Government declares war on neo-Nazis, but rights groups say answer is tolerance

The Czech Interior Ministry is rumoured to be on the verge of banning the far-right Patriotic Republican Party, part of an ongoing campaign to crack down on the Czech ultra-right. Czech Interior Minister Stanislav Gross says he's deeply concerned at attempts by neo-Nazi skinhead groups to muscle their way into mainstream politics, using the tried-and-tested method of masquerading as 'patriotic' political parties. But some say banning far-right parties is counter-productive; the best way to defeat the far-right, they say, is to encourage greater tolerance in society. Rob Cameron begins this report into far-right extremism and intolerance in Czech society:

The Patriotic Republican Party, or VRS, was born out of the ashes of Miroslav Sladek's far-right Republican Party, which was all but destroyed in the 1998 general elections. The VRS says it has nothing in common with Sladek's party, which is now a spent force following the withdrawal of state funding and the launch of several police investigations.

Experts say members of disparate far-right groups are now converging around the VRS, which boasts a similar platform of patriotic and nationalist ideas. The government is particularly worried about the party's close ties with neo-Nazi skinhead groups, responsible for dozens of violent, sometimes fatal attacks on foreigners and members of the Roma minority.

The VRS shared a ticket with the National Alliance at the recent regional elections. The Alliance was banned by Mr Gross's predecessor at the Interior Ministry, Vaclav Grulich. Now Mr Gross is exploring the possibility of banning the Patriotic Republican Party as well. But not everyone believes repression alone will work. Vaclav Trojan is a member of the Helsinki Citizens' Assembly: