SHOCKING video images of youths with shaved heads brutally beating a man in front of a bar in Nitra have shocked much of Slovakia. Perhaps at least as surprising as the extreme violence is the fact that the alleged perpetrators remain at large even as the incident is said to have occurred in October 2013.

The Sme daily published the images, which show the youths kicking one victim in the head repeatedly, on January 28. The incident was reportedly just one in a series of similar attacks. The victims of the attack were patrons in front of the Mariatchi Bar in downtown Nitra, a popular student hangout.

October’s attack was not the only such incident to have occurred at Mariatchi. On New Year’s Eve, customers were attacked by neo-Nazis from Walhala, a neighbouring club. Though it is officially listed as a “private card-playing club”, it is a pub whose clientele regularly get drunk and misbehave, Radovan Richtárik, the owner of the Mariatchi Bar, told Sme. His leg was broken in the New Year’s assault.

Though the first attack was recorded via the town’s street cameras and the attackers’ faces are visible, the police waited until after Sme broke the story to charge the perpetrators.

Contrary to earlier reports that the police detained the five men and are likely to arrest another three in connection with the separate New Year’s Eve attack, the media reported on January 30 that the five alleged attackers were only briefly detained by police and are now free.

Their release came after a prosecutor declined to sign off on holding the suspects. The General Prosecutor’s Office (GPO) will now review the prosecutor’s actions.

In October, municipal police arrived on the scene shortly after the assault started, detained the alleged culprits and brought them to the police department. The case however remained stalled for the next three months.

Police President Tibor Gašpar, commenting on the police’s slow response, argued that they had to wait for the opinions of the doctors who treated the injuries of the victims. The doctors qualified the injuries as requiring medical treatment for only seven days, which does not constitute grave bodily harm, he told Sme. However, Nitra police said on January 27 that some of the victims’ injuries took six weeks to heal, which the victims themselves confirmed. There will be an inspection into whether the police were negligent in their investigation of the October attack, Gašpar told Sme.

Stalled case

Media and opposition politicians criticised the police for taking too long to investigate the case. An online petition “Stop violence in Slovakia” was launched immediately after the Sme report, directed at Interior Minister Robert Kaliňák and Gašpar, and Nitra regional police head Miroslav Michalčík, demanding the case to be investigated immediately.

“We consider the inactivity of the police to be unprecedented in this case,” the text of the petition reads. “It is unacceptable if after such an event people known to the police are still able to repeatedly attack and terrorise decent people.”

The Parliamentary Defence and Security Committee is expected to deal with the case as well. Police and ministry officials deflected the criticism. The police were preparing the evidence to be able to accuse the perpetrators for more serious crimes, Kaliňák told the SITA newswire.

“The police had an interest – after it had the video at its disposal, because the attack was really massive – to qualify [the deed] in a much stricter way than just normal bodily harm,” SITA quoted Kaliňák as saying on January 30.

The minister does not consider the time the police took to investigate the case to be too long, but admitted that the media has helped speed up the process. He argued that the police took the time to gather the necessary evidence, such as the medical expert reports to prove that even though some of the victims’ injuries were luckily not serious, that would not have been the case if the attackers had hit “two or three millimetres in another direction”.

The October attackers could now face up to 12 years in prison, Kaliňák said.

Extremist links

The Facebook page of the Walhala club is administered by four men, three of whom ran in the parliamentary election for the party of current Banská Bystrica regional Governor Marian Kotleba.
Kotleba has declined to comment on the incident.

“I do not know at all what you are speaking about,” his spokesman Miroslav Belička said, as quoted by Sme, adding that the governor’s private contacts with citizens are not subject to public interest.

The story about the neo-Nazi attacks was broken coincidentally with the publishing of the results of an opinion poll by the MVK polling agency, which for the first time showed Kotleba’s party having enough support to enter parliament, 7.6 percent.

The police do not suspect the attackers of extremism, since during the attack they were not brandishing symbols or making gestures associated with extremism, as reported by Sme.

Kaliňák however admitted that based on their appearance the attackers could be considered affiliated with an extremist group.

“Their behaviour is being monitored by the police,” Kaliňák said. He however explained that the reported attack was motivated by a conflict in the bar rather than racism, SITA reported.

Pictures from Facebook show the attackers as young men with shaved heads and tattoos. One has a tattoo of a swastika on his forearm.

A recent Mediasearch survey showed that 23 percent of Slovaks say they are confronted with some expression of extremism once a month. Respondents cite hooliganism and vandalism as the most frequent forms of extremist behaviour, the TASR newswire reported. Extremism is most visible in the regions of Bratislava, Banská Bystrica and Nitra, according to the survey.