Czech extremists swap traditional topics for migrant issue

Photo: Venca24, CC BY 4.0

In its annual report on extremism in the Czech Republic in 2015, the Interior Ministry reports on a slight rise in activities both left and right and a shift from traditional topics to the migrant issue which invariably commands public attention. I asked extremism expert Miroslav Mareš, from Brno’s Masaryk University, to what degree the migrant crisis has affected the activities of extremist groupings and movements.

Photo: Venca24, CC BY 4.0
“Of course, we can observe the effect of the migrant crisis, we can observe a rise in anti-migrant movements and organizations on the one hand and we can also see a left-wing mobilization against the so-called fascist tendencies in Czech society within the left-wing extremist spectrum.”

Has it changed them in character – these extremist groupings and parties?

“Yes, we can see a decline in the traditional neo-Nazi organizations and a growing tendency towards the establishment of a new modern, populist, anti-Islamist spectrum, of course with some militant off-shoots. We can also see a decline in anti-Roma activities, and growing anti-Islamic sentiments in the whole population and also a rise in this single-issue anti-Islamist movement.”

The extremist groupings have more or less all embraced the migrant issue –has it made them more dangerous? The anti-migrant sentiments among the public are quite high - has it made them more acceptable as a result?

“All the things that you mention can be seen as a problem and threat. However if I can identify the most important problem it is this growing hate in cyberspace and a step-by-step radicalization of individual actors and these actors could be possible perpetrators of violent activities –here I see the biggest problem of contemporary radicalization against migrants as well as against people from organizations that are perceived as pro-migrant organizations.”

When we look at left and right wing extremism, which is stronger and which is more of a danger at present?

Miroslav Mareš, photo: archive of Charles University
“From my point of view the higher potential for violence is on the far-right extremist scene. On the other hand, we can also see the existence of the so-called network of revolutionary cells, this is a left wing extremist militant organization and here I see the danger that at some point we could see a hidden militant organization with some terrorist tendencies operating in the country. Up till now they are focused on property or police cars or the Prague restaurant Řízkárna due to some problems with the owner, however what is dangerous is this capability to operate underground with such militant activities.”

Has the migrant crisis strengthened the position of extremists in the Czech Republic?

“If we compare it with the previous year, then it has. They are stronger, on the other hand this rising new extremist spectrum is very heterogeneous, they are divided into many organizations and co-organizations and they are not unified. Of course, they now have growing public support but they are splintered into many fractions and groups.”

Support for extremist parties and groupings is traditionally very low in this country. Do you ascribe this to the fact that many mainstream parties take quite strong stands on some of these issues. We have the Communist Party and all mainstream parties have been cautious with respect to the migrant issue….

“Yes, we can see that the established parties were able to incorporate this issue into their political agenda and maybe we can consider this trend as positive, because the political establishment is able to eliminate the influence of extremist parties.”

So – all in all –you do not consider extremist parties to be a serious threat in the Czech Republic? They are kept in check and are not a real danger?

Photo: archive of Radio Prague
“The political parties are not dangerous. From my point of view the biggest danger comes from the militant scene including possible lone-wolf militant activists. There lies the real danger. But in comparison with other Central European countries we do not have a strong extreme right wing party in Parliament; compared to Poland or Slovakia the situation with extreme right wing parties is not so problematic.”