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Czech Republic: Xenophobic populists criticize Merkel and migration, neo-Nazis throw Molotov cocktails and rocks

8.2.2016 23:46
On Hradčanské Square in Prague on 6 February 2016, a demonstration called
On Hradčanské Square in Prague on 6 February 2016, a demonstration called "The Threat of the Islamicization of the Czech Republic" was convened by the "Bloc against Islam" and the Úsvit movement as part of protests around Europe organized by the Pegida movement. (PHOTO: Romea.cz)

On Saturday more than 1 000 people attended a demonstration against Islam on Hradčanské Square in Prague convened by the "Bloc against Islam" and the "Dawn of Direct Democracy" (Úsvit) movement. Speakers at the event criticized those advocating for refugees and politicians in both the Czech Republic and the EU.

The event was part of Europe-wide protests organized by the Pegida movement. A police cordon separated those attending the anti-Islam assembly from those in favor of migration who also assembled Saturday in the center of the capital.

During the day two serious conflicts happened during which aggressive neo-Nazis committed attacks. The first occurred prior to the beginning of one demonstration when a group of masked neo-Nazis attacked a peaceful procession of those supporting migration in the streets of the Lesser Quarter beneath Prague Castle.

The second occurred before 20:00 CET, when neo-Nazis threw Molotov cocktails at the Klinika Autonomous Social Center. Police spokesperson Jan Daněk told the Czech News Agency that police detained a total of 13 people during Saturday's protests.

Most of those detained were charged with misdemeanor offenses such as, for example, failing to obey police instructions or violating the law on the right to assembly. One person fired a starter pistol into the air at an event convened by the right-wing National Democracy party on Loretánské Swquare and may have committed a felony.

Speaking at the demonstration, the chair of the "Bloc against Islam", Martin Konvička, called anyone supporting migrants to the Czech Republic a "collaborator". He criticized both Czech and European politicians, with the crowd's loudest whistles prompted by the name of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

"What is being called the migration crisis is an unarmed invasion by hundreds of thousands of young men about whom we know nothing. As a whole, they represent a reservoir for fanatical jihadists and an enormous danger to our civilization," Konvička declared.

The chair of Úsvit, Miroslav Lidinský, connected online from the Prague demonstration to those happening simultaneously in other European cities, and said during that connection that the Czech Government of Bohuslav Sobotka (Czech Social Democratic Party - ČSSD) is "collaborating" with Merkel. "Brussels is good for nothing, we want border protection," those on the square chanted.

Those attending the protest also whistled when reference was made to Czech Human Rights Minister Jiří Dienstbier (ČSSD) and Czech Public Defender of Rights Anna Šabatová. The demonstrators waved flags with anti-Islamic symbols and banners reading "Islam is evil!" (in English), "We will not allow our homeland to be subverted", and "Close the borders! Sue over the quotas or face new elections!"

Some protesters wore Czech hockey uniforms. They also shouted slogans like "Resign!" or "We don't want multi-culti!"

Police officers not issued estimates on how many people actually assembled for the event. A Czech News Agency correspondent reported that police detained several people on the square, including a man who had brought along a big ax, and another who began to fight with officers.

Police also asked several people who appeared suspicious to them for their identification and detained four who are suspected of having perpetrated misdemeanors, Daněk told the Czech News Agency. He did not clarify whether those detained were opponents or proponents of migration.

Hundreds opposed to hatred at Pohořelec 

Prior to the beginning of Saturday's demonstration, police deterred tourists from accessing Prague Castle. Approximately 400 people in favor of refugee reception assembled just after 13:00 CET at Pohořelec in Prague, just above Prague Castle, for a demonstration called "For a Europe without Fear and Hatred" convened by the "Anti-Hate Speech Initiative" and the "Left against Xenophobia" organization.

After listening to several speeches, those participating set off on a march to the Hrzánský Palace, where other speeches were given. One of those who addressed the demonstration was Eva Zahradníčková, the girlfriend of a Muslim man who was recently stabbed.

"There is the danger of totalitarianism in the Czech Republic, things are moving in that direction. One of the main reasons is how [the Czech President] behaves," she said.

Matěj Stropnický, chair of the Czech Green Party, criticized the Government for having no plan as to how to receive refugees or how many to receive. He also admitted that he had made a mistake when he voted for Miloš Zeman to become Czech President and said that instead of supporting the vulnerable, Zeman was supporting those in Czech society who are "moral weaklings".

Tomáš Kratochvíl, who has made documentary films about refugees and Romani people, also addressed the demonstration. He said he believes it will be very difficult to create the conditions for integrating refugees, which is why he is not an advocate of open borders.

He emphasized that there is a need to discuss the issue with those demonstrating against refugee reception. "Those people who are demonstrating right now on the other side of the barricades are in desperate need of information. They will not get it from their favorite media or their Facebook bubbles. They can only learn it from us. That requires a lot of us. Besides love and patience, it also requires sincere self-reflection," he said.

After the speeches at Hrzánský Palace, the participants wanted to proceed through Malostranské Square to Klárov park. The police, however, blocked their progress for more than half an hour, after which several hundred demonstrators headed along that route.

Peaceful procession of those in favor of refugees attacked by masked neo-Nazis

On Malostranské Square, at around 13:00 CET, those in favor of refugee reception assembled for another demonstration called "Solidarity without Limits:  Action Day against

Fortress Europe", which was convened by the "No to Racism" Initiative in Prague. "We are gathering here to bring democratic politics into the streets and to show the xenophobes that this beautiful part of historical Prague does not belong just to them," Jan Blažek, a spokesperson for the "No to Racism" initiative, told the Czech News Agency.

People carried banners and flags reading "Refugees welcome" (in English), "Fascism = Crime" and "Freedom for people - limits for capital". Political scientist Ondřej Slačálek addressed the demonstrators and warned against the radicalization of society.

"We are here to demonstrate that we are not afraid," said Slačálek. In his view, it is impossible to ignore the intimidation and violent attacks like the recent stabbing of a Muslim man in Prague.

The political scientist asserted that both the media and the political establishment are making fatal errors. Slačálek believes the Czech Interior Minister and Czech President are legitimizing fascism.

He also warned that not everyone opposed to refugee reception is a fascist and that many people are just simply afraid. "We must not claim moral superiority, we must speak with these people and separate them from the fascist core," he said.

The demonstrators then headed toward Prague Castle and Hradčanské Square. At the corner of Thunovská and Zámecká Streets, a small group of roughly 20-25 neo-Nazis attacked them.

The neo-Nazis began throwing bottles and rocks at those in favor of refugee reception for several minutes. After police drove up, the assailants fled.

No one was either detained or injured, police spokesperson Daněk told the Czech News Agency. The march by those in favor of refugee reception then continued up to Hradčanské Square, where police officers kept them separated from the sympathizers of the populist-xenophobic "Bloc against Islam".

SPD demonstration against Islam in Prague demands Government's resignation

Another demonstration in support of the political movement called "Freedom and Direct Democracy" (Svoboda a přímá demokracie - SPD) called for the Czech Government to

resign, for early elections, for a referendum on withdrawing from the European Union, and for zero tolerance of immigrants. Police said approximately 1 200 people gathered in the lower part of Wenceslas Square in Prague, but organizers estimated attendance at more than twice that.

Those addressing the event were the actor Ivan Vyskočil, the rock singer Aleš Brichta, and the songwriter Pepa Nos. After listening to a recording of the medieval Hussite anthem "Ktož sú boží bojovníci" ("Ye Who Are Warriors of God"), the meeting was opened by the chair of the SPD, Czech MP Tomio Okamura.

"We must assert absolute, zero tolerance for the dissemination and promotion of the radical ideology of Islam," Okamura said in his speech. Austrian MEP Wolfgang Jung (Freedom Party) also addressed the crowd, who were carrying Czech flags and banners reading "No Muslims in Benešov" and "Another German Führer is destroying Europe".

Jung represents the European Parliamentary faction called  "A Europe of Nations and Freedom", led by French MEP Marine Le Pen, and said, among other things, that "Brussels invited [the immigrants] and we have to foot the bill." The actor Vyskočil rejected any characterization of his support for the movement as xenophobic by referencing the fact that he had once married a dancer of Turkish origin, Anife Ismet Hassanová.

Other speakers included, for example, Czech Senator Jan Veleba, Czech MP Radim Fiala (vice-chair of the SPD), and activist Zdeněk Chytra from Berlin. In addition to criticizing multiculturalism and the current Czech Government, they frequently expressed support for the politics of Czech President Zeman.

Approximately 80 people assemble to support Czech PM Sobotka

Between 60 and 80 people gathered for a demonstration in support of Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka not far from the Office of the Government. Allegedly dozens more were unable to participate in that demonstration because police cut off access to the Office of the Government from the Klárov park in order to avert a possible clash with another group of demonstrators protesting against the cabinet's immigration policy.

"We have come to support the Prime Minister's policy, which is opposed to this wave of populist xenophobia. We are also responding to the hate demonstrations that are happening today in Prague," said Tomasz Peszynski, one of the organizers of the demonstration, which was called "Demonstrating with sunshine and coffee against xenophobia and Kalashnikovs" and featured banners reading "The human values of kindness and reason are endangered", "Sunshine is not stupid", "Stop spreading hatred", and "We stand by Sobotka", as well as flags of the Czech Republic, the European Union, NATO and the USA.

One person detained at demonstration by extremists from National Democracy

As many as 500 opponents of the Czech Government, the European Union and Islam were estimated by police to have proceeded through Prague on Saturday in a protest march from Vítězné Square to Loretánské Square. As speeches were being given during the closing phase of the demonstration, one participant was detained after he pulled out a starter pistol and fired it.

The marchers left Vítězné Square in the Dejvice quarter after 13:00 CET. Chanting slogans, they headed across the Brusnice creek and the area known as Nový svět (New World) and headed for Loretánské Square.

The march was led by the chair of the extremist National Democracy movement, Adam B. Bartoš, who had convened the protest. Participants chanted slogans such as "We won't give you our freedom", "Nothing but the nation", "We don't want multi-culti" and "Sobotka is a traitor".

A police vehicle drove ahead of the procession and gradually stopped traffic so it could proceed. Dozens of officers oversaw the event.

Demonstrators waved the national flag and frequently wore the national tricolor on their clothing or the image of a mosque with an "x" through it. Not far from the building of the Czech Foreign Ministry they gave several speeches criticizing the Czech and German Governments and lauding the position taken by the Czech President on the refugee issue.

The protesters also criticized the refugees who are currently heading for Europe. Bartoš declared that such demonstrations must continue.

"Our aim is to protect our borders, our homes, the women and the children," he said, at which point one of the demonstrators fired a starter pistol into the air. The 21-year-old man was quickly detained.

The event ended around 15:00 CET. Bartoš called on all those present to move toward Hradčanské Square.

Approximately 500 people in Brno for DSSS demonstration against Islam

Roughly 500 people assembled on Svoboda Square in Brno on Saturday for a demonstration against Islam convened by a group called "We Don't Want Refugees in the Czech 

Republic", the Workers Social Justice Party (DSSS), and the Brno branch of National Democracy. The aim of the event was to draw attentioned to the alleged danger of what demonstrators believe is a massively targeted migration into Europe, Erik Lamprecht, chair of the Workers Youth, told the Czech News Agency.

In Brno the demonstration and march through the town happened without any problems, according to Brno police spokersperson Pavel Šváb. People brought banners reading "Merkel + Juncker = the childless gravediggers of Europe", "Sobotka needs to go to Australia for training now" and "Our descendants will never forgive you." Another banner announced "Unity is strength, give it to them with the V4. Prague, Bratislava, Budapest and Warsaw".

According to the opening speaker, DSSS chair Tomáš Vandas, the event was meant to express disastisfaction with the development of Europe. "The number of migrants is growing and there is uncontrollable movement of people here. Nobody is doing anything about it. The top politicians of the European Union and the leading representatives of the state do not know what to do. We want to say 'enough' and draw attention to the fact that there are citizens here who are not indifferent to this, to warn of the danger that is here," Vandas told the Czech News Agency.

After speeches were given, people set out on a march down Masarykova Street to the train station and took Benešova, Rooseveltova and Rašínova streets back to the square, where the event ended just before 16:00 CET. During the march the crowd chanted various slogans, for example, "We don't want multi-culti", "We're standing up to the Government's betrayal", and many slogans targeting Czech PM Sobotka.

The crowd shouted, for example, "Sobotka to Pankrác [Prison]", "Bohemia for the Czechs" and "Protect our children". Police had to stop mass transit for approximately 45 minutes because of the march.  

ČTK, ryz, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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Demonstrace, Extremism, Islamofobie, Neo-Nazism, Xenophobia



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