PRAGUE, June 3 (JTA) — A right-wing extremist group is taking Czech President Vaclav Havel to court for accepting an ice hockey shirt bearing the number 18 — which in neo-Nazi code represents the initials of Adolf Hitler.
The Prague Jewish Community views the lawsuit as part of a counter attack against its recent announcement that more action should be taken against Czech neo-Nazism.
The World Cup champion Czech hockey team gave the shirt to President Havel upon its return from the finals in May.
In a bizarre turn of events, the shirt is proving controversial after the right-wing National Social Bloc lodged a complaint with the state attorney’s office in north Prague on May 30.
Among far-right groups, the number 18 is shorthand for Adolf Hitler — with extremiststs using a numbering system under which 1 represents A and 8 represents H, the eighth letter of the alphabet.
Jan Kopal, chairman of the NSB, claimed that “by taking Havel to court we hope to inform the public that this is a suppression of human rights. While right-wing groups using this number are charged for fascism and racial hatred, Havel receives the shirt with this number and nothing happens.”
Kopal admitted, however, that he does not think Havel will be asked to take the stand.
Presidential spokesman Ladislav Spacek described the case as “absolutely ridiculous, there’s absolutely no sense in it, and it’s just plain stupidity.”
Tomas Jelinek, chairman of the Prague Jewish Community, said the case is laughable, but added, “with this they are reacting against the Jewish community. After we put the problem of neo-Nazism in the media spotlight, the NSB is now on the counter attack and trying to use the media with their lawsuits against Havel and against us.”
The NSB also lodged a complaint at the state attorney’s office against the Jewish community for its statements that Czech authorities are not doing enough to fight the rise of neo-Nazism and that public apathy is fostering right- wing excess.
The Jewish community seeks a public hearing in parliament to discuss the issue. NSB, meanwhile, says the Jewish proclamation “incites racial and nationality intolerance.”
The Czech Interior Ministry recently refused to register the NSB as a party name. The party formerly was known as the Patriotic Republican Front, but ministry officials say its proposed new name — which has the same initials as a Dutch Nazi party — is “a latent adhesion to the fascist ideology.”