HUNDREDS marched in protest.
It is estimated that there are about 5,000 right-wing extremists in Slovakia. Although the police force has started several activities to crush neo-Nazi and other extremist groups over the last two years, observers agree that much more needs to be done to prevent more racial violence across the country.
At the same time, Slovakia has a second world war history that activists believe should serve as a warning even today. Between 1939 and 1945 Slovakia served as a Nazi puppet state, with its elite succumbing to the rule of Hitler's regime, and later allowing about 70,000 Jews to be deported from Slovakia to Nazi death camps, including the infamous Auschwitz.
On May 8, the bank holiday marking the victory of the allied forces in Europe over Adolf Hitler's Nazi Germany in 1945, a group of activists from a Bratislava-based NGO People Against Racism (ĽPR) organised a march through the city calling for police to take a zero-tolerance approach to all expressions of hate based on the Nazi ideology.
Head of ĽPR, Ladislav Ďurkovič, says: "We celebrate the victory over fascism on May 8 but there is a tendency to forget the horrors inflicted on people during that war.
"Today, [almost 60 years later] we see Nazi swastikas sprayed on the walls of buildings, we see young neo-Nazis with their swastika tattoos walking down the streets of our towns and we see a growing number of victims of these extremists. We also see that those responsible for acting against these groups are not doing so."
Although having failed to respond to those allegations on a national scale, the Interior Ministry's press officers assured The Slovak Spectator that those in charge of the problem of extremists activities were dedicated to making Slovakia safe for all citizens including those not of Slovak ethnicity.
Alena Koišová, press officer with the Interior Ministry said: "The police are doing well in terms of fighting racism and extremism. Only recently we arrested an extremist movement leader in eastern Slovakia," she said.
"However, we will be strengthening our fight in the field of racism and extremism both materially and in terms of personnel," she added.
She also said that the police "profited greatly" from regular meetings and communication with NGOs that deal with human rights and Roma issues.
A special commission for coordination of activities in the field of fighting extremism was set up more than two years ago, with Interior Ministry and police experts as well as NGOs such as People Against Racism meeting regularly to discuss measures against extremist groups.
But although Ďurkovič admitted "some progress has been achieved" since then, he added that progress was "too slow".
Even the ministry's regular report on the security situation in Slovakia in 2002 stated that racially motivated crimes, a number of which carried traces of extremist crimes, had risen to 109, almost three times the previous year's figures.
Activists say the figure is still far below the true number of crimes and say that many victims do not report their cases to the police because they lack trust in the police force.
Officials, however, assure that their officers receive courses in tolerance as part of their basic training.
"A policeman must help our citizens as well as tourists regardless of their nationality or skin colour. We have to protect the citizens from any illegal acts, including racism and extremism so that every decent person feels safe in Slovakia," Koišová said.
She added that Slovak police chiefs were determined to take strict measures against officers who tolerated extremist opinions or acts.
But before that happens, analysts have said the police should increase the number of staff that monitors, and acts against extremists in Slovakia. To date this country has only ten such police officers.
In contrast, the neighbouring Czech Republic has a specialised team of 160 officers in action.
"The existing measures are not sufficient considering the threat these groups represent," said Juraj Majchrák, security analyst with the Institute for Public Affairs think tank in Bratislava.
Ďurkovič added: "Inactivity hurts and results in victims [of attacks]. Neo-Nazism is widespread in several European countries but we believe that the situation in Slovakia is among the most serious ones. That gives us the right and duty to shout that what is being done to stop it is not enough."
19. May 2003 at 0:00 | Martina Pisárová