PRAGUE, Mar 9, 2012 (IPS) - Just days after a hotel was firebombed in a suspected racist attack, experts and activists have warned of neo-Nazi groups turning to ‘terrorist’ campaigns as they become increasingly influenced by far-right movements in other countries.
They say that extremist groups in countries such as Russia, Italy and Germany are providing Czech right- wing movements with operational, organisational and ideological inspiration and support for racial violence and ways of gaining public support.
Gwendolyn Albert, a prominent anti-racism campaigner in the Czech Republic, told IPS: "It is an established fact that the Czech and German ultra-right parties have entered into cooperation agreements.
"The Czechs now seem to be following German tactics of having a relatively mainstream-looking, officially registered political party hold public rallies which those ideologically committed to racist violence then attend in hopes of actually carrying out that violence."
Albert, who works for the Romea Roma rights and education group, added: "The impact of Russian fascist and ultra-nationalist ties can also be seen in cases where ultra-right demonstrators turn out to be para- militarily organised to take on the police."
The warnings come after the Interior Ministry last week released a report on the far-right in the country which said a rise in racially motivated attacks in the coming years was likely partly because of the influence of foreign right-wing extremist groups who use violence and terrorism, especially those in Russia.
Russian neo-Nazis have been linked to terror campaigns such as attacks on and the murder of judges who have sentenced right-wing fanatics and activists.
Some expert witnesses in similar trials in the Czech Republic say they have also faced threats and intimidation, and just last week sentencing in the trial of a suspected racist attacker had to be postponed because of a bomb threat.
German neo-Nazi groups also have a proven history of terrorism. It was recently discovered that a neo- Nazi cell in Germany calling itself the National Socialist Underground was responsible for the killings of a nine immigrants and a policewoman over a six-year period, as well as bank robberies and bomb attacks.
Meanwhile, former German neo-Nazis have publicly said that there is strong cooperation between German and Czech right wing groups and that firearms training camps for neo-Nazis from across Europe have been held by German right-wing groups on Czech territory.
The author of the Interior Ministry report, Miroslav Mares, said neo-Nazi gangs were increasingly ‘arming’ themselves.
He said they are gaining access to weapons and firearms training by infiltrating the police force and private security services, allowing them to get gun licences and, in some cases, training in combat situations.
In one example of how far such groups have already gone in ‘arming’ themselves, following one recent far-right rally, local media reported that extremists had been carrying explosives which are only available to the military.
The fears of a surge in racist violence come against a backdrop of racial trouble in socially deprived areas of the country.
Last year there were mass protests and violence in the Sluknov district in the northern Czech Republic after a wave of attacks and crime which locals blamed on the Roma.
Some commentators have put the increased tensions down to growing economic hardship.
Anti-racism monitors across Europe have reported a rise in anti-immigrant and anti-minority sentiment since the start of the financial crisis in 2008, and the Interior Ministry report cited worsening economic conditions and increasing social exclusion as other drivers of the predicted rise in racial attacks.
But Mares, a sociologist, pointed out that a fertile breeding ground for anti-minority violence was being created by some local mainstream politicians.
He told local media: "What we are seeing is the rise of ‘common’ racism. In socially troubled areas we can see the involvement of the regular population in anti-Roma demonstrations and the neo-Nazis are the ‘drivers’ of anti-Roma activities and prejudices.
"We can now hear racist statements from local politicians from non-extremist parties. Because some traditional parties now use anti-Roma rhetoric it could be the backdrop for more militant activities by neo- Nazis."
The far-right is trying to capitalise on this anti-minority sentiment. Over the last decade much of the Czech far-right has made a clear effort to distance itself from the "skinhead" image it had previously and present itself as a viable political alternative.
The Workers' Social Justice Party is now the political voice of the far-right, and specifically plays on anti- Roma prejudices.
Experts say that extremists are also adopting tactics of gaining supporters by promoting their opposition not just to Roma but to immigration in general and to controversial issues such as same-sex marriage.
International anti-racism groups have said the situation will only be improved if politicians set a strong anti-racism example and legislation is enacted to strengthen legal deterrents to racism.
Georgina Siklossy, press officer at the Brussels-based pan-European anti-racism group the European Network Against Racism, told IPS: "Politicians first and foremost have a responsibility not to use hate speech which could incite racist attacks and contribute to anti-minority sentiment.
"Czech authorities can also take concrete measures to combat rising right-wing extremist groups, for example making sure legislation is implemented criminalising racism."
Mares said that prevention programmes in schools are essential if the situation is to change.
But Roma themselves are more pessimistic. There have been a string of arson attacks in recent years on Roma, one of which in 2009 left a two-year old baby disabled for life. And in the last six months there have been 23 reported racist attacks on Roma which left three people dead.
Emil Vorac, head of a Roma NGO which works in As town where just last week a hotel with Roma families living in it was firebombed, told local media such attacks were to be expected.
"This was not unexpected because it seems to me that racism and xenophobia are rising here and the situation is getting worse. That's my experience of working in various commissions and committees in this region. Their members behave like xenophobes in many cases." (END)