The far-right extremist movement
The Prague metro - this is where I would most probably have become just another statistic if I - trapped with four neo-Nazis - hadn't escaped a split second before the doors of the wagon closed. In the Czech Republic people of mixed race like myself - I'm half Ghanaian - and foreigners of different ethnic backgrounds are always wary of our surroundings. But surprisingly, the police and anti-extremist NGOs say there is no need for our heightened attention. With only a few exceptions, foreigners are relatively safe from far-right extremists.
"The situation in the Czech Republic is not as bad as it used to be. For example last year, there were only 15 physical attacks caused by neo-Nazis."
Klara Kalibova is a devoted anti-extremism activist from the organisation Tolerance. Compared to ten years ago, she says, the country has come a long way in fighting far-right extremism:
"In the beginning of the 1990s there was a strong tolerance of anything including hate crimes. There were attacks against the Roma and the Vietnamese in the streets every day and the police did nothing. The breaking point was in 1993 when a young boy called Filip Wenclik was killed because he was a punk. Then the Movement of Civic Solidarity and Tolerance was founded. Its members focused on racially motivated crimes and the situation in the Czech Republic slowly got better and better."
The Interior Ministry's Petr Vorlicek explains how the movement works here:
"The neo-Nazi movement is connected to a wider European movement through Narodni Odpor - the National Resistance organisation here. In 2006, we noticed a trend in which the idea of National Socialism - as embraced in Nazi Germany - was widely promoted here. The National Resistance spreads its ideology with the help of fliers and posters that are distributed via the internet. During protest marches, they hold speeches and wave banners and flags as they chant extremist slogans. At cultural activities, they hold concerts with white power music and propagate activities that are often illegal and even violent."
Neo-Nazi concerts are banned in Prague but are still held in most other parts around the country. Last year, there were 18 of them. Other monitored neo-Nazi activities in 2006 included 30 demonstrations, six seminars, and paintball and football games. With numerous NGOs monitoring them, it is hard for them to keep their activities secret. Anti-extremism activist Klara Kalibova:
"I would say that the neo-Nazi movement doesn't have one single goal. It's not a strong movement here and it has various groups. One part of the movement wants to organise concerts and make white power music, which is music with racist texts. The other part of the right-wing movement would like to enter politics but they are not successful yet. And, the third part focuses on violence and hate crimes."
Klara Kalibova stresses that it is entirely thanks to the efforts of NGOs and anti-fascists that the neo-Nazi movement is kept in check. While the police in Prague are doing their best, those in rural areas are doing little to clamp down on extremist groups, she says. But Petr Vorlicek points out that there is a network of specialists covering the entire country:
"The Police of the Czech Republic have specialists on extremism in local, district, and regional offices. So, there is a network of specialists that covers the entire country, totalling some 140 police officers. The counter terrorist and extremist unit of the organised crime department is the main controlling body. It collects and verifies information about people, groups, criminal acts, and so on that involve organised extremism, their contacts abroad and use of modern technology. It then uses the information to evaluate the movement's development and determine potential security risks."
Liu Xu is from China and has been living in Prague for about eight years now. She confirms that life as a foreigner is less dangerous today than when she moved here. But despite this, every foreigner she knows has had his or her unpleasant encounter with skinheads:
"I have not had that many experiences with skinheads but my colleagues have. Three or four years ago, one of them was walking out of the Mustek metro station when a skinhead, who was around 25 years old, started to beat him up. There were people around them but they didn't know what to do and didn't help.
Another woman, who was around forty years old, was standing in front of the main gate of her home at around nine o'clock in the evening. She was looking for her keys when two young boys came to her and hit her in the face. They broke her nose and because she wore glasses, some parts of her face were cut. The police found them and one of them was very young. He was less than 18 years old and the other one was around 20 years."
And you yourself have not had any encounters?
"My experiences weren't that terrible. A few months ago, I was walking along Wenceslas Square. There was a small group of around ten people who were shouting something but I didn't know what exactly they were shouting about. They didn't look very friendly so I turned off Wenceslas Square in the direction of the main post office. They followed me and I was really scared. So I walked until I found the entrance to the post office. I jumped in and was relieved."