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Czech expert says right-wing extremists will fail at the polls

Prague, 30.8.2013 19:33, (ROMEA)
A march by about 70 people on 6 October 2012 in Ústí nad Labem past a residential hotel predominantly occupied by Romani people. The protest ended with small groups of DSSS promoters exchanging shouted comments with their opponents, who had come to support the residential hotel occupants. (PHOTO:  Czech News Agency)
A march by about 70 people on 6 October 2012 in Ústí nad Labem past a residential hotel predominantly occupied by Romani people. The protest ended with small groups of DSSS promoters exchanging shouted comments with their opponents, who had come to support the residential hotel occupants. (PHOTO: Czech News Agency)

The expectations of right-wing extremists last weekend were not fulfilled. According to police estimates, only 2 000 people total attended the anti-Roma demonstrations and marches convened by the movement in České Budějovice, Duchcov, Jičín, Ostrava and Plzeň.

Political scientist Miroslav Mareš, an expert on both left-wing and right-wing extremism, points out that the lack of interest in attending these events stems from a decline in ultra-right activism and "ordinary" people's lack of interest in participating in planned events of this kind. "There was no impulse pushing people into the streets last Saturday," Mareš said in an interview for news server Aktuálně.cz. Moreover, Mareš also says Saturday's protests, which were partially organized by ultra-right political movements and parties in an effort to dominate the media prior to the upcoming elections, have instead shown the disunity inside the ultra-right movement. 

Mareš holds degrees in law and political science and is an expert on left- and right-wing extremism and terrorism. He currently teaches at the Faculty of Social Studies at Masaryk University.

Q: Last Friday the neo-Nazis were promising 10 000 people would participate in their events, but ultimately not quite 2 000 turned out. What decided such low participation?

A: There was no impulse pushing people into the streets last Saturday, when the events were planned. In the past, it has often been the case that large, mass protests happened only under the pretext of an actual incident - or, as in the case of the town of Břeclav last year, an apparent incident - that succeeds in agitating public opinion and concerns a specific locality.  

Q: Did the fact that the events were split among six different localities play a role?

A: I think the neo-Nazis wanted to test what it takes to organize simultaneous protests in many places.

Q: How were last Saturday's protests different from the big protests we have seen in the past, such as those that took place earlier this year in České Budějovice or a few years ago in Varnsdorf?

A: Last Saturday's protests were not a response to an act of brutality that had roused public opinion. Also, most of the organizers of the protests last weekend were from the part of the ultra-right spectrum that people don't trust. Most of the people who might join other demonstrations will not support those that are on the fringe of the extremist spectrum.

Q: Last weekend, what percentage of the protesters was comprised of "normal" people who spontaneously joined the marches?

A: Rather than spontaneously joining the protests, we can say that "ordinary" people watched them and expressed support for the people from the hooligan and neo-Nazi scene who were perpetrating assault through them. However, that support was decidedly not as massive as it was in České Budějovice or two years ago in the Šluknov area.

Q: Who are these "ordinary people" who support these protests, or even join them?

A: If I am to answer that question as a social scientist, then I cannot refer to any precise social research into this topic because there is none. From a scientific point of view, what I am about to say is mere speculation. Be that as it may, I believe these could be people who have personally had a negative experience with Romani people and have the feeling that this is the way to resolve it. These could also be people who are frustrated in their personal lives and have the feeling that the allegedly generous state policy toward Romani people is what lies behind their difficulties. When young people join the protests it could be the adrenaline factor, or an effort to spend their free time in a certain way. A demonstration can be an occasion for self-realization and publicly declaring one's position.

Q: Generally speaking, it seems that anti-Roma and "anti-nonconformist" sentiment is rising in society. What does the low participation in Saturday's protests indicate on that front?

A: According to sociological research, anti-Roma sentiment has traditionally been strong here since the beginning of the 1990s. However, what is changing is people's willingness to participate in activism. People have no interest in showing their positions in this way, and at the same time they don't want to show their positions at some event in a town where the problems aren't even that big. For example, in Jičín the convening of such protests doesn't make much sense even to the conveners themselves.

Q: To what degree did the upcoming early elections play a role in the convening of these protests last weekend? Aren't these protests, to a certain degree, an effort by extremist political parties to dominate the election?

A: Certainly that is one reason for them. Moreover, we are now seeing the problem of an extremist scene that is splitting, one where new groups are coming into being like the Democratic Workers' Party (Demokratická strana pracujících - DSP) and the "Czech Lions" (Čeští lvi) who are linked to it, and they need to develop a contrasting profile to the Workers' Social Justice Party (Dělnická strana sociální spravedlnosti - DSSS) which they have broken away from. That leads to rivalry over who, from this relatively small ultra-right scene, will become the better-known party.

Q: Which ultra-right movements or parties convened Saturday's protests?

A: Not just parties, but also unregistered groups or militant structures. In Ostrava, for example, members of hooligan gangs were seen to be involved. In České Budějovice, the WP European Patriot group is often visible. Members of the Free Youth (Svobodná mládež) and the former structure of the National (Free) Resistance (Národní (Svobodný) odpor) participate in these protests, but they don't organize them.

Q: Which of those could also run in the elections now?

A: Of those that have participated in organizing these protests, only the DSSS, unless some other ultra-right party like the DSP quickly registers.

Q: Right-wing extremist movements often play with populist, crowd-pleasing topics such as welfare, people who are somehow inconvenient, "black violence" ... To what degree might such slogans succeed with the voters?

A: For the time being, such slogans are not influencing the electoral campaign, rather, other important topics are pushing them out of the main news coverage. The established political parties are not making any effort to markedly profile themselves that way. The only registered party that points to such issues is the DSSS.

Q: What kind of program is the DSSS taking into the elections?

A: The DSSS has several programs about specific areas, including a proposition on the Romani question. I believe they will primarily use the speeches by [party chair] Vandas and a leaflet campaign.

Q: Do they have a chance at succeeding in the upcoming elections?

A: The short campaign time doesn't help them much and they don't have much of a chance. They could raise their numbers compared to the last elections, but I'd say they have a chance of getting to 3 % maximum. It will probably be less than that. Moreover, new groups on the political scene could take their votes, like Okamura's "Dawn" (Úsvit) and others.

Q: How realistic is it that these ultra-right movements and parties might collaborate with Okamura somehow?

A: There is a low chance of that. Okamura would be concerned that such a move would discredit him. It would be extremely disadvantageous for him. The DSSS has already sharply rejected him. Okamura can play the Roma card, but of course he will do it in a different way than the DSSS does.

Q: How are the ultra-right parties doing from a long-term perspective?

A: In surveys they most frequently show up in the category of "others", so the number of votes they get fall within the margin of statistical error. For the time being, the greatest success ever enjoyed by the DSSS was in last year's elections to the regional authorities. In Ústí Region they missed getting a seat on the regional body by just a few tenths of a percent. They also could score points in the Moravian-Silesian Region, but in the country as a whole they won't make it to the 5 % threshold. 

Q: Will the DSSS therefore orient itself toward regional politics?

A: Last year's regional elections were a big chance for the DSSS to initiate an advance through regional politics to top-level politics, as similar parties abroad have succeeded in doing. Even though the party recorded a success in the Ústí Region, they lost the elections overall. That was one reason the DSSS has fractured now. Their main opportunity for advancement, therefore, could be the European Parliamentary elections next year, but they would need a strong personality leading the party, and for the time being they don't have that. It turns out that Vandas is not fulfilling that role.


news server Aktuálně.cz, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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Extremism, Pochod, Neo-Nazism, Soužití, Volby, Volby do zastupitelstev krajů 2012, zprávy, Aktivismus, Anticiganismus, České Budějovice, Čeští lvi, demokracie, Duchcov, manifestace, Nacionalismus, Nenávist, nepokoje, nesnášenlivost, Občanská společnost, protest, protiromský pochod, Romové, situace ve společnosti, skinheads, společenská atmosféra, Šíření nenávisti a nesnášenlivosti, Šluknov, Czech republic, European parlament, Events, news, Populism, Racism, Roma, Tomio Okamura, DSSS



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