THE NEW police cards will identify fascist slogans.
photo: Courtesy of Slovak Police Corps
The 8-by-12 centimetre cards feature 27 of the most frequently-used symbols favoured by members and sympathisers of right wing extremist groups. The designers of the cards hope they will aid police in fighting what experts say is a rising, and increasingly brazen, tide of racial intolerance in the country.
Although wearing clothes with fascist symbols is illegal in Slovakia and can be punished by up to three years in jail, anti-racism activists have complained that many local officers ignore those who wear such clothing. They say that when confronted with such situations on the streets, officers often do not seem to know what to do.
"I once saw a man who had a large swastika on his T-shirt walking down the street. The police on patrol there didn't do anything. When I stopped them and pointed to the man, they shrugged their shoulders and asked 'what are we supposed to do now?'" said Ladislav Ďurkovič, head of the People against Racism (ĽPR) non-governmental organisation.
"Sometimes I fear they [police] are not taking this issue seriously and are not interested in doing something about it," Ďurkovič continued.
Action this year by the police has gone some way to meeting Ďurkovič's concerns. Police in April estimated that there were 3,400 ultra-right and ultra-left extremists and their sympathisers operating in Slovakia, with more than two-thirds the total comprising skinheads, neo-Nazis and fascists.
In presenting a report to cabinet on the security situation in Slovakia in 2001 on March 13, Interior Minister Ivan 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".
Šimko's report was based on the ministry's forecast of better organised extremist groups and increased immigration.
In response to the perceived threat, Šimko at the end of 2001 set up a joint commission of third sector activists and police to deal with racially motivated violence. One of the commission's first moves was to print and issue the fascist symbol cards.
A police headquarters specialist in fighting extremism, who spoke to The Slovak Spectator under condition of anonymity, said that police had started to treat extremism with greater urgency about two years ago because of the "general rise of right wing extremist groups not only in Slovakia but around the world".
Slovak police statistics show that while in 1997 there were 19 racially motivated crimes reported, in 2001 there were 40.
"Many of these people identify themselves with militant philosophies and can potentially commit terrorist attacks. We can't rule out that possibility in Slovakia," he said.
While police are taught about extremism at police schools, the specialist added that the cards, financed by an Open Society Foundation grant of Sk214,000 ($4,750), would help increase police sensitivity to the issue.
"The most difficult thing for a policeman is showing to the person who wears clothes with these symbols that he is aware of what those symbols mean. Many alleged criminals tell us at hearings that they simply like the design or the colours," the specialist said. "We need to be careful with this. We can't, for example, simply put all hockey players or other sportsmen who have the number 88 on their jerseys behind bars."
The number 88 is a symbol for the Nazi Heil Hitler greeting, with H being the eighth letter in the alphabet. According to a similar pattern, 18 stands for Adolf Hitler.
Along with the estimated 15,000 cards for officers, police stations across Slovakia last year were given an 80-page investigation manual containing a brief overview of the local extremist scene and instructions on how to proceed at hearings.
While Ďurkovič, a member of the police-NGO commission, admits that progress has been made over the past two years, he adds that "it's going at a snail's pace.
"I wonder how many more deaths and violent attacks it will take before police start to act uncompromisingly against extremism."
1. Jul 2002 at 0:00 | Martina Pisárová