THOSE Slovaks who in the early nineties thought that the intensification of the skinhead movement was the problem of East Germany, mistakenly considered the sole nest of neo-Nazism in Europe, were wrong.
There were a few who warned that no country could be entirely immune to neo-Nazism. There had been too much networking within the movement, too many shades, tones and variations to one and the same topic: violence and hate against groups of people and the oppression of their human rights.
After all, even in Slovakia, the violence of radical groups against certain groups of people did not start yesterday. Attacks against the Roma community have been high on the list of concerns of human right organizations for years.
Many Slovaks have somehow created the idea in their heads that "neo-Nazis and skinheads beat dark-skinned foreigners and the Roma". Thus, even if the bulk of the population condemns these hateful acts, they can still sleep peacefully because it does not threaten them directly. Now society comes to realize that it has been wrong in its attitudes. The brutal stabbing of 21-year-old philosophy student Daniel Tupý from Žilina makes it alarmingly clear that neo-Nazism concerns them too. It is not an isolated act that endangers only those who have a different skin colour or speak a different language.
In fact, neo-Nazism is not only serious because it endangers "whites" as well but also for the very idea - or lack of it - that it is built on.
The murder of young Tupý evoked a massive response all over the country. Demonstrations were held against skinhead violence in Košice and Bratislava. Politicians also hurried to condemn the act; however, many were much slower to express a clear stand on the wartime Slovak fascist state, a puppet government of Nazi Germany during World War II.
Many Slovaks have grown accustomed to the image of young skinheads celebrating the wartime Slovak state in the guise of seeking their national identity, apparently in complete disregard for human decency or care for historical facts and their implications.
Society feels a need to react to Tupý's murder, but it is still fumbling for an adequate way to do it. Some have called for massive police actions and manhunts for the skinheads. Others have said that neo-Nazism is a disease, and that we should examine the cause rather than treat the symptoms.
The neo-Nazi movement initiated its aggression in Slovakia and extended it outward long ago, and not only against "foreigners" and "outsiders".
Skinheads are not only unemployed, disenfranchised young Slovak boys living in Communist-era suburbs feeling alienated - although dehu-manization is a serious part of the problem.
Their hate does not seem to be predominantly economically motivated either, if one is to judge by their victims. For example, they do not attack wealthy business people: their targets often come from socially disadvantaged groups.
In fact, skinheads seem to network during work hours, using the workplace to recruit new members. Their attacks are growing more organized. One starts to wonder: Are skinheads redefining themselves? Is anarchy being replaced by something more sinisterly controlled?
A neo-Nazi from Spain or Great Britain or anywhere in Europe can easily get to Poland, Budapest or Bratislava to meet their buddies, hear their music or read pages of their "bibles".
In the nineties, sociologists argued that the former Communist system left behind fertile soil for neo-Nazism. The authoritarian background made it easier for neo-Nazi groups to capture the attention of those who were left hanging in a value vacuum.
However, keep in mind that neo-Nazi groups in Slovakia consist primarily of young adolescent boys. Few, if any, have direct experience of Communism.
Recently, an expert on the skinhead movement, Miroslav Mareš of the Masaryk University in Brno, told the daily Pravda that skinheads are becoming more dangerous because their means of communication is becoming more professional.
Some sociologists warn that oppressing these groups might result in increased violence, since it could trigger "conspiracy mode"-type thinking. While this might be a valid concern, it does not change the fact that neo-Nazism needs to be confronted with a clear "NO" from the public at large, and lasting attention from the state.
In Slovakia's case, perhaps there is hope. Skinheads in this country are encouraged and organized along nationalist lines, seeking their roots and identity in the wartime Slovak state. Recently, the media and public responded positively to a decision by the state prosecutor requesting that the Supreme Court outlaw the Slovenská pospolitosť group.
The group, previously registered by the Interior Ministry, has officially declared its sympathies with the wartime Slovak state. Its members have marched repeated through the streets in uniforms resembling those of the militia of the wartime Slovak state. When this group is publicly frowned upon, maybe the skinhead movement will lose some traction, too.
By Beata Balogová
14. Nov 2005 at 0:00