Observer says hundreds of neo-Nazis could answer call to march
Saturday is the Sabbath, the day of rest for the Jewish people, but this Saturday looks like being anything but quiet, as dozens, possibly hundreds of far-right extremists from the Czech Republic and abroad are due to descend on Prague's Josefov quarter. They're threatening to march through the former ghetto on the 69th anniversary of the Kristallnacht pogrom against Germany's Jews, running the gauntlet of City Hall bans and a strong police presence.
The march is being organised by the far-right Young National Democrats, who say they will announce by Thursday a route and gathering point for participants. The group describes the march as a "protest against Czech participation in the occupation of Iraq".
It's filed request upon request to march down Maiselova street, home to a number of synagogues as well as the headquarters of the Federation of Jewish Communities and the Prague Jewish Community. The Young National Democrats want that route because they claim the Iraq war is being fought in the interests of Israel, but the night of November 9-10th is also the 69th anniversary of Kristallnacht.
The Young National Democrats deny being either neo-Nazi or anti-Semitic, describing such claims as "meaningless labels". The group's spokesman Jan Peterka says in an interview published on their website that neo-Nazi organisations are illegal in the Czech Republic and he doesn't know of any in existence here.
Later on, however, he claims the Czech Republic is under pressure from the "international Jewish lobby", pointing out that while the march was declared legal by the Czech courts, the Czech president has promised the president of the World Jewish Congress that the march wouldn't take place. "A better example of who's really pulling the strings in this country can't be found," he added.
At time of writing the march is banned, following a series of rulings and appeals. Even if there is another about-turn, however, the City Hall still has the power to ban the march as soon as it starts on public order grounds, and that's the ace up their sleeve so to speak.
However Ondrej Cakl, who works for a group which monitors far-right extremism in the Czech Republic, says up to 500 Czech neo-Nazis could attend the march, with 200 more coming from abroad. A total of 1,400 officers will be policing the streets on Saturday. With so many people - Jewish groups, politicians, members of the public - saying they will turn out in force to stop the march going ahead, the potential for some sort of clash is very real.