PRAGUE (Jan. 31)
They look like average neighborhood kids, but their message is not so benign: Nazis rule.
Already struggling to cope with a growing problem of adult neo-Nazi activities, the Czech Republic is facing a new generation of young people who are turning to Nazi ideology, according to one of the county’s leading experts in the field.
Zdenek Zboril, a scholar at Prague’s Charles University whose opinion on neo-Nazi activities is regularly sought in hate-crimes court cases, says there is evidence that teen-agers are increasingly joining the extremist camp.
His comments are timely. Earlier in January police said they had charged two 16-year-old boys with race hate crimes after seizing a videotape showing as many as seven youths, aged 14 to 16, damaging more than 50 gravestones at a Jewish cemetery in a Prague suburb. The damage has been estimated at $6,000.
Five others allegedly involved in the incident have not been charged because they were under the legal age limit of 16 for hate crimes. The heaviest punishment facing the two charged youths is one and a half years in prison.
The video, allegedly shot by the perpetrators themselves last fall, shows teenagers giving Nazi salutes and chanting Nazi slogans, including “Death to the Jews” and “Sieg Heil.”
Czech Jewish representatives also have expressed concern following the videotaped desecration of a Jewish cemetery in Prague.
“I don’t want to exaggerate the situation,” said Tomas Kraus, executive director of the Czech Federation of Jewish Communities, “but at the same time we have to be concerned. This incident was a symbol that something is wrong with the whole society here. Anti-Semitism is not only the problem of Jews, but of Czech society.”
Zboril said he was not surprised to learn of the case.
“I was asked by the courts for my opinion on about 60 cases involving neo-Nazi activities last year, and there were probably five incidents involving young people and Jewish cemeteries,” he said.
“Most of these young people are not Nazis as such because they know very little about the Holocaust or about Hitler,” Zboril said. “They are simply looking to be accepted by older skinheads.”
According to Zboril, many of the kids identify with rank-and-file SS officers, rather than Nazi leaders, largely because of their uniforms.
Zboril said there was evidence that more and more young girls are getting involved in neo-Nazi activities.
“I don’t know exactly why this is the case, but some of them are girlfriends of skinheads, and possibly they feel excited by the Nazi skinhead scene,” he added.
In his work, Zboril said, he has found that most youngsters involved in the neo-Nazi cause are disillusioned with home life, school and politicians.
Zboril’s comments will worry officials at the Czech Interior Ministry who last year launched a very public campaign against neo-Nazi activities following a series of rock concerts, organized by far-right groups, which featured bands with names like “Death to the Jews.”