THERE is nothing more dangerous than people who claim to have instant and sure-fire solutions to problems that have afflicted societies for decades. Often they are frustrated individuals, sufficiently deluded to think that they have the right to take justice into their own hands. Many other people believe that this mindset makes them the responsibility of the police, educators or, in the worst cases, psychologists. However, when their demonstrations of hate and their self-appointed authority to decide who serves a useful purpose in society and who is expendable starts to attract a wider audience then not only the government but also the international community needs to be alert.
Extremists once again made themselves visible in Slovakia when they gathered in Šarišské Michaľany to protest against what they called “the Gypsy terror” in response to two teenage boys from a Roma settlement allegedly beating up a 65-year-old man at the village’s football stadium. And it was not just Slovakia’s neo-Nazis on the march: their chums from Hungary and the Czech Republic joined together in the crowd of 200 skinheads, in a rather disquieting display of international solidarity, in an attempt to cow Slovak Roma on August 8.
All this is happening at a time when anti-Roma sentiment is growing in eastern Europe, and reports tell of Roma being beaten up or shot by enraged locals who use anger at their presence, or what they regard as the high Roma crime rate – or whatever reason seems most convenient – to justify their need to vent on Roma their own mounting frustration about joblessness, economic decline or lack of prospects.
The extremists and neo-Nazis claim to have answers to questions the depth of which they sometimes cannot even comprehend. They crawl out from their caves whenever they feel that the political atmosphere in society promises a more sympathetic ear for far-right talk, whenever people might be inclined to support politicians who serve up pronouncements with a thick topping of nationalism and racism, and whenever people are simply disappointed by the political elite of their country.
But if people in Šarišské Michaľany think that the skinheads who came to their village to protest the government’s impotence in dealing with the Roma issue give a damn about their well-being and safety, they are terribly wrong. The sole reason these people went there is that they saw a chance to line up and show some muscle to the enemy, in fact to all kinds of enemies. Perhaps some of them thought it would be a good excuse for a fight or just a reunion with old friends. Every year some of these people march in uniforms resembling the outfits worn by Slovak neo-Nazi militiamen during the wartime Slovak State, under which more than 70,000 Jews were deported to death camps in Nazi Germany.
Former interior minister Vladimír Palko, a former Christian Democrat MP (ironically, he and three other MPs left the party complaining about a decline in its values), suggested that the police should compile and publish Roma crime statistics. What next? Perhaps someone should compile statistics on the crimes committed by white, male sympathisers of extreme nationalist groups, to take one example.
It also turns out that another obscure extremist group, New Free Slovakia, is organising a rally in Prešov and that one of the group’s leaders actually works for the Fire and Rescue Department, part of the Interior Ministry. Earlier this year, an Interior Ministry official, in response to a civic association’s request for information, recommended that they get it from the website of an ultra-rightwing extremist movement that had previously been banned by the ministry itself. These are all signals which extremists – if not a wider, frustrated audience – might see as conferring legitimacy on these movements.
Yet Interior Minister Robert Kaliňák suggested in an interview with the Sme daily that the media should also play a role in preventing extremists from gaining popularity and that journalists should ignore them and avoid promoting them. Indeed, it is a challenge for any journalist to cover these developments, and therefore do their jobs, without giving these people some publicity. But the media simply ignoring them will not make them go away. Some have said that the extremists have now channelled society’s attention towards issues that the government must address. But no society should need neo-Nazis to fulfil that role.
Instead, the government should admit that the policies it has been applying so far have failed and take an honest look at the reasons why. “It is a complex issue” will no longer pass for an answer, especially not when the population is even more vulnerable to the definite solutions that those in search of enemies offer.