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OPINION

The virus of extremism

EXTREMIST sentiments are like a virus which can infect different groups of society. However, not all of those infected will exhibit the kind of symptoms that were typical of the late 90s: swastika tattoos, fetishisation of Third Reich paraphernalia and symbols and a deep love of ‘music’ with lyrics calling for the extermination of the weak. People who consider themselves to be ‘decent citizens’ who join marches and rallies demanding an iron fist to be applied to those whom they believe are ‘sponging’ off the state, are infected with mutations of the same virus, which is ready to cause a serious outbreak should the climate become favourable.

EXTREMIST sentiments are like a virus which can infect different groups of society. However, not all of those infected will exhibit the kind of symptoms that were typical of the late 90s: swastika tattoos, fetishisation of Third Reich paraphernalia and symbols and a deep love of ‘music’ with lyrics calling for the extermination of the weak. People who consider themselves to be ‘decent citizens’ who join marches and rallies demanding an iron fist to be applied to those whom they believe are ‘sponging’ off the state, are infected with mutations of the same virus, which is ready to cause a serious outbreak should the climate become favourable.

In Slovakia, institutions of public power have lost track of what is happening in the extreme-right layers of society. Discrimination is no longer limited only to the ranks of extremists and their rhetoric has crept into the public discourse, Irena Bihariová, lawyer with the People Against Racism organisation, noted when marking the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Extremists no longer talk about the Aryan and white race, but instead say that they want to protect Slovak families, Bihariová added, as quoted by the SITA newswire.

‘For A Free Slovakia’ – this is the name extremists gave to their ‘traditional’ march, which takes place every year around mid-March to commemorate the anniversary of the establishment of the wartime Nazi-satellite Slovak state, and particularly its president, Jozef Tiso, under whose rule some 70,000 Slovak Jews were sent to concentration camps.

The extremists had reported the march to the city hall, in line with local regulations, stating that its purpose was to mark the day of the establishment of the wartime Slovak state and its ‘message for the current times’, according to the Sme daily. The daily also reported that the organisers sought to express their disagreement with Slovakia’s membership in the European Union, which they consider a hindrance to Slovak independence.

In fact, the EU issue was only a pretext for venting sentiments in support of what is one of the darkest and most traumatic periods in Slovakia’s history. Yet, a couple of hundred anti-extremist protesters did gather in an attempt to halt the extremists, carrying a huge banner that read ‘Stop Fascism’. Nevertheless, the extremists circumvented the blockade.

Human rights activists have been pointing out that today’s extremists are not necessarily going to knock heads and cause a commotion whenever they meet to express their desire to oppress the basic rights of anyone who is different from what they consider to be acceptable and truly Slovak. The definition of what is considered “truly Slovak” may vary based on the forum, audience or the extremists’ need to garner support.

Anyone curious about the positions of Slovakia’s current leaders on extremist marches or the celebration of controversial anniversaries would have a difficult time finding any fiery or resolute rejections, which could at least encourage an open dialogue on the subject when political opponents are blaming each other. Yet whenever there is hardship, some in society naturally look for scapegoats, and some of the country’s politicians, instead of warning of such dangerous tendencies, readily incorporate calls for a tougher approach, if not an ‘iron fist’, into their political speeches, thus lending legitimacy to the basest instincts of society by dragging them into the public discourse.

Bihariová noted that the tactics of racial discrimination have shifted in that the extremists’ agenda has become a mainstream issue, and their advocates simply claim that they want to protect Slovakia from crime.

Last year some anti-Roma rallies featured slogans such as ‘together for a decent and safe life’ or ‘marching for the rights of decent people’, and one such rally was organised by the Say Stop to Anti-Socials in Your Town civic initiative in Partizánske. Yet, very few of the participants in these rallies would willingly label themselves as extremists or neo-Nazis, arguing that all they want is for ‘anti-social’ elements to leave, and that people should be given food and aid only if they are ‘decent’.

As a matter of fact, people who harbour extremist sentiments are not relegated to a handful of weirdos who track Nazi paraphernalia on the internet or keep copies of Mein Kampf under their pillows. The real problem for society starts when hundreds if not thousands of people are joining marches that demand extreme solutions to what they call an extreme situation, and when top politicians pretend that such solutions are not only viable, but still respectful of human rights.

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