Interior Ministry warns of rising threat of extremism to democracy in Czechia

The anti-government demonstration

The Interior Ministry’s latest report on the manifestations of extremism in Czechia warns of groups of people who have the potential to threaten the democratic foundations of the Czech Republic. According to the report, the potential is already there, but could increase even further.

Miroslav Mareš, a political scientist at Brno’s Masaryk University whose research focuses on political extremism, terrorism and security policy in Central Europe, thinks there are two main messages contained in the report.

Miroslav Mareš | Photo: Archive of Miroslav Mareš

“One, which may be the most important, is the fact that, in this country, there is a mass of people without a strong ideological background or they are from very different groups, who are dissatisfied with the political system, and they can be radicalised towards extremist views or they already have them, and they are now maybe ready for some radical action.

“The second message is that there are also online communities of neo-Nazis, and they are now ready for lone-wolf terrorist activity, similar to the attack [on the gay club] in Bratislava last year.”

This first group, the report says, is strongly influenced by various conspiracy theories, often containing xenophobic and strongly nationalistic views, which offer them an alternative to the pro-Western approach to foreign policy that the government has been taking. What is interesting about this group, says Mareš, is that they are not an ideologically homogenous grouping, but rather come from a range of political orientations, from orthodox Communists to far-right extremists.

“There are some who are strongly ideologically rooted – we can see orthodox Communists among them, we can see some strong pro-Eurasianists or pro-Kremlin groupings within this stream, but we can also see people there who are not deeply ideologically rooted at all.”

Ladislav Vrabel | Photo: Kateřina Šulová,  ČTK

An example mentioned in the report is the group centring around Ladislav Vrábel, who organised an anti-government demonstration last September which drew around 70 000 protestors. But the people who come out to protest may be only the tip of the iceberg, with many more people operating in the online space, says Mareš.

“If we look at the number of participants at demonstrations in Prague and other cities last year, we can see that maybe around 100 000 people are ready for activities in the public sphere. However, I think that this group can maybe count around 500 000 – 1 000 000 people altogether.”

If this estimation is correct, then this group of dissatisfied citizens encompasses around 5 – 10% of the Czech population, making them a not insignificant political force in the country. So far acts of violence have been fairly limited, but there is a strong potential for this to change, with people being radicalised online, says Mareš.

The anti-government demonstration | Photo: Kateřina Šulová,  ČTK

“What is the danger is that both of these groups could become more violent in the future, and I think this is the reason why we are seeing this warning from the Ministry of the Interior now.”

Right now, the threat to Czechia from terrorism is still rated as level one, on the scale which starts at level zero and ends at level three. But, says the ministry, the current warning signs – such as the case of a 17-year-old Czech who was preparing to carry out a bomb attack on the US, Israeli and Chinese embassies in Prague – must not be ignored.