PRAGUE, May 3 (JTA) — A decision to cancel seminars on political extremism that featured representatives of neo-Nazi organizations is creating controversy at the Czech Republic’s most prestigious university.
The decision by officials at Charles University in Prague followed a seminar for political science students attended by leading far-right figures — including one man accused by Prague Jewish officials of having been involved in an attack on the city’s Old-New Synagogue.
The dispute comes amid an apparent rise in hate crimes in the Czech Republic in recent years.
A dean at the college, Petr Kolar, took disciplinary measures against seminar organizer Zdenek Zboril, arguing that the university has no place for extremist views.
“There is no room for discussion with extremists,” Kolar said. “I am a great supporter of the study of extremism in this country, but we cannot do it by allowing extremists to express their views freely on academic ground.”
Zboril — who has studied extremist activity in the Czech Republic for several years, in the process amassing thousands of neo-Nazi items, including musical recordings — described the decision to halt the seminars as “very wrong.”
“I hate neo-Nazis, but it is simply not possible to ostracize them and kick them out of society. Efforts should be made to integrate them rather than ignore them,” he said.
The newly elected chairman of Prague’s Jewish community, Tomas Jelinek, offered qualified support for the seminars.
“I think it is possible to have an academic discussion with someone who has extremist ideas, but there was one participant at the seminar on neo-Nazi ideology who took part in an attack on the Old-New Synagogue. That kind of person is not acceptable,” he said.
Others have questioned the dean’s decision, including eight students who attended the course and a member of the university’s governing body. Criticism came also from an anti-fascist activist, Jakub Polak, who was present at the neo-Nazi seminar.
Describing the decision to stop the seminars as “silly,” Polak argued that a university forum is the right place to engage the far right in debate.
“This was an academic exercise, and it was very useful,” he said. “Speakers explained things like their ideology and how they are financed. The students are intelligent and very capable of looking at the issues without being influenced.”