How to deal with extremists?

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And now Radio Prague it's time for the latest edition of Talking Point, and today Nick Carey looks at the debate of how to handle the country's extremists.

The issue of extremism is one that all democratic countries have to face. In the Czech Republic, where throughout the four decades of communism the subject of the Holocaust was not taught, and is still, say many, insufficiently taught today, extremism, in particular right-wing extremism, is a highly sensitive topic. Whenever the spectre of right-wing extremism raises its head, there are articles aplenty in the papers, commentators appear on television with a variety of views, and a plethora of different approaches is suggested.

Two cases in particular over the past year have caught the media's attention. In the first, a Prague-based publishing house published a new Czech-language edition of Hitler's Mein Kampf without a foreword. This created an uproar, and the publisher received a three-year suspended prison sentence and a fine of two million Czech crowns, or some 53,000 US dollars for spreading fascist ideas. He maintained his innocence, saying that if people know what Hitler wrote, they will be able to see for themselves the destructive nature of his ideology.

The other case involved a course in political science at Prague's Charles University where representatives of extremist organisations were invited for debates with students. This was condemned by human rights activists as providing a public forum for racist and dangerous ideas. Those in charge of the course say that the debates gave the students the chance to experience first hand what these extremists are about.

This kicked off a debate in the Czech Republic as to what forum, if any, extremists should be allowed, and what action the authorities should take against them. In the case of the Charles University debates, commentator Tomas Pecina feels it is a mistake not to listen to what these extremists have to say: Commentator Vaclav Pinkava, on the other hand, is firmly against giving extremists this type of forum, as he feels it gives them further credibility in the eyes of their followers: While according to Vaclav Trojan of the Czech Helsinki Committee, holding debates with the better educated leaders of right-wing extremist groups will not and cannot give political studies students any insight into the minds of the rank-and-file members of these groups: Calls have been made by some human rights activists over the past year to ban demonstrations by extreme right-wing organisations. As it stands, some specific symbols, like the Swastika and the Nazi salute, are now illegal. But this, some say, plays into the hands of neo-Nazis, as it makes them more attractive to certain elements of society: The fact that extremism is part and parcel of any democratic society is one thing that most commentators agree on, but the hard part is agreeing on how far to go: How does the attitude of Czech society and the authorities to extremist and racist ideology compare to that of other countries? Human rights activists like Vaclav Trojan believe that Czech society is not sensitive enough and that it feels that neo-Nazism is a German problem more than a Czech one: While others point to the difference in approaches in some Western countries where extremism is either suppressed or more or less ignored, saying that suppression is counter-productive: If they cannot agree on how far the authorities should go in the fight against extremism, and to what extent freedom of speech should be encouraged, most commentators at least feel that education is the key, that the general public should be aware of neo-Nazi ideology and the historical consequences of allowing extremists to get out of hand: