Prague braces for neo-Nazis after Plzeň bans march

The mayor of Plzeň has banned a march by neo-Nazi skinheads planned for this Saturday. The ban was announced amid protests from the Jewish community and concerns it could end in violent clashes with anti-fascist demonstrators, as happened in Prague in November. It's now unclear whether far-right activists will attempt to ignore the ban and travel to Plzeň, with chatter on neo-Nazi websites suggesting they may gather in Prague instead.

Plzeň mayor Pavel Rödl,  photo: CTK
The Czech Republic's laws on the freedom of speech are being tested to the full at the moment, thanks to a small but determined group of neo-Nazi activists. They had hoped to march through Plzeň city centre on Saturday, but on Thursday morning – after a chorus of disapproval from Jewish groups and the public - Plzeň mayor Pavel Rödl intervened and banned the event. He explained why in an interview with Czech Television:

“It wasn’t a sudden decision. We’ve been monitoring the situation on the Internet since Monday’s meeting with the police, and we believe Plzeň faces a similar threat that Prague dealt with in November. The difference is Plzeň is ten times smaller than Prague, so the potential threat to security in the city is much greater.”

The far-right are still smarting from the fiasco of November, when a planned march through Prague’s Jewish quarter was also banned by the authorities. Attempts to ignore the ban were thwarted by a massive police presence. Those skinheads who did manage to break through the police lines were hugely outnumbered by anti-fascist demonstrators and several were badly beaten.

Far-right organiser Václav Bureš – allegedly the middleman for hardcore neo-Nazi group Národní Odpor or National Resistance – says he called Saturday’s march as a protest against the crackdown in November. However Jewish and anti-fascist groups claim the far-right are employing a policy of deliberate anti-Semitic provocation. The abortive march through Prague’s Jewish quarter was to be held on November 10th, the 69th anniversary of the notorious Kristallnacht pogrom. The Plzeň march, meanwhile, was to take place on January 19th, a day after the 66th anniversary of the first transport of Plzeň Jews to concentration camps.

So what happens now? Plzeň is still bracing itself for trouble, and will deploy 1,000 police on the streets. Peaceful gatherings to commemorate the Holocaust are still planned for Saturday afternoon.

A spokesman for the West Bohemian police force said the far-right would most likely try and gather in Prague instead. The prime location is Palackého náměstí, a square in Prague 2 which ever since being designated a London-style Speaker’s Corner is no longer subject to regulations requiring prior notification for public gatherings. Large numbers of riot police will again be standing by to deal with any repeat of November’s clashes.