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Neo-Nazis fail to march through Prague’s Jewish Quarter
12-11-2007 - Jan Richter

Photo: Stepanka Budkova A march through Prague’s Jewish Quarter planned by neo-Nazi groups – which had been banned, then permitted and then banned again by the authorities – did not happen in the end. Around three thousand people gathered at several places in the former Jewish Town on Saturday to block the march, and the police foiled any attempts of the far-right groups to come near the area. The event ended in isolated clashes between far-right and far-left radicals.

As the clock of the Jewish Town Hall in Prague beat two o’clock in the afternoon on Saturday, hundreds of people gathered in Maiselova Street outside the Jewish community building at the first of several rallies held that day around the Jewish Quarter. Their purpose was to block an unauthorised neo-Nazi march through Josefov on the 69th anniversary of the pogrom of 1938 known as Kristallnacht. The words of Jiri Danicek, the head of the Federation of Jewish Communities of the Czech Republic, were hard to hear over the hum of a police helicopter surveying the centre of the city – the police force, too, turned up in large numbers to prevent clashes between the neo-Nazis and their opponents. Among those who protested the idea of the provocative Kristallnacht march by donning a yellow star with the word Jude on it, just like the ones Nazis once ordered all Jewish people within their reach to wear, was MEP Vladimir Zelezny.

Photo: Stepanka Budkova “They want us not to come, not to be here. But we all must be here to show that we learnt a lot from history. We will never again allow it to repeat. My guess is that the huge crowd that was here is a sign that people do realize that, not just Jews like. There are many people here who are not Jewish, and that is extremely important.”

The gathering was addressed by members of the Prague Jewish community, Minister Cyril Svoboda, and Cardinal Miloslav Vlk, the head of the Czech Roman Catholic church. Another meeting followed on Old Town Square, held by the Jewish Liberal Union. It started with the sound of the shofar, a ram’s horn used by the Jewish people on their most sacred holidays, and at times of danger.

Photo: CTK The gathering was dedicated to the memory of those who perished during the Second World War at the hands of the Nazis. The cry of shofar was followed by a prayer by cantor Martin Schwarz.

The crowd of some two thousand people in Old Town Square was addressed by Holocaust survivors as well as politicians and other public figures. Writer Arnost Lustig, who was himself sent to a concentration camp as a child, had a message for the neo-Nazis.

Photo: Stepanka Budkova “I am sorry for those young people. If it was possible I would send them to Buchenwald for half an hour so that they could see what the Nazis were like. It is a satisfaction to see so many people to object to those silly young people for whom I am really sorry because they don’t know what they are doing. It is a satisfaction to see that Czech people won’t let Fascism come again.”

Roman Catholic priest and head of the Czech Christian Academy Tomas Halik also showed up. In his opinion, extremists must understand that democracy is not another word for weakness.

Photo: Stepanka Budkova “I think it’s very important to show solidarity with the Jewish people, with the minority, to say to no to all extremism. But I would also like to say that is it crucial for a democracy to be credible. All weaknesses of democracy could pose opportunities for extremists. The gathering here is very important because people of various political and religious convictions are here together to say no to the extremists.”

Photo: Stepanka Budkova Indeed, by three PM on a rainy Saturday, the crowds of people that gathered at the route of the planned neo-Nazi march were ready to block any attempts by the far-right extremists and anti-Semites – but none of them were in sight. The police intercepted and detained about 300 skinheads in the suburbs, and only about two dozen made it to edge of the Jewish Quarter, in front of the Charles University’s law school on the bank of the Vltava. One of the skinheads, arguing with an opponent of the demonstration, claimed they were only out for a walk but could not get anywhere.

Photo: Stepanka Budkova Several isolated fights broke out between the neo-Nazis and the left-wing radicals who marched in to support the blockades. The most intense, and the bloodiest, occurred in front of the law school when one of the neo-Nazis, later identified as the spokesperson of far-right organisation called Narodni odpor, or National Resistance, shot into the crowd of anti-fascists. It was not clear what his weapon was, but the shooter was immediately stormed by the anti-fascist protesters. He ended up lying on the ground bleeding with another of his colleagues who was too slow to run away.

Photo: Stepanka Budkova Many of the anti-Nazi activists had arrived from Germany for the occasion, and were ready to attack any skinhead in sight. They kept the police busy for the rest of the day in several parts of central Prague hunting for the neo-Nazis; they occasionally attacked the policemen as well. Altogether, almost 400 radicals from both sides were detained by the police for carrying weapons and not respecting police orders. Seven people, including a policeman, were injured, and three were charged with assaulting public officers.

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