Czech neo-Nazis to march through Prague's Jewish quarter

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It may sound hard to believe, but a Czech neo-Nazi group has acquired a permit to hold a march through Prague's historic Jewish quarter. What's really incredible is the date the far-right group's demonstration is set to take place: the anniversary of the notorious Nazi pogrom known as Kristallnacht. And to cap it all, the Prague Town Hall seems to have no legal means of stopping the march.

The neo-Nazi movement Hnuti odporu (National Resistance) officially applied for permission to hold a "protest against the Czech Republic's participation in the occupation of Iraq". But the location of the march is Prague's Jewish quarter, and the date is November 10, the anniversary of Kristallnacht, when the Nazis killed dozens of Jews and deported thousands of them to concentration camps. That is no coincidence, say most observers, who believe the official reason given by the far-right group is only a pretext. Tomas Kraus of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Czech Republic has no doubts.

Tomas Kraus
"Of course it is an excuse and everybody knows this. It's a public knowledge. What is the indication is the route of the march. Of course anyone can demonstrate anything. This is democracy. But why exactly on this date and on a route that goes through the Jewish quarter? This is obviously a provocation."

Officials at Prague Town Hall agree, but say there is no way to stop the gathering in advance. Last year, the Town Hall banned a similar march, organized on the occasion of the anniversary of the Nuremberg trials, on the grounds that it could "disturb public traffic and health". However, the organisers challenged the decision in court; it accepted the complaint, saying that such explanation was too general.

Spokesman Jiri Wolf explains the Town Hall's predicament.

"From the time of its announcement we have only three days to ban it legally. It is a very short time for us to get any expert advice. So there is a flaw in the legal system - it doesn't provide time enough to solve the situation and find the right solution. Those who announced the march did it in an official way. And even though we had doubts from the very beginning, we had to comply with the court decision from March of this year."

So far it seems the only way to stop the event is right on the spot, once the officials have any evidence that a law has been violated. However, Prague's mayor Pavel Bem announced on Tuesday he will do all he can to stop the march before it actually takes place. Jiri Wolf says they are now trying to find arguments against it and they are ready to ban the gathering even if it means breaking the law:

"If we have specific evidence that the event is illegal, and if we stop it before it actually starts, we'll probably break the law by violating the limit of three days. But if we find the evidence, we will quite probably ban it."

In case the Town Hall doesn't succeed, Tomas Kraus of the federation of Jewish Communities is confident people will prevent the march from taking place by staging a counter-demonstration.

"Actually we are in a situation that we ourselves don't have to organize it by ourselves alone. In the Czech society there are many groups and civic societies that are prepared to help us or to be in the same line with us. Even if it's not ourselves, there will be definitely a counter-demonstration."