Analyst: Ignorance, crisis of values explains Czech soldiers with SS symbols

A member of the armed forces faces a dishonourable discharge and a possible criminal prosecution after colleagues noticed an SS tattoo on his back. The news comes after Defence Minister Martin Barták ordered a crackdown on neo-Nazi sympathisers in the Czech armed forces in the New Year.

The Czech authorities were spurred into action in late December after it emerged that two members of a Czech unit serving in Afghanistan wore SS symbols on their helmets. They were immediately discharged from the army and their commanders suspended. The latest offender, a driver based at a barracks in Strakonice in South Bohemia, faces a similar fate.

The story only came to light during swimming practice, when the soldier – who’s served in the army for ten years – stripped down to his swimming trunks, revealing the words 'Meine Ehre Heißt Treue' in gothic letters tattooed on his back. The phrase, meaning ‘my honour is loyalty’, was the motto of the Waffen SS. The man also wore a ring with a swastika attached to a chain round his neck. Defence Ministry spokeswoman Jana Růžičková had this to say to Nova television:

“At present we’re working on a proposal to strip him of rank, which in practical terms would mean his immediate discharge from the army with no recourse to compensation.”

So why would young Czech men serving in their country’s armed forces glorify the very same foreign power that brutally subjugated their own nation 70 years ago? Zdeněk Zbořil is an expert in far-right extremism.

“It’s impossible to say they have a low intellect. They have a relatively high intellect, but they are completely disorientated in values. It’s a problem. The people who were involved in these many incidents have been both soldiers at the lowest level and also officers. These people in Afghanistan who had the SS symbols on their helmets were officers.”

Zdeněk Zbořil
Which is extraordinary, because they must know the history of this country. They must know that after the Jews and the gypsies, Hitler wanted to exterminate the Slavs as well?

“Yes, I’m afraid they don’t know the history of our country. I teach at three private universities, and what surprised me so much is the lack of knowledge of the history of Czechoslovakia and Central Europe. If I ask my students about the history of Germany they don’t know anything.”

Zdeněk Zbořil does not believe neo-Nazi extremism is rife in the Czech armed forces. He also believes it should be up to the commanding officers – and not politicians or the Defence Ministry – to monitor their troops for neo-Nazi sympathies, and take the appropriate action.