Europe, Headlines, Human Rights

SLOVAKIA: Right-Wing Extremists Gain Ground

Zoltán Dujisin

BUDAPEST, Jun 14 2007 (IPS) - Right-wing extremism is on the rise in Slovakia. Activists complain not enough is being done, while from Europe fingers are pointed at the left-wing government’s controversial alliance with extreme-right nationalists.

Throughout the last year several racial incidents have been witnessed in this relatively homogenous five-million strong nation where the mere bearing of extremist symbols is considered a crime.

One of the most visible cases came in early March when a group of neo-Nazis attacked a group of Spanish and Mexican students, who afterwards said this was not their first violent encounter with xenophobia.

A few days later a 30-year old Nigerian man claimed he was attacked by men calling him “negro”, and when seeking help from the police was told he should “shut up” as he was “not in Africa.”

Slovak police registered 188 racially motivated attacks in 2006, 67 more than in 2005, but there are suspicions these numbers might be low as many of the victims simply do not report to the police.

Daniel Milo, head of the People Against Racism association in Bratislava, says that even though “these were well documented and publicised attacks, similar attacks on other groups are quite widespread and on the increase.”

The main targets of Slovak xenophobia remain the Roma minority, who represent between 2 and 5 percent of the country’s population. “They are the group most discriminated against, and the attitude of the majority is mostly negative against them,” Milo told IPS.

Even though most prejudiced Slovaks do not agree with violent action, the activist says his organisation is “in contact with policemen and victims; and according to our knowledge since the beginning of the summer there is increased activity by right-wing extremists.”

The Interior Ministry claims to be acting resolutely by monitoring the extremist groups at concerts, soccer matches and protest marches. Government officials have also announced a bill on the fight against extremism and terrorism will be soon completed.

Officials have recognised that far-right extremists have grown in sophistication, developing links to the underworld, and becoming “more radical while trying to expand their member base,” police spokesman Martin Korch told the press.

The extremists, who often make profit through the organisation of concerts, selling music merchandise and clothing from far-right brands, “are often in groups of organised crime which consist mostly of former neo-Nazis,” Milo told IPS. “Sometimes it can be very difficult to differentiate them.”

But the government has so far only paid lip-service to the fight against extremism. “It is only mentioned in government declarations, but so far there was no single step taken. There is no real response, no methodology, no pro-active approach by the police, and there is even a decrease of police preventive action against them,” the activist said.

Most Slovaks remain indifferent to the recent incidents as the majority of the population is content with the economic situation and the performance of Prime Minister Robert Fico and his Smer (Direction) Party.

Right behind the Prime Minister, Jan Slota, leader of the nationalist Slovak National Party (SNS), is according to polls the second most trustworthy politician in the country. His party is gaining support, with surveys giving it 13 percent of vote intentions.

What worries foreign observers is that with his party’s inclusion in Fico’s government, Slota has become a figure who publicly legitimises xenophobic attitudes with his frequent statements against minorities.

This view precipitated the suspension of Smer from the Party of European Socialists last fall, but the decision will be reconsidered in October.

It is estimated that two-thirds of Slovaks find the presence of foreigners in the country overall negative for society, and in spite of having few immigrants, most Slovaks feel there should be even less.

The negative trend is unlikely to improve: Slovak schoolchildren, following their parents’ example, show the same tendencies in harbouring prejudices towards Gypsies, Hungarians, refugees and the homeless according to a survey published in May by the League for Mental Health.

The survey also pointed to schoolchildren growing more aggressive towards these minorities.

Slovak xenophobia has been on the rise since the collapse of state socialism in 1989 and the country’s independence from the former Czechoslovakia in 1993. With it came the resurgence of intolerant ethnic nationalism which prevails in Central and Eastern Europe.

Republish | | Print |

Related Tags