Skinheads and Tiso supporters were out in force on March 14.
photo: Igor Polakovie
Demonstrators on a 'March for Tolerance' were greeted by 75 unruly skinheads as they left námestie Slobody (Freedom Square) en route to the Presidential Palace and the Old Town. The 200 demonstrators stopped walking, put down their signs and yelled anti-fascist slogans at the skinheads.
A small police unit on the scene prevented a physical confrontation between the groups while reinforcements arrived. Police in riot gear piled out of police vehicles and drove back the skinheads with German Shepherds and batons. A young skinhead who ran into the street and gave a Nazi fascist salute was taken into custody.
A confrontation between the two groups seemed inevitable after the skinheads smashed a ceramic jar minutes before a pre-march rally at 16:00. Activist Ladislav Iurkovie of the People Against Racism NGO grabbed a microphone and shouted for police as the offenders fled the scene.
After speeches by Holocaust survivors, anti-fascist, anti-racism and pro-gay activists, Iurkovie, who called the anniversary "a day for sadness, not for celebration", warned marchers to be careful as they left the park, and urged them not to travel alone if they left the main group.
Minutes after their first confrontation with skinheads, marchers were prevented by police from rallying in front of the Presidential Palace, where another contingent of skinheads had gathered to celebrate the memory of Jozef Tiso, the leader of Slovakia's World War II Nazi puppet regime. Marchers stood in the street chanting "Never again a Fascist state" as police herded them toward the Old Town.
Demonstrators and skinheads exchanged words for the last time on námestie SNP. No injuries were reported in the three encounters.
Anti-fascist activists say they organised the march so that Slovaks wouldn't forget the estimated 70,000 Slovak Jews deported during World War II to Nazi concentration camps by the first Slovak State (1939 to 1945). They added that racism and fascism were still very much alive in Slovakia, in which 150 racially-motivated attacks and five race murders have been reported since 1989.
The March for Tolerance ended at 17:30 in the Old Town near a monument for the deported Jews. Demonstrators lit candles and observed a moment of silence.
"Fighting fascism and racism is an everyday struggle," said Iurkovie minutes later. "We have to fight to teach our society tolerance."
Minister of Education Milan Ftáčnik, who had marched with a "Slovaks are not fascists" sign, said to The Slovak Spectator that the afternoon's events had proven two things: "Slovakia is still divided on issues of racial tolerance and history, but there are more of us against fascism and racism than there are for. And those of us against fascism are not afraid to express ourselves."
He added that he had been impressed with the way the police handled a potentially dangerous situation.
19. Mar 2001 at 0:00 | Matthew J. Reynolds