Anti-immigrant protest organisers seek to unite extremists

A PUBLIC protest against immigration held in Bratislava on June 20 that led to violence against both police officers and bystanders showed the power of extremists in Slovakia who have declared their intention to become members of parliament in next year’s election. Observers point out that the protesters were nourished by mass hysteria and fears of Muslim immigrants arriving in Slovakia.

(Source: SITA)

“When I see the media reporting and the political declarations in the last two months I am really surprised how quickly the circle of hate and mass hysteria started to spin,” Laco Oravec from the Milan Šimečka Foundation (NMŠ) told The Slovak Spectator. “It had occurred to me that people in Slovakia were saner.”

The European Commission presented a new quota-based strategy for dealing with the massive wave of immigrants coming to Europe on May 13. The EC plan counted on Slovakia accepting 785 individuals. The proposal met with wide criticism in Slovakia and a June survey conducted by the Polis agency indicated that 70.1 percent of 1,469 respondents said they disagreed with Slovakia accepting more refugees.

The protest on June 20 was one of the largest in recent Slovak history, shutting down traffic in some Bratislava squares and keeping hundreds of police officers busy. The police officers detained about 76 people suspected of riotous conduct with 41 of those detained coming from the Czech Republic. The police filed criminal complaints against 19 Czechs and 13 Slovaks according to Bratislava police spokesperson Tatiana Kurucová.

Violence in Bratislava streets

Thousands of protesters chanting “This is our home” and “Treason!” set out from Bratislava’s main railway station towards SNP Square.

A critical situation occurred close to the Presidential Palace when the protesters approached a group of hundreds of people who had assembled for a counter demonstration called “Together against Hate - Bratislava Blocks”. The groups came within a distance of 20 metres from each other and exchanged profanities and obscene gestures. The police managed to keep the two groups separated although a few cans, plastic bottles and even a smoke bomb were hurled at the smaller group.    

The police were first summoned to take action against a group of approximately 300 people who interrupted the Downhill World Tour Bratislava cycling race close to Bratislava Castle, committing vandalism and assault. Another 25 people were detained on Staromestská Street where rioters damaged six police vehicles.

Read also:Bratislava anti-migrant protest blocked bicycle race Read more 

“Shortly before 18:00, an assault against a police officer took place. He was hit in the thigh by a paving stone,” said Kurucová, as quoted by the TASR newswire, adding that two police officers were also attacked with tear gas.

Paramedics were also busy, treating five people with head injuries, three of whom were sent to hospital, added Boris Chmel, spokesperson for the Emergency Health Service Operational Centre.

The protesters also attacked a Muslim family at the main Bratislava train station, throwing stones and a bottle of water on them, the Sme daily wrote.

“Many of my friends with a different skin colour stayed at home because they were afraid to be outside on that day,” Elena Gallová Kriglerová, Director of the Centre for Research of Ethnicity and Culture, told The Slovak Spectator. 

State officials condemn the violence

Violence appeared to be the main motivation for many of the anti-immigrant protesters, according to President Andrej Kiska or otherwise they would not have attacked those attending the cycling race, the police or throw stones at people. The president condemned the violence on his Facebook page on June 21 and also criticised the extreme level of public debate on the issue.

“We have almost zero experience [with refugees] and a minimum of asylums granted each year,” Kiska wrote. “On the other hand, we have strong words and categorical verdicts in statements we formulate.”

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It took some time for Prime Minister Fico to make a similar statement. He was participating in Danube Day 2015, celebrating 21 years of international cooperation of states bordering the Danube River on June 20.

The following night Fico published a statement on Facebook where he reiterated that his government does not agree with the immigration quotas and that MEPs will not discourage that position by their stance.

“I do not like when somebody kicks out the open door. Literally, as it happened in Bratislava today,” Fico wrote.

On June 22 Fico condemned the violence, saying that it is not possible to abuse freedom of speech and freedom of assembly to engage in such acts. He also condemned abuse of the refugee issue to promote extremist views.

Officials praise the police

Interior Minister Robert Kaliňák said almost one thousand police officers who maintained security during the protest behaved professionally, were calm and able to act quickly, and the minister and Police President Tibor Gašpar awarded 15 officers on June 23.

“The police made tens of preventive controls after extremists arrived in Bratislava and were able to remove those most radical ones who carried weapons,” Kaliňák told the SITA newswire.

Sme, however, published video of the protest where a group of riot police members kicked and beat a young man with batons who was not defending himself.

“There was no attack from the young man, the police did not have any reason to act in this way,” security analyst Milan Žitný told Sme, adding that inspectors from the Interior Ministry should review the incident.

Kaliňák refused to do so, however, claiming that it was “standard” detainment of a person who was actively resisting.

“There is nothing in this video that would violate the law, the police action was totally correct,” Kaliňák told Denník N.

Fico compared the June 20 events to the police raid in Moldava nad Bodvou’s Roma settlement in June 2013 when more than 60 police officers arrived at the settlement. According to eyewitnesses, violence ensued and 15 Roma were taken to the police station. Several of the Roma were injured and at least one of them contends that he underwent two more severe beatings at the police station.

“I will meet with a selected group of police officers and thank them, as it happened after Moldava nad Bodvou,” Fico said, adding that police should act when laws are violated.

Prime Minister Robert Fico also said that he wants to speak with Kaliňák about tightening the rules for organizing protests, suggesting that if there is a threat of violence police would have the power to ban the protest. The Interior Ministry responded that such a change in the law should be the result of agreement across the whole political spectrum.

Political ambitions

The protest in Bratislava against the refugee quotas demonstrated that extremists were able to unite and if they merge into one political party they might be successful for the first time in parliamentary elections, said an analyst approached by Sme.

“Now when they managed to unite it is realistic, unfortunately, to expect that they might make it to parliament,” Kriglerová told Sme.

The organizer of the protest, Lukáš Kopáč, has stated that he has the ambition to ally various extremist groups for next year’s parliamentary elections, indicating that part of the grouping will include People’s Party Our Slovakia led by Marian Kotleba, the governor of Banská Bystrica Region who attended the anti-immigration protest, Sme wrote.

In the past Kotleba was the head of the ultra-nationalist party Slovenská Pospolitosť that was ordered to be disbanded by the Supreme Court.

A critical moment during the June 20 demonstration was when Kotleba, Marian Mišún (a former municipal police officer), Róbert Švec (head of the Slovak Resurgence Movement which is a defender of former Slovak state president Jozef Tiso), and Marián Magát (a leading personality of the Resistance Kysuce movement) met on one stage. Daniel Milo, a lawyer with Interior Ministry’s department of criminality prevention, said in an interview with Dennik N daily that this was the first time this had occurred.

Political success is uncertain

Milo noted that the anti-immigration issue brought together members of extremist groupings, hooligans and supporters of the far-right parties as well as ordinary people who are afraid of immigrants, adding that if the organizers wanted to show that they are able to mobilize people they were successful. But on the other hand, Milo added that if they wanted to depict themselves as harmless nationalists protecting Slovakia they failed.

“I presume that at least part of the ordinary people who were lured to the protest by the immigration issue will not march in one crowd with extremists in the future after seeing the reports on TV,” Milo said, as quoted by Denník N.

Political analyst Grigorij Mesežnikov told Sme that the public in general is disappointed in the operation of Kotleba’s party after the November 2013 regional election, adding that it could be expected that these movements will try to go ahead with another agenda as there is now a favourite combination of anti-immigrant issues and events in eastern Ukraine.

“Success of extremists [in the upcoming elections] will depend on the attitude of their concurrent parties,” Mesežnikov told Sme, adding that the Slovak National Party and the now-ruling Smer are their biggest opponents on those issues.

Attacking Islam

The protest organisers claimed that the purpose of the event was not to spread religious and racial hatred. However, photographs show people at the protest wearing Nazi insignias and t-shirts with crossed minarets and Kotleba welcomed the crowd with words: “Let me wish you a beautiful and nice white day.”

The Islamic Foundation in Slovakia has said that some Slovak media depict Islam in a negative way and there are politicians trying to gather votes on anti-Islamic rhetoric and it believes the main issue of the protest was against alleged Islamisation.

“Sadly, the Islamic Foundation in Slovakia must say that the refugee crisis issue … poorly handled by media ensued into an open and predicted march of hate,” the foundation wrote in its press release.

Oravec agreed that the protest was not about all refugees but mainly about a general refusal to accept Muslims in Slovakia. He added that even Fico and Kaliňák caused the hysteria, for example, with their statements about quotas.

The current situation prevents normal, rational discussion about immigration, according to Kriglerová.

“People are victims of irrational fear which prevents good discussion,” Kriglerová told The Slovak Spectator. “It is like people reject immigration without thinking about what it really causes in advance.”

Radka Minarechová contributed to this story

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