NEO-NAZISM is not just an abstract term describing the social behaviour and beliefs of a sub-culture that will gradually die out. Neo-Nazis do not live underground, coming out from their hiding spots when the dusk falls. They are teachers, computer experts, shopkeepers, musicians. They are not just unemployed, alienated boys or girls living in communist-style suburbs trying to find some meaning to their existence. They might be neighbours, even colleagues; they might sit next to you on the bus, or they might serve you when you are buying a drink at a bar, or they might attack you at a dark corner on your way home if you have longer hair, darker skin or you just happen to speak a language they do not understand.

Two years ago, when 21-year-old philosophy student Daniel Tupý from Žilina was fatally stabbed, all these young people, immersed in a hatred that grows bigger each time they find a new pal, suddenly became visible. Society finally saw them and politicians condemned their acts.

With the passing months, part of society has again forgotten that neo-Nazism is not just an isolated incident where a bunch of dim individuals, dressed in uniforms resembling the official apparel of fascist regimes, march to squares and sing their hate songs.

Human rights activists have been warning that the neo-Nazi movement is real and it does not just endanger those who have a different skin colour, speak a different language or have a different religion than the majority society. But many Slovaks somehow still nourish the misconception that "neo-Nazis and skinheads beat dark-skinned foreigners and the Roma," and most of society does not have to deal with them most of the time.

Many still don't seem to understand that the existence of skinhead movements reveals that there is something wrong with the environment these people are coming from. The level of tolerance that societies demonstrate towards them should disturb many more people's sleep.

What the extremist movement does very effectively is network among people in different parts of the world who represent shades, tones and variations of one and the same topic: the violation of human rights.

The international contacts of Slovak extremist groups have been intensifying, extremism expert Daniel Milo told The Slovak Spectator. People from Slovakia are getting increasingly active in participating in different international concerts and activities. These groups travel wherever there is more fertile soil for spreading the word of hate, or where the police and public slumber in the calming conviction that there are societies immune to neo-Nazism.

Milo also said several Slovak citizens took part in extremist festivals or marches to commemorate the death of Rudolf Hess, Adolf Hitler's deputy in the Nazi party in Germany. Among the new neo-Nazi destinations are the Czech Republic, Serbia, Poland, Ukraine and Russia.

At least 11 Slovaks attended a neo-Nazi demonstration in Serbia's Novi Sad to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with their Serbian neo-Nazi brothers when they commemorated the anniversary of the birth of Heinrich Himmler, the head of the Nazi police force and one of the most powerful figures in Nazi Germany, who was directly responsible for murdering prisoners in concentration camps.

They weren't just random tourists who happened to be there, and the police said they will investigate the links of these people in Slovakia.

The People Against Racism movement has in fact confirmed that neo-Nazi and extremist groups have been recruiting new people to their armies. Sometimes it happens through music, and too often young people adore songs full of hate and crime against humanity without being fully aware of what these texts stand for. They become anti-Semitic without knowing anything about the history of Jews in Slovakia; they hate black people without ever really talking to any.

And yet the extremist groups, according to professionals, are becoming more dangerous because they can now use more sophisticated means of communication. The internet provides with them a whole new world that they can inhabit and share with those who think alike. This certainly is a challenge for the police, who should become even more pro-active when confronting these groups.

Unfortunately, many Slovaks have grown accustomed to the image of young skinheads and neo-Nazis celebrating the wartime Slovak State in the guise of seeking their national identity or being fans of football clubs. Many of them do not go to the football matches to enjoy the game, but they view the environment as a chance to wear their T-shirts with Nazi symbols and shout slogans together with their buddies, breaching any human decency in the disguise of watching the football game.

By Beata Balogová