Czech Republic: No mercy for neo-Nazis
28 October 2010
A minimum of 22 years in prison for burning down a Roma family home… Respekt argues that the sentence meted out to four Czech arsonists will set an example in the national and European-wide drive to combat the extreme right.
When the revolution began in 1989, we knew that the transition from communism to democracy would be full of surprises. But who would have thought that 20 years later, the this country would still be marked by ongoing change? For proof that this is the case, look no further than the trial of the neo-Nazis, otherwise somewhat euphemistically known as the “Vítkov arsonists.”
Few would complain about the verdict against the four defendants. The court was firm and fair. In Western countries, when a group of neo-Nazis decide to celebrate Adolf Hitler’s birthday with a minutely planned petrol-bomb attack on a Roma family home, they can expect a tough sentence from the courts, which take a very dim view of racism and attempted murder, especially when some of the victims are defenceless children who represent no threat whatsoever. The fact that this view is shared by the Czech judiciary is very reassuring. In meting out sentences of 22 years to three of the neo-Nazis, and 20 years to the fourth member of the group, the Czech state has made it clear that there will be zero tolerance for this kind of crime. And that is the main point.
It is also worth wondering what impact the judgement will have on the Czech neo-Nazi movement. The Czech Republic has yet to encounter a problem with neo-Nazi sympathisers in the police force – a phenomenon, which in some European countries and in particular in Germany, has resulted in indulgent treatment for members of extreme-right movements.
President of the Republic unaffected by change...
At the same time, the Czech state has been quick to adopt a political hard line: to wit, the ban that was rightfully imposed on the Workers’ Party, which has links with the neo-Nazi movement. However, although the punishment meted out to the Vítkov racists will certainly constitute a deterrent to those who wish to commit such crimes, there is also a possibility that it could contribute to the formation of a hardcore neo-Nazi movement in the Czech Republic – a country where we have yet to see extreme-right groups on a scale that they have attained in some Western countries.
In any case, the Vítkov affair is not the only example of the new drive to combat unashamedly racist initiatives in the Czech Republic. When in the course of her campaign for election to the senate, Liana Janáčková announced “Yes, I am racist and I won’t have gypsies setting up camps anywhere in my neighbourhood,” she was unanimously condemned by all of the country’s political parties, both left and right – yet another illustration of this positive trend.
However, it is a trend that has yet to reach the President of the Republic, who remarked that the 20-year prison sentences for the perpetrators of a premeditated racist crime that resulted in the mutilation of a little Roma girl were unexpectedly high. On the same day, Vacláv Klaus also inveighed against the axing of a number of aviation routes and the government’s plan to tax solar power stations... When he is in thrall to his enduring sense of outrage, even a president can make a mistake.