A neo-Nazi rock concert has prompted officials to vow a crackdown on extremist groups using the Czech Republic as a safe haven.
Interior Minister Stanislav Gross said the fight against far-right activities now is a “top priority” following a weekend concert near Prague attended by 400 extremists, many of them foreigners who entered the country legally.
Among the groups playing on stage was the Slovak band Juden Mord – or “Death to the Jews” – whose first album cover features an image of the gates of the Auschwitz death camp.
Gross’ vow came after a hastily arranged meeting with top police officials, who have come under fire for failing to take action against organizers of similar concerts staged on Czech soil as often as twice a month.
President Vaclav Havel joined the fray Wednesday, saying he hoped the police role would be “properly examined.”
Police maintained a strong presence at the latest concert but made no arrests. A spokeswoman said police had not intervened because the event was a “private party.”
That inaction angered anti-fascist organizations and Jewish community representatives.
“The police said they could take no action because they had no legal right to do so,” said Tomas Jelinek, vice chairman of the Prague Jewish Community. “But when you have a band called ‘Juden Mord,’ what more do they need?”
The Czech Federation of Jewish Communities also condemned the police response.
The group’s president, Jan Munk, said in an open letter to Gross, the interior minister: “The presence of several known extremists and the visible symbols and speeches of a Nazi character, which could be seen by a television audience, all took place in the face of passive police assistance.”
In addition, he noted, the name Juden Mord “is in our opinion so self- explanatory that to have allowed the concert to take place cannot be considered anything other than indirect support of anti-Semitism.”
The letter added to the pressure on the interior minister.
Gross, who earlier in the week floated the idea of a special state commission to monitor extremist groups, said officials had “run out of patience” with such events.
“We intend to take several steps, but I don’t want to indicate to extremist groups what these are,” he said.
Police chief Jiri Kolar told journalists that there was a “growing tendency” for extremists to stage concerts in the Czech Republic.
“The problem is not the ability of the police to act. It is a legal problem,” he said, referring to a lack of coordination among police, prosecutors and the courts.
Many believe action is long overdue.
Petr Horak, a spokesman for the anti-racist group HOST, told JTA that the Czech Republic is seen as a perfect location for neo-Nazi groups, partly because authorities have done little to deter them.
“The police have allowed such concerts to take place in the past, when they really should have arrested the organizers,” he said.
Horak argued that police inaction may also be partially due to some officers’ sympathy with the skinheads and fascist groups.
The Interior Minister’s idea of a special commission has drawn a lukewarm response.
Jelinek said he couldn’t understand why a commission is needed.
“A commission is something you set up when you don’t have any ideas,” he said.
Others urged caution.
Jan Fabry, a special government advisor on extremist groups, warned against hasty action.
“I feel it is not important for the moment to act in a hasty manner,” he said. “It is better to establish within the government one organization which can act when it is necessary in a coordinated manner, but it is going to take some time.”
Some people feel time is a luxury the country can ill afford.
“These concerts in the Czech Republic are not just about music,” Horak said. “The neo-Nazis and others use them for fund raising and planning street attacks. Something must be done now.”
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.