Analysis: Why the National Resistance members should be tried - 10 years of a failed hunt for hardcore neo-Nazis in the Czech Republic
Two weeks ago, the latest round of the court proceedings against eight defendants charged with conspiracy and rioting with the aim of promoting Nazism in the Czech Republic began. According to the indictment, the defendants are the former hard core of an unregistered group called the "National Resistance" (Národní odpor - NO).
The Czech Supreme Court banned that group in 2006. Its alleged members have been on trial for six years and face up to eight years in prison if convicted.
Attorneys for the defendants continue to insist that their clients just committed pranks and not felonies. In mid-October 2012, Judge Dana Šindelářová of the Prague 1 District Court agreed with them and acquitted the defendants.
When announcing her verdict, the judge sharply criticized investigators from the Organized Crime Detection Unit (Útvar pro odhalování organizovaného zločinu - ÚOOZ), saying that the evidence they had collected was not sufficient to prove the accused had committed even one of the felonies. The case should never have been brought to trial in such a form, in her opinion.
State Prosecutor Zdeňka Galková appealed and at the beginning of December 2013 the appellate court granted her appeal, stating that the first-instance court had absolutely ignored evidence submitted from wiretapping, and ordered the case be reheard. Then enormous delays occurred, for example, when one of the expert witnesses on extremism had to be changed because he had become unreliable.
A new court expert had to elaborate yet another expert assessment of the evidence. After so many years, barely anybody remembers what these eight people have been charged with.
During a nighttime action in 2008, some of the defendants allegedly posted stickers around the center of Prague referring to the National Resistance website, and others organized an event commemorating fallen Wehrmacht soldiers in Jihlava, inviting, for example, a former SS member from Austria to attend along with the new "Führer" of the Austrian neo-Nazis at the time, a man who had already once been sentenced to 10 years in prison for activities attempting to revive the Third Reich.
A female defendant also allegedly organized a concert where the same ideas were to be promoted by neo-Nazi bands. All of this was undertaken by all of the defendants as an organized group.
Crimes for which the National Resistance members should actually be tried
The members of the National Resistance should be tried for organizing violent demonstrations and marches, such as:
* The demonstration at the Janov housing estate in Litvínov on 17 November 2008, the anniversary of the Velvet Revolution, which resulted in property damage worth millions of Czech crowns and at least 15 police officers injured.
* The demonstration in Přerov on 4 April 2009.
* The demonstration in Varnsdorf on 10 September 2011.
They should also be tried for initiating arson and other violence attacks, such as:
* The armed group attack by roughly 50 neo-Nazis in České Budějovice on 22 November 1999 on a Romani party at the Modrá Hvězda restaurant, resulting in six Romani people injured and tens of thousands of crowns worth of property damage.
* The arson attack on 18 April 2009 in Vítkov on the 120th anniversary of the birth of Adolf Hitler, during which a two-year-old girl suffered third-degree burns over more than 80 % of her body.
* The nighttime, violent pursuit of Romani youths through the streets of the town of Havířov by 12 armed, masked neo-Nazis on 8 November 2008, resulting in a seriously injured Romani youth whose health has been permanently affected, all to mark the 70th anniversary of the Kristallnacht pogrom committed by Germans against their Jewish fellow citizens.
Ideological architects of hundreds of violent assaults remain unpunished
Since the crimes with which these defendants have been charged happened eight years ago, many people are asking whether it still makes any sense to pursue them. Some of the defendants already have their own families today or have developed intellectually in different directions.
Why is is this still worth pursuing through the courts? The victims of the serious, violent felonies committed by the perpetrators who were so strongly influenced by the NO which used to be the leading group on the neo-Nazi scene, want to see the courts finally settle these cases.
The NO's website alleged for years, for example, that the Czech Republic is managed by an "occupying Jewish government", which meant that there was no "rule of law", which the NO also said was demonstrated by the fact that its members were being indicted. The only solution the group offered was to revive the Third Reich, and it declared war on the "rotten system".
In order to comprehend the nature of the National Resistance, we must return to the early 1990s. After the Velvet Revolution, various nationalist, neo-Nazi and skinhead groups sprouted here like mushrooms after it rains.
The most militant of them decided to establish a branch of the international Blood and Honour organization, called Blood and Honour Division Bohemia (BHDB), and gave it various cover names such as Bohemia Hammerskins. They focused on perpetrating violent assaults against alternative youth, foreigners, and Romani people, on publishing neo-Nazi 'zines (periodicals), and on organizing meetings and concerts by neo-Nazi bands.
According to Miroslav Mareš, an expert in political extremism and a political scientist, at the end of the 1990s there were disputes between the Plzeň and Prague sections of the BHDB skinhead movement that led to their splitting up. The Praguers began to focus mainly on political activity, while the Plzeň cell preferred to traffic in neo-Nazi music, mainly through concerts, thanks to which it raised money for the movement's activity.
The first bigger moment of visibility for the NO was its attack on a Romani party at the Modrá Hvězda restaurant in České Budějovice, where the internal furnishings of the restaurant were destroyed and a firearm was used for the first time, followed by a march through the town and another attack on a music club for alternative youth in November 1999. Subsequently, the NO championed and promoted National Socialism through public events in the form of assemblies, demonstrations, and strictly secret seminars.
The NO left the convening of concerts by neo-Nazi bands and the sale of recorded music, accessories and clothing to activists from the White Power (WP) movement. The biggest events organized by the NO in those days were the 1 May marches.
In 2006, the NO was categorized by the Czech Supreme Court as a neo-Nazi movement. The next year its traditional 1 May event, which featured a march in Brno, was attended by approximately 500 Czech and Slovak neo-Nazis.
Representatives of City Hall immediately dispersed the assembly after it was officially begun, but many in attendance did not obey that instruction. Police, therefore, intervened against them using water cannon and arrested six participants.
One of those arrested was convicted by a court in Brno and sentenced without the possibility of parole just for carrying a banner with the name "National Resistance" on it. That did not prevent the ultra-right activsts from organizing a march in November of that year through Prague's Jewish Town, which, for the first time in the history of the Czech Republic, thousands of people including celebrities counter-protested.
In none of these cases were the architects of the unrest ever criminally prosecuted. In collaboration with its big network of collaborators, the NO organized many anti-Romani demonstrations and marches during 2008.
"Dirty work" in the form of dozens of brutally violent assaults, including arson, was carried out by members of another, sister group called the Autonomous Nationalists (AN). To the great surprise of the Czech Government, in November 2008 in the northern Bohemian town of Litvínov, what was supposed to be a small party of crazed youths demonstrating turned out to be a few hundred diehards who, with aid from local residents and despite the numerical superiority of police, sparked several hours of street fighting conducted with unprecedented, professional logistical organization and brutality.
One fiasco of the ÚOOZ after another
In 2008 the state experienced its first Waterloo. Despite the fact that it had known in advance about the organizers' call to arms in Litvínov, the state had not prevented damage being done to both private and public property worth several dozen million crowns, nor had it prevented dozens of people being injured and the absolute demoralization of the hundreds of police officers who participated in trying to suppress the violence.
During their intervention, police allegedly absolutely forgot to document it visually. Just one protester has been convicted after a protracted court proceedings.
The sentence in that case was a mere 300 hours of community service. The fact that the architects of the unrest were never criminally prosecuted meant they could calmly carry on with their activity against the state for at least six more months.
Then-Czech Interior Minister Ivan Langer said his "patience had run out", but the responsible police units understood that to mean it would be enough just to disperse other such demonstrations, which is what happened at the beginning of April 2009 in the Moravian town of Přerov - again, without the subsequent criminal prosecution of those participating in the event. Then, seemingly out of the clear blue sky, there was the nighttime attack with firebombs on a Romani family in the Silesian town of Vítkov, the consequences of which are generally known.
That incident represented a "knockout" blow to the anti-extremism units of the state police. Even though they already knew of the series of arson attacks that had been previously committed against the homes of Romani families throughout the Silesian region of the Czech Republic, they had not managed to prevent the next one, and its consequences could not be ignored.
When, shortly afterward, the caretaker Government of Jan Fischer took power, the colossus that is the Czech Police could be visibly seen to lift off and soon, during a raid code-named "POWER," the "middle management" of the movement was arrested - the alleged publisher and distributor of the recorded tracks by neo-Nazi bands who for years had financed the NO's activity from the sale of CDs of that music. Then the ÚOOZ also filed charges against the alleged "top management" of the neo-Nazi scene, accusing eight people of conspiracy and rioting with the aim of promoting Nazism.
Charges brought are just a weak rehash of what actually happened
At the time, the spokesperson of the Security Information Services (BIS), Jan Šubrt, commented on groups of the National Resistance type as follows: "Their political program is unequivocal: Political dictatorship, the creation of a racially pure state, and merciless combat against anybody who doesn't like it." Mareš, the expert on extremism, said the following about the trial of the alleged NO members: "The crimes of which they have been indicted are not, for most of the accused, what they should actually be tried for."
The website of National Resistance (which had been banned by the Supreme Court in 2006) was for a long time the main disseminator of Nazi ideology in the Czech Republic. Its creators bear at least partial responsibility for inciting young people to commit some of the worst ideologically-motivated felonies of recent years, including the arson attack in Vítkov.
Through the website, they co-created the fertile ground without which "our good boys" would have had difficulty deciding to commit such "big actions". The NO website gave them a new dose, on a daily basis, of strong words spoken by their heroes and role models, which increased their self-confidence with assurances that their aggressivity was not just justified, but beneficial to the nation.
In her indictment, the state prosecutor does not mention who authored those articles, who ran the National Resistance website, or who organized the violent demonstrations like the "Battle of Janov". Instead, she is prosecuting the accused for posting stickers at night, for organizing one march with foreign guests that was dispersed on the spot, and for organizing just one of the hundreds of concerts that have been performed in support of reviving Nazism.
An exception to the generally failed campaign by the state against the leaders of the neo-Nazi movement has been its prosecution of the WP activists, i.e., the middle management of the movement, for organizing concerts, selling CDs, and financing the NO's political activity thereby. That was the result of the ÚOOZ's "POWER" raid, but even there, the prison sentences handed down were ultimately just suspended ones.
The difficult task of Judge Dana Šindelářová
What might Judge Šindelářová do with this indictment now? A solution has been offered by Judge Manfred Götzl, who sits on a court in Munich, Germany.
For three years, his court has been trying five alleged members indicted with membership in or providing support for the organized group of the National Socialist Underground (NSU), which committed 10 execution-style murders between 2000 and 2013 in Germany, perpetrated bomb attacks mainly with the aim of murdering foreigners of Turkish origin, and carried out numerous bank robberies. During the court proceedings, in collaboration with the Criminal Police and the attorneys for the victims, that judge has gradually expanded the evidentiary situation.
In the case of the NO, Šindelářová, unfortunately, cannot rely on the investigative unit of the ÚOOZ in this regard, even though it is very probable that, together with the BIS, that unit does have enough additional evidence availablet, evidence that has never been presented to any court. Such evidence, for example, would be that several hours after the arson attack in Vítkov, these units informed the Government of the extremist background to the incident - in other words, at a time when the local criminal police had not yet discovered any such evidence, so how was it that the BIS and the ÚOOZ knew they were advising the Government correctly?
The hearing in the NO case will continue on 18 October and 20 October at the Prague 1 District Court, Ovocný trh 587/14, Praha-Staré Město, at 10 AM. The trial is open to the public.
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