through demonstrations and other public activities, whereby extreme right subjects try to create the impression that they are a constant presence in places where the inhabitants of cities and municipalities experience everyday problems. The battle for the streets can entail the intimidation of political opponents or interference in public activities organised by other subjects. The objective of the battle for the streets is to prepare the setting for the ensuing battle for minds, which is about recruiting new supporters, and perfecting the membership ranks of the party or movement. A further step in the endeavours of extreme right subjects is the battle for parliament, which in the Czech environment means the battle to gain a presence in representative bodies at a national but first of all a local level. These three pillars are also being pursued by the new wave of the Czech extreme right, represented in the form of the ties between the Workers’ Party and unregistered extreme right groups. The fourth pillar and the notional culmination of control over the public space is the battle for organised will, or in other words, the effort to unify all extreme right subjects and present their interests as the interests of all the inhabitants of the given state or locality.
Extreme right subjects use various tactics in their effort to control the public space. There is no relying on the idea that it is possible to recognise the extreme right and their representatives at first glance, or even that their views will be unacceptable for the majority of those who hear them. On the contrary, the times when racist skinheads and Neo-Nazis gave Nazi salutes in public and used openly racist slurs and epithets is irrevocably gone. The extreme right now appeals to the public with an elaborate approach full of one-sided populist arguments and attractive simple solutions, the support and enforceability of which on the structural, economical, and political levels is unrealistic.
The most common tactics include:
1. Demonstrations and other public gatherings
Public gatherings serve registered and unregistered subjects of the extreme right as the ideal setting in which to promote their ideas and propaganda, appeal to new supporters and the wider public, strengthen their mutual ties and unity, and attract the media’s attention. The number of such demonstrations annually has been rising since around 2004/2005. Mainly as a result of the pre-election activity of the Workers’ Party there are currently around 45 public demonstrations a year. The number of supporters is around 50-800 people (Archive of Tolerance and Civil Society). Public gatherings often draw support from Neo-Nazis, Neo-Fascists, and radical nationalists from abroad, especially Germany and Slovakia.
In 2008 the organisation of public demonstrations by the extreme right underwent a qualitative change in connection with the events that occurred at the Janov housing estate in Litvínov. Over the course of the year the Workers’ Party, together with National Resistance and Autonomous Nationalists, raised the issue of the coexistence of Roma and non-Roma inhabitants in the Czech Republic as an issue with which they managed to appeal to people outside the Neo-Nazi movement. The relatively large support for the Neo-Nazi movement from the public living in areas close to socially excluded localities surprised the bodies of public administration and the police. The Neo-Nazi movement found a way to win sympathy, voters, and arguments for their legitimate existence.
The extreme right managed to interpret a social problem and a problem of conflicting coexistence between individual people as a problem whose source lay in the characteristics of the Roma community. The media adopted similar rhetoric (see Michaela Jílková, Máte slovo [Your Turn to Speak], 3.9.2009), as did some politicians, when without forethought they identified the Roma as one of the causes behind the rise in extremism. For example, for an article published in Respekt, Ivan Langer made the following statement: ‘The Roma are one part of the description of these causes. As long as they are incapable of saying: yes, it isn’t normal not to go to work, not to send your children to school, it isn’t normal to live just on social benefits, we won’t make any progress.’ (Respekt, 4.5.2009, Nebičujte mne za otevřenost [Don’t Lash Out at Me for Being Open], accessible at: http://zpravy.ods.cz/prispevek.php?ID=9958).
They created a causal chain that justifies attacks on members of the Roma minority.
Public administration has long been dealing with Neo-Nazi demonstrations, oscillating from passivity and resignation to unjustified bans and excessive security measures which turn towns and municipalities into warzones. But the role of municipalities is more than just a legal one, involving the banning or dissolving of illegal demonstrations: their role lies mainly in strengthening tolerance and the open rejection of abuse of the public space by Neo-Nazis. In this regard, Czech public administration and the inhabitants of some localities (see http://www.vustineonacistynechceme.cz/novinky.php) exposed to Neo-Nazi gatherings and propaganda have drawn inspiration from neighbouring Germany (see website of a German civic initiative against the Neo-Nazis’ misuse of the issue of the bombing of Dresden. The NGO sector has managed to establish cooperation with the town. http://www.geh-denken.de/joomla). However, the public continues to reject Neo-Nazi gatherings mainly in situations where Neo-Nazis misuse history or attack the Jewish minority. When the Roma are the target of Neo-Nazis’ propaganda, not only do the local authorities and the public not reject Neo-Nazis, but in some cases they even actively take their side.
2. Concerts of white power music and the racist music scene
Concerts of white power music, music that typically uses racist lyrics to promote racial inequality and the battle to defend the white race and celebrates the ideology of National Socialism, are one of the oldest and most original tools that the extreme right uses to appeal to its supporters. Concerts are accompanied by an elaborate distribution network of music publishing on a European scale, producing dozens of CDs and DVDs every year. The Czech racist scene counts around ten active Neo-Nazi bands, which is nowhere near the number of German, British, and American bands. Czech supporters of the racist music scene are travelling increasingly more often to concerts abroad, recently to Italy in particular.
Concerts of white power music essentially pursue the following basic goals:
• the spread of ideology, deepening of ideological principles and convictions;
• establishing and strengthening contacts;
• initiating new members;
• securing financial resources.
The combination of music designed to please and persuade, and simple, repetitive lyrics makes songs easy to remember and helps drive home convictions about the inequality of people, the supremacy of the indigenous European population, and a just (armed) struggle on behalf of the white race. The lyrics can oftentimes serve as inspiration for later verbal and physical violence, which can occur immediately or some time after concerts. Many of the people who have actively taken part in organising or attending concerts have committed physical violence against members of minorities or political opponents.
An example of texts – the modern Czech Neo-Nazi band Útok [Attack]
The lyrics to the song ‘Útok’ [Attack]
The asylum-seekers’ dorm is on fire
there’s no time to think
we have to act fast now
Clench our fists and go forward
Attack, now the right time has come
show the strength that’s in you
Fight proudly and catch your breath
remember that you’re Czech
We all then have to unite
go into the attack together
then the white race will live on
in our Czech land
Attack, now the right time has come
show the strength that’s in you
Fight proudly and catch your breath
remember that you’re Czech.
Lyrics to the song ‘KKK’
The invisible empire
the supremacy of the white race
the glow gains strength
it is necessary to solve
the problem of immigrant masses
so come join us
we’re reaching our goal
for a pure white race
the glow of the fire, join our mission
white man and white woman
go into battle without inhibition
The land was promised
through the ages to us whites
why should those niggers
unlawfully take it from us
so we are all stepping forth
down the right path
the path that leads
to protecting the state
for a pure white race
the glow of the fire, join in our mission
white man and white woman
go into battle without inhibition
The 1990s was the golden age for organising such concerts. At that time the Czech Republic served as a destination for many foreign (especially German and British) Neo-Nazi bands. The location was selected deliberately owing to the limited repressive measures taken against them by the state bodies and owing to the location’s economic and regional accessibility. Concerts usually took place in small towns and villages, partly covertly, and often with the assistance of, or at least without intervention from, the police, whose inaction was subsequently criticised by anti-racist organisations and the media. Criticism from public citizenry induced state bodies to set out to uncover the structures of people organising Neo-Nazi concerts. Major raids were conducted against the organisers of Neo-Nazi concerts in the second half of the 1990s and in 2000. The Neo-Nazi music scene subsequently fell silent, resurfacing slightly again in 2005, when the organisation of concerts became concentrated in the hands of people around the clothing and music shop Hate Core Shop.
The distribution and sale of hate is becoming a lucrative source of financial resources both for Neo-Nazi groups and, especially, for vendors themselves. This is why in recent years Neo-Nazis have invested a considerable amount of financial resources into legal assistance directly on the site of the concert locations, in an effort to prevent their concerts being cancelled and performers being prosecuted. Nevertheless, in the middle of 2009 a distribution network was uncovered, 10 people were charged, and 5 of them denied bail.
3. Propaganda through the Internet and social networks
The Internet is currently the most powerful tool that the extreme right uses to spread its ideas about National Socialism, the inequality of people, racial intolerance and violence. In the Czech Republic there are as many as several dozen websites with racist or Neo-Nazi content. The International Network against Cyber Hate (INACH) indicates that worldwide the number of Neo-Nazi and racist websites has reached more than 1700 sites. The number is difficult to follow, given that the Internet continues to evolve dynamically in space and time.
By content, websites can be divided into:
Propaganda / promotional websites of political parties, unregistered movements and bands
Through these websites racist and Neo-Nazi movements appeal to their supporters and the wider public. In addition to current issues and reports from demonstrations and other public activities, the websites present the programmes, principles, and materials for downloading, including templates for graffiti. The websites of more radical groups can also contain guidelines informing Neo-Nazi activists on how to avoid prosecution, how to make their computers secure, or how to construct explosives. Neo-Nazi websites also tend to include Internet discussion forums (e.g.: http://www.odpor.org, http://www.nacionaliste.com, http://www.delnicka-strana.cz, http://www.npd.de, )
Internet forums, chat rooms
The most read Czech web forum used by Neo-Nazis and hooligans is http://www.hooligans.cz, chat room politics. Although this forum did not originate as a Neo-Nazi forum, the website’s operator has no apparent problem with the content and tolerates racist and xenophobic texts. Given that the forum is public, only very limited discussion takes place, the forum is more or less focused on communicating less important organisational information and providing information to the wider circle of readers. To some extent the forum functions also to intimidate political opponents and representatives of the bodies of state administration and local authorities.
Websites that give the impression of independent news reporting, revisionist sites, and libraries
At first glance these websites are hard to recognise as openly racist or Neo-Nazi sites. The authors are striving to influence the wider public (not just Neo-Nazis). The themes of the websites vary, and usually they contain theories about the worldwide Jewish conspiracy and denials of the Holocaust or offer a wide range of revisionist, Nazi, and Neo-Nazi literature, and provide information about current events in a way that presents the xenophobic and racist attitudes of the extreme right as the opinions of the majority society (http://www.nezavisle.info, cz.altermedia.info).
Distributor websites and shops
A substantial amount of the trade in Neo-Nazi and racist goods (clothing, music, film, literature) takes place through online shops (http://www.micetrap.com, http://www.hatecore-shop.com).
The new generation of websites, so-called Web 2.0, enables users to actively, and very easily, take part in creating the content of these applications by uploading photographs, recordings, and other materials. Social networking sites (Facebook, Twitter) and the Youtube portal for sharing music and videos represent an entirely specific category of online tools used by Neo-Nazi and racist groups. The use of Facebook is limited by Neo-Nazis’s fears of infiltration by the police and secret services, and its use is mainly confined to young people and less important activists in movements (yet as of 09/2009 a Facebook fan page for the National Resistance Party had 353 supporters), meaning that it is mainly going to be used by less radical groups like political parties and movements. At the same time, file-sharing applications like Youtube are experiencing a Neo-Nazi boom.
4. Books, literature and other propaganda
Although the majority of information sources have shifted into electronic format and onto the Internet, while most local print materials are no longer published, it is impossible to overlook a new trend on the Neo-Nazi scene – the publication of revisionist and racist literature under the banner of official publishing and with the fictitious purpose of ‘acquainting the public with the ideas of right-wing extremists’. This is how The Turner Diaries and Hunter were published in the Czech Republic, both novels by William Pierce (under the pseudonym Andrew McDonald) telling about the (victorious) struggle of a group of white racists against a multicultural American society, starting with the targeted liquidation of the Jews, people with dark skin, and traitors to the race. The Turner Diaries had thus far been issued in print only in the United States and Russia; and within the European Union it has been printed and distributed only in the Czech Republic. The publisher formally distanced itself from this racist text that calls for violence by adding a foreword to the book stating that the publisher does not agree with the ideas expressed therein - so state authorities have been unable to prove the intention to publish a racist and violently inclined text. The Turner Diaries inspired Timothy McVeigh in his terrorist attack on a US federal building (http://www.adl.org/learn/ext_us/turner_diaries.asp) in which 168 people died, and in the Czech Republic the book served as inspiration for the attempted pogrom at the Janov estate in Litvínov in 2008 (Aktivisté NO. Druhá Bitva o Janov.[The Second Battle for Janov] http://www.odpor.org, accessible at: http://odpor.org/index.php?page=clanky&kat=&clanek=898, retrieved 15.9.2009).
Another book published that is demonstrably linked to the interests of the Neo-Nazi movement was My Awakening by the white American racist David Duke. This book, which among other things denies the Holocaust, was promoted in the Czech Republic by the author himself, who was then arrested and charted with denying the Nazi genocide. In April 2009 David Duke was expelled from the country; he is still the subject of criminal proceedings (as of 09/2009). Duke’s presence in the Czech Republic unleashed a broad discussion on the theme of freedom of speech and the encroachment of racists and Neo-Nazis into the public space and the media. The individuals who invited the author of My Awakening to the Czech Republic managed to convince teachers at Charles University to let Duke speak at one seminar. It was only after this information was published by the Neo-Nazi movement and following the negative response from the public, students, and some employees, that the faculty cancelled the lecture. However, the disjointed stance of the academic community helped the Neo-Nazi movement to gain the attention of the media, elements of which, with no understanding of the Czech legal code, supported Duke’s right to freedom of speech (see below on the limits to freedom of speech and the role of the media).
5. Interruptions/the tactic of cutting people off
There is no denying the German inspiration for a tactic rolled out in the past two years of interrupting speakers in public debates. Society’s reaction to the growing influence of the extreme right, and especially those subjects actively promoting racism, xenophobia, and verbal and physical violence, has been an increased interest in the given issue, the organisation of public debates, and open lectures on the theme. These public debates have subsequently become an inviting target for Neo-Nazi activists.
Until around 2007 Neo-Nazis mainly used their presence to try to intimidate speakers and did not actively engage in the debates (even taking into account the evident absence of capable speakers). However, inspired by German colleagues they gradually began to get more actively involved in the debates, presenting their opinions as though they were the opinions of the silent majority, or even very openly bullying not just the speakers but even the public.
A warning example of the use of this interruption tactic is provided by a debate that was organised as part of project by one NGO, which was unable to ensure the safety of the public and the speakers and allowed Neo-Nazis to make a video recording of the entire evening. Given that such a recording could then be used by militant Neo-Nazis to persecute those in attendance, the speakers refused to present their papers. This organisationally mismanaged event was thus a victorious achievement for the Neo-Nazis, who not only documented and frightened everyone present at the lecture, but de facto prevented it from taking place. Yet it is the inalienable right of the speakers and those present to refuse to allow their debate to be recorded on video, especially in a situation where there is no doubt that the video will be used for the purpose of further intimidation or directly to incite the physical elimination of those present (Vlastní pozorování. [Separate Observation] Tolerance and Civil Society.) (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hJTlwwdW3OM – Nazi version).
The tactic of interruption was used successfully during a public debate of one Czech magazine. The anti-racist activist present was literally surrounded by fifteen members of National Resistance and the Workers’ Party, who then subjected him to a cross examination and managed to entirely take over the role of moderating the discussion. The remaining people present, evidently frightened, did not get involved in the debate (An interview with Ondřej Cakl, 1.8.2009. Tolerance and Civil Society).
6. Intimidating opponents/destroying the opposition
An important tactic, underestimated by the state administration, is the tactic of intimidating political opponents, anti-racist and anti-fascist activists, journalists, expert witnesses, police officers, and any of the wider public tempted to stand up against Neo-Nazi or racist groups.
Intimidation takes place through websites and forums in the simplest form of disguised or open calls to destroy the opponents of Neo-Nazism. Neo-Nazi portals also regularly post the so-called redwatch, a list of ‘left-wingers’, without regard to their real political orientation (this list is not currently publicly accessible in the Czech Republic, since the website of one of the most radical Neo-Nazi groups, White Justice, was shut down. The British version of Redwatch is accessible at: http://www.aryanunity.com/redwatchonline//index2.html).
It is also possible to find a list called ‘The Jews and Their Minions’. Both of these groups are designated for targeted persecution from the supporters of the extreme right (http://poslusnost.wordpress.com/2008/04/21/cesi-a-zide).
They are especially successful at creating a climate of fear in smaller communities – classrooms, housing estates, villages and small towns, which lack anonymity and also lack security for people declaring and defending anti-racist and pro-democratic opinions. Yet supporters of the extreme right do not have to form the numerical majority in the local community. It is enough that the rest of the community remains indifferent to their verbal manipulations, public activities, and other activities. Indifference is the driving force of subjects on the extreme right: as soon as they encounter no democratic opposition they become more firmly convinced that they represent the interests of the white majority. Conversely, those active for the democratically-inclined minority are weakened by public indifference, and dogged by the question of how one can actively defend such fundamental principles of democracy as tolerance, respect for the rights and dignity of others, and non-violence.
Nor is it exceptional in the Czech Republic for opponents of Neo-Nazism to become the targets of violence. In 2008, the anti-racist activist Ondřej Cakl and the photographer Stanislav Krupař were attacked while documenting Neo-Nazi demonstrations. The attack on Cakl followed after a long-term campaign directed against him (Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_KTEgqdmmB0&feature=related), and the attack on Krupař was authentically recorded on a cell phone video and then placed on Youtube as a warning to other journalists (http://odpor.org/index.php?page=clanky&kat=&clanek=830 (the video was removed).
Intimidation ending in physical elimination is the practice used in Russia (http://www.sptimes.ru/story/3912) and in the United States (especially during the period of the Civil Rights Movement), while in the Czech Republic no journalists, expert witnesses, police, or anti-racist democratic activists have yet been killed. However, these individuals have long had to do without proper protection from the police or the state authorities. Although these bodies are obliged to do so, they do not devote sufficient attention to open threats. Involvement in science, research, or information about the extreme right is thus very risky. The perceived danger is reflected in the ever decreasing number of individuals who focus closely and professionally on the extreme right.
7. The attempt to enter the regional political scene
The battle for parliament, which includes local representative bodies, is another very blatant tactic of the new wave of the Czech extreme right. Roughly since 2007/2008, when the link formed between the militant Neo-Nazi scene and a legal political party (Workers’ Party) gained firm contours, representatives of the extreme right have openly emerged in the regions with the intention of gradually winning political support, financial resources (partly compensation for surpassing a percentage of votes), and local power.
The extreme right brings conflict into the regions, often construed, affected, or in another way abused for propaganda. The situation in Litvínov, mentioned several times above, serves as a good example.
The people from Janov describe the change that occurred on the housing estate after violence was provoked in the autumn of last year by combative, militant Neo-Nazis connected to the Workers’ Party as a change that affected everyone (Round Table in Janov in Litvínov with the participation of the bodies of public administration, sociologists, social workers, NGOs, Roma and non-Roma inhabitants in Janov and Litvínov. 25.2.2009 – section closed to the public).
The Workers’ Party succeeded at recasting social conflict and conflict between individuals as an ethnic conflict – a conflict been maladjusted Roma and suffering white Czechs. The problems of the socially excluded locality of Janov do not have their basis in the biological or socio-cultural disposition of one ethnicity or another, but are a reflection of an economically, socially, and job deprived locality (Sociální past. Situační analýza sociálně vyloučených lokalit na území města Litvínova se zaměřením na sídliště [Social Trap: Situation Analysis of Socially Excluded Localities in Litvínov and Particularly in the Housing Estate]). A coexistence that had previously had problems but was bearable became, after the ‘intervention’ of the Workers’ Party, almost unsustainable from there on. The town representatives introduced a regime of zero tolerance mainly directed at the Roma inhabitants of the housing estate so that they could regain their political influence and avoid becoming the target of attacks from the extreme right again. Roma inhabitants of the housing estate consider emigration (http://zpravy.idnes.cz/hrozi-hromadna-emigrace-varovali-romove-topolanka-fww-/domaci.asp?c=A081121_215125_domaci_jte). Some of the white inhabitants of the housing estate sided with the Neo-Nazis, others became their opponents (Archive of Tolerance and Civil Society, records from the demonstration on 18.10.2008 and 17.11.2009), but in both cases they were the victims of Neo-Nazis.
Extreme right subjects usher these issues into other regions in the very same way. As with the social conflict in Janov, they are able to interpret even the coexistence of foreigners and the white majority in Mladá Boleslav, Kopřivnice and Plzeň as coexistence been maladjusted individuals and people at risk and to escalate it into further violence (Archive of Tolerance and Civil Society).
8. Activities targeting primary and secondary school youth
The German extreme right active in the regions directly neighbouring the Czech Republic focuses its activities on school-age children and youth. In some regions it is practically one of the main organisers of leisure time activities for young people, organising cultural and sporting events saturated with political propaganda. In the past two electoral terms the NPD prepared ‘A School CD’, which represents a mixture of music and political texts. The undeniable objective is thus to gain new young supporters and future voters.
Although Czech extreme right subjects are not yet targeting school-age youth, it is very likely that if their influence continues to grow they will soon start focusing on the young generation.
II. How is the public space protected by law?
Various constitutionally grounded rights and freedoms come together and can come into conflict in the public space.
The basic conundrum that surrounds the conflict with Neo-Nazis in the public space is the issue of freedom of expression or speech. In the legal codes of every Anglo-American and European legal system, freedom of expression is understood as a freedom constrained by other civic rights, in particular the right to life and the preservation of dignity and equality. In individual legal codes there naturally exist differences in how the limits on freedom of expression are understood. The limits set in the Czech legal code are limits set partly by the criminal code and partly by the press law, the civil code, and other legal norms. In principle public expression must not incite violence against a group of people or individuals on the basis of their race or membership in a national, ethnic or other group. It is also not permitted to support, promote, or publicly sympathise with movements that suppress the rights and freedoms of an individual (so not just Neo-Nazi movements, but, for example, even Stalinists or Maoists, and so on). Finally, it is not possible in the Czech Republic, as elsewhere in Europe, to deny the Nazi genocide. The Czech legal code also goes further and makes it impossible to deny the communist genocide.
While the first thing Neo-Nazis would do if they were to assume power is to restrict freedom of expression, they tend to use arguments claiming their freedom of expression is being violated. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon that the Czech media fully or partly accept this argumentation and treat Neo-Nazi representatives as a legitimate party in the conflict.
The law also sets limits on public assembly. First, the relevant municipal authorities must be informed in advance of every public assembly, that is, a gathering of people asserting certain political rights (including freedom of expression). The municipal authorities have three days to assess whether the purpose of the demonstration is or is not in conformity with the law. A purpose of a demonstration is not in conformity with the law when it is directed at suppressing the rights and freedoms of other people or incites to or is directed at violence or violation of the constitution or other laws. If the municipal authorities find no reason to ban the assembly beforehand and within the set deadline, the demonstration can take place. A public assembly can take place even if it later surfaces that the real purpose of the demonstration is one of the above-mentioned reasons, which under normal circumstances would give the municipal authorities just cause to ban the demonstration, but after the deadline it cannot be imposed. If the demonstration takes place, it can, should its real purpose deviate from the declared purpose and be illegal in the senses described above, be dismissed on site.
The possibility of prosecuting people publishing and operating Neo-Nazi websites remains an interesting question. The organs active in launching criminal proceedings have long claimed that the websites are hosted in the United States, where there are different restrictions on freedom of expression, and therefore they cannot block them or determine the identity of (and subsequently prosecute) their owners and operators. Even the legal system of the United States recognises the option of prosecuting people if the texts they publish take the form of immediately executable threats of injury or death. Rather than a conflict between legal systems, the key matter is how to set up cooperation between Czech law enforcement and its American counterpart. Another question that remains is the prosecution of people who post articles and information on websites in the Czech Republic and actively take part in discussions in some chat rooms or forums, as these people are certainly responsible for their own activity and it is just a matter of determining their identity.
III. Is it possible to protect the public space?
The only possible ways to really protect the public space is by obtaining an understanding of the tools and tactics that undemocratic groups use to grow and to increase the number of their supporters, and by actively promoting tolerance and democracy. At present most towns confronted with demonstrations by extreme right subjects have ended up in the position of responder. They are effectively one step behind the Neo-Nazis who are bringing malice and violence into the towns. A united and respectful community would serve as a sufficient barrier to attacks on coexistence.
The tools that can be applied to strengthen local communities include things like public debates, concerts, meetings, and even participation in finding solutions to problems together.
Does it make sense to organise public debates on the theme of racism, xenophobia, and the extreme right?
The answer should be a clear yes. Only an educated, informed society engaging in discussion is able to create adequate mechanisms to prevent the subjects that spread intolerance, racism and violence from filtering through the public space. If the tactics of interruption and intimidation applied by the extreme right result in the cancellation of all public discussion of racism, xenophobia, and the extreme right, then the Neo-Nazis will have achieved their goal of gaining control over the public space and eliminating the democratic opposition, making the path to winning new supporters or eventually voters easier for them.
The question remains of how to organise the public debate
The presence of Neo-Nazis in public debates can never be ruled out for certain. But at the same time, the public debate on racism, intolerance, or the extreme right should never take place as a debate between Neo-Nazis and speakers or the public. This concept of debate positions Neo-Nazis – people who believe in the basic inequality of people, promote the elimination of some groups of inhabitants from the public life of society, and choose violence as their tool – on the same level as the others in the discussion. The public in no way alters the debate by refusing to talk to people who clearly are not partners in a discussion. Debating with Neo-Nazis produces no new ideas; it only gives the supporters of the extreme right a chance to promote their propaganda and demagogy. (The quality of the discussion with representatives of the new wave of National Socialism can be compared to the quality of the discussion with someone who obstinately insists that the world is flat.).
When setting up and leading public debates it is necessary to respect the right of the speakers and the public to their personal safety (before and after the debate) and to a calm course of discussion. As the confidence of the extreme right, including its Neo-Nazi militant core, grows, it is increasingly dangerous to associate oneself with the efforts to uncover what lies behind the goals and direction of the extreme right movement, or to become actively involved in an open discussion. Protecting public debate can be done, for example, with the assistance of organisational services and by informing the police that the debate is being organised. When leading a debate, basic rules need to be established, and those who do not respect them should be excluded from the debate or the debate should be terminated. The basic rules should include not taking audiovisual or photographic documentation without the agreement of the organisers, respecting the legal code of the Czech Republic including restrictions on the verbal expressions of the speakers, and adhering to the basic rules of discussion (not interrupting when someone is speaking, not repeating the same themes, etc.).
One of the essential conditions for a successful debate is a good moderator, well versed in the topic of debate and prepared for the possible presence of Neo-Nazis. The moderator’s goal should be to lead a productive discussion in a direction that enriches all the speakers, and not to allow the debate to serve as an opportunity for the extreme right to give populist presentation of their opinions.
Another significant issue is the composition of the public. A debate in a big city should be organised in a different way to one in a village or small town. It is always necessarily to carefully weigh the pros and cons of the debate.
The media and the public space
The media are a powerful tool in the hands of Neo-Nazis. Alongside creating their own media, mainly electronic media in the Czech Republic, it is not unusual in Germany for them to have their own publishing houses. In the Czech Republic, representatives of the extreme right successfully manipulate the mainstream media, and thus get themselves onto the front pages of the top Czech daily newspapers.
Both sides undoubtedly have a hand in this situation. While the extreme right’s efforts to get into the media are entirely understandable, the media’s acceptance of people promoting the ideas of National Socialism as legitimate sources of information must simply be regarded as their underestimation of how the extreme right abuses the media, or even as a sign of their active support of the extreme right’s ideas (this applies especially in the case of regional dailies).
In the past year an interview with a top representative of the militant National Resistance has been posted on websites of the Czech media. In it the representative, without any subsequent reflection from the reporter, describes himself as a pacifist, defends Holocaust deniers, and compares Barrack Obama to Adolf Hitler.
The unedited broadcast of the trial to disband the Workers’ Party also served as a free election campaign, and it gave the chair of the party the opportunity to tell the entire nation in detail about the substance of National Socialism and the aims of his political group.
Without giving it any thought, the media took the rhetoric of the Neo-Nazis and some right-wing populists and spread the usage of the term ‘unadaptable’ citizen, which is used as a synonym for people of Roma origin living in socially excluded localities.
The media, including public television, attempted to invite representatives of the extreme right, Roma, and anti-racist activists to the same table. The station failed to grasp that it is impossible to debate with Neo-Nazis without giving public space to their demagogy. This is not a game that people defending the equality, dignity and human rights of all the inhabitants of the Czech Republic should be willing to play.
Archiv občanského sdružení Tolerance a občanská společnost
Archiv občanského sdružení In IUSTITIA
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