No arrests as skinheads, anarchists show restraint on May Day
A column of some three hundred anarchists and radical socialists marched past Prague's Namesti Miru square on Tuesday, a stone's throw away from a group of about 150 far-right skinheads. The two groups exchanged menacing glances but nothing more - standing in between them was a double cordon of riot police, sweating profusely in body armour and helmets. That was about as close as it came on Tuesday to a major confrontation, unlike previous May Days when anarchists, skinheads and police battled it out in the streets. The only moment when things looked like getting out of hand was when a trio of young and decidedly wimpy skinheads were foolish enough to infiltrate the crowd of anarchists in the nearby Tylovo Square, and had to be led to safety by police.
Back in Namesti Miru - "Peace Square" in English - the far-right radicals were unfurling their flags and setting up the sound equipment for an impromptu concert. But those journalists expecting raucous skinhead music extolling the virtues of White Power and mass displays of the Nazi salute were somewhat disappointed. A skinhead mounted the steps of Prague's Saint Ludmila church with a guitar slung around his shoulder, and proceeded to woo the audience with soulful folk ballads, with a far-right patriotic twist. Hardly anthems for ushering in a new Master Race. And it wasn't only the music which was watered down - there were no Nazi symbols on display and the only skinhead raising his right arm was wiping the sweat from his brow.
But this, of course, was a carefully orchestrated exercise in restraint and political respectability. Tuesday's gathering was organised by the National Social Bloc - a new umbrella group bringing together several far-right organisations. The Bloc has made a beeline for the political mainstream, and its supporters had obviously been told to be on their best behaviour. A member of the Brno chapter told the crowd that labour day was a day of celebration for patriots everywhere, and not just for communist and anarchist scum, as he called them.
Cries of "Long Live the Fatherland" were followed by a speech by Vladimir Skoupy, a far-right leader who was jailed recently for publicly denying the Holocaust. Mr Skoupy, billed as "President Havel's most famous prisoner", attacked almost everyone in his speech - from President Havel and all the major political parties to anarchists, drug dealers and other "social parasites". The ageing Czech Nation, he said, would be revived by an waking army of patriots who would finally defeat the forces of evil occupying the land. The standard rhetoric of the far right everywhere, but carefully pruned down to remove all references to White Power and sub-human races in order to avoid unwanted police attention.
But look more closely at the National Social Bloc's manifesto - a glance at their website is enough - and you find the usual neo-Nazi propaganda - references to Jewish freemasons and a petition calling for the free publication of Hitler's "Mein Kampf". The police may indeed have had no reason to intervene on Tuesday, but whichever local official approved the demonstration could perhaps do a bit more research next time before allowing the National Social Bloc to parade around the centre of Prague.