Roma advocacy group suspends police cooperation over neo-Nazi marches

Neo-Nazi march in Krupka

A leading Roma advocacy group has suspended co-operation with the interior ministry, accusing the police of going soft on far-right extremism. The group – Romea - says at several neo-Nazi demonstrations this year police allowed marchers to shout racist slogans without making any arrests. The Czech interior ministry denies the claims.

Neo-Nazi march in Krupka
This footage, showing lines of riot police advancing on a demonstration led by an Orthodox priest, was shot in the Czech town of Krupka in April. The demonstrators had gathered in the town to stop a group of neo-Nazis from marching through what is a predominantly Romani housing estate. The march had been granted permission by the authorities; the demonstration against it had not; activists claimed it was a religious service, and therefore not subject to official permission. That fine legal distinction apparently went unnoticed by police.

There have in fact been several such rallies this year, always held under an innocuous pretext, always attracting neo-Nazi skinheads, and always choosing areas which are home to large Romani communities. František Kostlán monitors neo-Nazi activity for Romea.

František Kostlán
“Police have let neo-Nazi activists use openly racist rhetoric at Krupka and at least two other rallies this year. The speakers were clearly breaking the law yet the police did nothing. At Krupka and elsewhere neo-Nazis were allowed to march through Roma areas shouting racist slogans and the police protected them.”

The footage – which first appeared on Romea’s popular online news server – was shot by the Romani journalist Patrik Banga. He says police are clearly choosing sides in the conflict between the far-right and ethnic minorities, and the wrong side at that.

“The police de facto decided which should have priority – a legal religious assembly or a neo-Nazi march. And it decided the latter. That creates the impression that the police tolerate neo-Nazis. And I guess that impression is accurate.”

The interior ministry’s new director of security policy responded to Romea’s public criticism over police handling of the marches by threatening to abolish a working group that had been set up to improve communication between NGOs and the authorities. The threat was later carried out. Romea says the official concerned is responsible both for the change in a police policy and the deterioration in communication with NGOs.

Riot police advancing on a demonstration against the neo-Nazi march
The interior ministry, however, strongly denies it’s going soft on far-right extremism, saying it remains a high priority. It’s released a statement defending police actions at Krupka and elsewhere, saying its primary task is to defend people, property and public order, regardless of whether the law is being broken by far-right extremists or their opponents.