November 17, 2008, Neo-Nazi demonstration

The memorial day is a symbol of two events: Nazi violence and repression against students in 1939 and the Velvet Revolution, the second usually getting more attention than the first.
November 17, 1989, saw a crucial demonstration. A large group of students was cruelly beaten by security forces, an act which appalled the public. Not only because the crackdown was unprovoked, also as the protesters were sealed off by the police, given no chance to escape.

The following events are quite familiar. Every year politicians and various demonstrators gather in Prague and elsewhere. Apart from the official act, this year we see an anti- radar base demonstration and a demonstration for some corrections of the Czech political scene: notably decrease in the influence of lobbyists, an end to the MPs’ legal immunity and some other points. There are also some smaller actions taking place around the November 17. Last week it was a series of documentaries and debates, depicting the economic transformation and emergence of today’s political situation mostly in dark colors. The event was co- organized by the same organizations that participate on the mention demo for corrections in the Czech political system.

The day also attracts extremists, mainly nationalists, who like to point out that the post- 1989 development brought a loss in power of the nation. Our elites betrayed us, they say, as they opened door to the multi-culturalist tidal wave of dirty foreigners and their integration, which will soon make us perish. Of course it’s rubbish, but it also shows an aspect of the memorial day. Most people associate it with hope, mainly former hope, and often with unfulfilled expectations. In a way it is a bitter celebration.

This time tensions were unusually high. Neo-Nazis (they prefer to be called “nationalists”) staged a demonstration in Litvínov, where they gathered to siege the local Roma ghetto of Janov. Usually these actions have been covered or whitewashed by some neutral cause: a demonstration against drugs or crime. There were no pretensions this time: the neo-Nazis were quite clearly going for a battle. The police prevented a confrontation between the two groups, for a price of a violent crackdown. The Czech news networks have shown images of confiscated material: knives, axes, machetes. The neo- Nazis, and some of the Roma, weren’t preparing for a fist fight, they were lethally armed.

We know there is an extreme right movement, bands of bloodthirsty primitives actually, but there is another alarming point. There was some support of the local people, who claim the municipality is deaf to their complaints about the behavior of the Janov Roma. They may not have racist beliefs, rather they were failed by their local administration. As a ghetto, Janov is said to be isolated, dirty and dangerous, its inhabitants mostly unemployed and often criminal. Noise, waste and petty crime are spreading beyond its boundaries, infuriating the locals who live nearby. It’s the municipality’s job to do something about it. But it’s a lot of work. It’s well known that of all the answers to the Roma questions, ghetto is the worst: there the nihilism, neglect and crime can spread freely, its inhabitants deprived of any chance of breaking out. Among the public, unconcerned with ideologies, racism is not the cause of their anger. It’s the other way around: ignored problems and socio- ethnic tensions are a breeding ground for racism.

Cities, regions and the state must do all to solve these problems before they evolve. The date is supposed to celebrate revolt against aggressive ideologies, both Nazi and Communist. We don’t want to see the next year’s 20th Anniversary shattered by an anti-Roma pogrom.

© 2008 |