ACTIVISTS estimate that there are 5,000 skinheads in Slovakia.
In presenting a report to cabinet on the security situation in Slovakia in 2001 on March 13, Šimko said: "It is expected that racially motivated attacks will continue to grow in numbers and brutality. The number of physical attacks especially against the Roma minority, African and Asian people will also increase".
The report bases these expectations on the ministry's forecast of better organised extremist groups and increased immigration.
"It can be expected that extremist groups will be more organised in their activities and will have a more conspiratorial nature. An increased influx of foreigners and prevailing youth unemployment are factors which could accelerate extremist crimes," states the 2001 safety report.
With several police brutality and racially-motivated beating cases now on the books, Slovakia's minority rights record is being closely watched by the European Union.
Ladislav Ďurkovič, head of the People Against Racism non-governmental organisation, said that the fact that Šimko had actually spelled out such frightening expectations in an official report was a step forward.
He added, however, that the ministry was also expecting tougher government action against racism to raise the total number of reported cases - darkening the official picture of race hate crimes, but not necessarily reflecting an actual rise in extremist violence.
"If the police start acting as they should, then the number of cases will increase. And if people re-gain trust in the police and report all the cases that occur, there will be a massive increase indeed," Ďurkovič said.
Klára Orgovánová, the cabinet-appointed plenipotentiary for Roma communities, told The Slovak Spectator on March 18 that she too interpreted Šimko's words as "an expectation that the number of racial crimes reported will increase, which is a positive rather than negative development."
"In my job I often feel goose bumps running over my back, but this can actually be good news. Until now there has been a tendency to cover up racial motives. I think we can expect to see greater will [from the police and courts] to uncover and investigate similar cases," she said.
Although official police statistics on racially motivated crimes show that last year there were 40 incidents, and that 23 of these were solved, anti-racism activists have dubbed the official figure a "mockery" of the true situation.
Ďurkovič estimated the number to be "at least 100 times higher".
"In Germany last year they had almost 16,000 racially motivated cases. With our 40 cases, we'd be lucky if that was true," he said.
In a similar report in 2000, police recorded 35 racially motivated crimes, and 21 in 1999.
But Ďurkovič, who tracks the extremist scene in Slovakia, agreed with the ministry's forecast of rising violence by neo-Nazi groups. He estimated that there were "several dozen groups and around 5,000 skinheads in Slovakia". Only 10 police officers monitor skinhead activity in Slovakia, he said, compared to 160 in the Czech Republic.
Orgovánová agreed work remained to be done, but noted that the cabinet was showing greater concern for racial violence and discrimination than she had observed in the past.
Šimko set up a joint NGO and police force commission at the end of 2001 whose members regularly discuss problems and co-ordinate activities related to racial crime and prevention.
The cabinet recently approved a 2002 and 2003 strategy to fight racial crime and hatred, and cabinet legislators are working on a law for setting up an Equal Treatment Centre, an organisation to oversee and prevent racial discrimination in the workplace.
Following last year's murder of Roma Karol Sendrei, who was beaten to death at a police station in eastern Slovakia's Revúca, Šimko hired a Roma advisor, Ladislav Fízik, in an effort to combat police racism.
Ďurkovič added: "Prejudice against minorities is still very high, and the Slovak majority doesn't see racism as a big problem. Therefore many neo-Nazis feel they're just carrying out the people's will. That's scary."