VILNIUS, Lithuania, Aug. 24 (JTA) — A debate is growing here over whether the Lithuanian government should crack down on neo-Nazi and nationalist groups. Lithuania’s justice minister, Vytautas Pakalinskis, downplays the significance of the groups, saying they are “still in an embryonic stage and are therefore not subject to criminal prosecution yet.” But Simonas Alperavicius, the leader of the country’s 5,000-member Jewish community, disagrees with the government’s stand. While acknowledging that “more attention is being paid by the state to Jewish problems,” he believes that the government should be dealing with these right-wing groups. “These young people have a very limited influence, but there is the threat that they will gain wider popularity,” said Alperavicius. A group representing Lithuanian minorities has recently been attempting to draw attention to the ever-growing popularity of right- wing groups. The Lithuanian Ethnic Minorities Council recently sent a letter to several security officials asking them to investigate organizations that propagate anti-Semitic, racist or xenophobic views. According to Pavel Lavrinec, a representative of the country’s Russian minority and head of the council, many of the groups openly advocate violence toward minorities. Lavrinec fears that the groups may soon move beyond their rhetoric to acts of violence. He said that although these groups are relatively small, they must be shown that their attitudes are not acceptable. Various minority groups represent about 20 percent of the former Soviet republic’s 3.75 million population. Ethnic Russians and Poles together comprise about 15 percent of the nation’s population. At the beginning of August, a group calling itself the Lithuanian National Socialists — a clear reference to Hitler’s Nazis — held a news conference that generated front-page news in all of Lithuania’s major newspapers. Mindaugas Murza, the leader of the neo-Nazi group, vowed at the news conference to take his organization’s activities underground if the government launched a crackdown. But the director of the State Security Department, Jurgis Jurgelis, dismissed the threat. Instead, Jurgelis chided newspapers for “turning the spotlight” on people such as Murza, whom he described as publicity hungry. The National Socialists, which has about 100 members, emerged a year ago in the northern Lithuanian city of Siauliai. In recent months, they have been increasingly propagating their anti-Semitic, anti-Polish and anti-Russian views, repeatedly promising “to clean Lithuania” of its minorities. Earlier this month, some 70 young soccer fans chanted Nazi slogans during a game here between a local team and the Israeli squad Hapoel Beersheba. The fans, including a group of skinheads, chanted in German “Jews Out” and “Sieg Heil.” They also hung a big banner with the word “Hezbollah” on it. Police and military officials intervened to stop the chants and have the sign taken down. Police arrested five neo-Nazis after the game ended.