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Skinheads "not a problem"

Miloš is a 17-year-old skinhead. Wearing camouflage pants, a navy blue jacket with a confederate flag sewn on the arm, and a black army vest, Miloš stood smoking a cigarette with five friends in front of Bratislava's Mlynské Nivy bus station on March 7. After exhaling a drag, he explained why he is a racist.
"When I was 13, some gypsies beat me in the street and attacked my mother, too," he said. "White is white, that's our race. I am a racist and I am proud of it. I'll die for what I believe in, but when that happens I guarantee I'll take 10 gypsies with me to the other world."
Miloš is the clear leader of this group of mostly 15 year-old boys. All with shaven heads, they nod in agreement as the older Miloš explains that skinheads only aim to protect innocent citizens from the country's Roma population and uninvited non-white foreigners.


Police say that despite attacks, Slovakia has no real problem with skinheads like this Bulgarian extremist.
photo: TASR

Miloš is a 17-year-old skinhead. Wearing camouflage pants, a navy blue jacket with a confederate flag sewn on the arm, and a black army vest, Miloš stood smoking a cigarette with five friends in front of Bratislava's Mlynské Nivy bus station on March 7. After exhaling a drag, he explained why he is a racist.

"When I was 13, some gypsies beat me in the street and attacked my mother, too," he said. "White is white, that's our race. I am a racist and I am proud of it. I'll die for what I believe in, but when that happens I guarantee I'll take 10 gypsies with me to the other world."

Miloš is the clear leader of this group of mostly 15 year-old boys. All with shaven heads, they nod in agreement as the older Miloš explains that skinheads only aim to protect innocent citizens from the country's Roma population and uninvited non-white foreigners.

"We protect whites from Gypsies and other black dirt," he says. "If they rob an old lady and take her money away, we're there to do something about it. They do nothing but sell drugs to small kids, rob our people and live off white money. Just look how much crime exists nowadays. I know we're doing the right thing, but some people don't understand."

For all that Miloš complained of being 'misunderstood', minority leaders and sociologists said that Slovak citizens were in fact too tolerant of racist ideologies, such as the one espoused by Miloš. In two opinion polls carried out by the Institute for Public Affairs (IVO) in January 1999, 14.1% of respondents said that skinheads were "doing the right thing", while 55% believed that the country's Roma population should be segregated from the white population.

Furthermore, the argument continued, the Slovak police do not actively combat the problem, thereby emboldening skinheads to carry out racially-motivated violent attacks without any fear of repercussion.

"The majority of Slovaks tolerate skinheads, and the police either don't see or don't want to see the problem," said Bohumil Búzik, a sociologist at the Slovak Academy of Sciences. "This is where skinheads get their courage. They justify their violence by saying they are 'protecting national interests' and 'defending the country'."

Miroslav Lucko, a 27-year-old Roma who works for the Bratislava-based NGO League of Human Rights Advocates, said violent acts by skinheads are maddeningly common. "I've been attacked too many times to count," he said. "Skinheads yell at me, 'Slovakia is for whites, death is for gypsies.' It's stressful just to walk the streets. I can't live this way."

Recent racial attacks in the nation's capital have received unusually close coverage in the Slovak media because of their shocking nature. The two most recent events were the February 17 beating of two Japanese tourists near the Bratislava castle and a January 29 attack on a black-skinned man on Bratislava's main square.

The police promptly responded on February 21 when Police President Ján Pipta announced the launching of "a massive preventive action to break up groups of skinheads and anarchists."

But judging by the mixed signals the police have since sent, minority leaders are not likely to be overly confident in Pipta's declaration. Pipta's colleague Štefan Omasta, the Youth Crime Section head of the Slovak Police Presidium, told The Slovak Spectator on March 8 that he was unaware of any intensifying police action against skinheads, and even questioned the need for one.

"We don't have a big problem with racism in Slovakia," Omasta said. "It's the media that make it a big problem by constantly writing about it."

Omasta said that the police began monitoring skinhead activities last year, and had thus determined that the nation's skinhead 'centres' were in Bratislava, Žarnovica (central Slovakia), and the Nitra region. But Slovak skinheads were relatively unorganised, he said, and were therefore not considered to be dangerous. Omasta also said that the police had made no changes he was aware of since Pipta's February 21 announcement, except that extra patrols would be deployed between March 12 and 15 when the Conference of European Rabbis will be held in Bratislava

"Unfortunately, the rabbis chose a bad time to come here," Omasta said. "March 14 is the anniversary of the first Slovak Republic [a nazi puppet state formed in 1939 under Jozef Tiso] and we expect the skinheads to celebrate in Bratislava."

Miloš and his friends confirmed the planned gathering in Bratislava, and said they would be among the revellers. "Tiso was a great man," said Miloš's 15-year-old friend Štefan. "He was the first to fight for the nation and his intentions were good."

One rabbi who will attend the conference is Baruch Myers, an American who has lived in Slovakia for seven years and now works as the Bratislava Jewish Community Rabbi. Myers said that he is frequently verbally harassed and has twice been physically attacked by local skinheads.

Myers said it was the "civic duty" of anyone attacked to report it to the police, but both Lucko and Miloš said that would not make a difference - the attacks will continue, they said, while the police remain impotent bystanders.

"Skinheads constantly attack us and we want to fight back," Lucko said. "But the Roma leaders tell us not to retaliate because then all of white society will oppress us even more. Sometimes I envy whites because they never get attacked unless they defend a Roma or a black."

Miloš, for his part, said that the police represented little more than a nuisance for the skinhead movement. "When there's only one or two of us walking around, the cops sometimes stop us, even beat us," he said with a shrug. "But when we get a group together, you won't see any cops then."

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