Slovakia: Brutal neo-Nazis who terrorized Nitra are back on the street
Five brutal neo-Nazis suspected of attacking customers at the Mariatchi Bar in Nitra, Slovakia are back on the streets. They were in police custody from last Tuesday evening until Thursday morning.
The investigating detectives' motion to the attorney general that the suspects be remanded into custody was denied. A former police president, however, believes they should be in custody.
Eminent figures in Slovakia are horrified by the neo-Nazi attacks. Some followers of the ultra-right Regional Governor Marian Kotleba reportedly assaulted some famous actors several years ago, and music festival organizers are expressing solidarity with the owner of the bar terrorized by the neo-Nazis.
"The District Prosecutor has decided to release all of those charged as she has not found a reason to keep them in custody," Ján Ludva, spokesperson for the Regional Prosecutor in Nitra, has confirmed. There are three such reasons for remanding suspects in custody according to the law: If those charged pose a flight risk, a risk of pressuring witnesses, or a risk of continuing their criminal activity.
The decision will be reviewed by Prosecutor-General Jaromír Ciznar, who is also planning to review the lower-level prosecutors' procedures from the start of the case. News server SME.sk has reported on the details.
Former police president Jaroslav Spišiak told SME that he agrees with the opinion of the police who proposed the suspects be remanded into custody. He believes it is possible their attacks could be repeated.
Special Prosecutor Ján Hrivnák is of a similar opinion. "I don't want to comment on a specific decision but (in general) letting more than one alleged perpetrator go free means risking they will influence one another and the witnesses so as to thwart the investigation," he said.
Hrivnák stresses that these attacks have been perpetrated repeatedly in Nitra and that it doesn't matter whether the owner of the bar was assaulted on New Year's Eve by the exact same people who also kicked his customers around in October. "If the same group of people is behind these attacks, but a different lineup of them is involved in each incident, that can be shown to pose a risk that the criminal activity will continue. In my opinion, the adequate response in this situation would be to file a motion for them to be remanded into custody. The state would be demonstrating that it has the wherewithal to fight this negative phenomenon," the Special Prosecutor said, adding that keeping the suspects in custody would also have a preventive effect.
Last October the skinhead youths visited the Mariatchi Bar in the center of Nitra and wreaked havoc there. Their attacks against the bar are not random, as the bar owner is known to the neo-Nazis as an activist with the People against Racism initiative.
Police in Nitra are promising to ensure order on the streets. "Given that the media coverage of this case has caused a further increase in concentrations of confrontational people in that area, we will be monitoring the space and continuing to increase the number of patrols by all police services there," spokesperson Renáta Čuháková said.
Slovak Interior Minister Robert Kaliňák said on Wednesday that the police could guarantee protection for the victims if they were to request it. The owner of the Mariatchi Bar is said to be considering making such a request.
In addition to the October assault, video footage of which was recorded by municipal cameras and published by SME, neo-Nazis attacked the bar again on New Year's Eve. Police have already charged another two suspects with breaking the leg of the bar owner during that particular incident.
Public figures are shocked
Almost all of the public figures contacted for comment about the brutal attack on the customers of the Mariatchi Bar have condemned it. "Where are you, elites of Nitra, why haven't you issued any statements condemning this act of brute violence against people who were defenseless and, for the most part, young?" asks Ivan Gontko, a resident of Nitra, in an open letter sent to public figures in the town.
The daily SME also contacted several public figures. Almost all of them condemned the attack after video footage of it was released.
The sole exception was the Bishop of Nitra, Viliam Judák. "The Bishop will not be making a statement," his spokesperson responded.
Juraj Malíček, a teacher and theoretician of popular culture at Nitra's University of Constantine the Philosopher says he experienced similar battles as a student. "The video was terrible, but not surprising. I have lived in Nitra since 1993 and I know the neo-Nazi community here has always been strong. When I was at college and we would walk back to the dorms in the evening, for example, we always preferred to walk in a group rather than alone. In reality this is much more commonplace than just that video," Malíček said.
Actress Eva Pavlíková and painter Karel Félix believe neo-Nazism is not just a problem in Nitra. "I don't believe Nitra is exceptional, but that this case is drawing attention to all of this. Naturally I condemn this and I am agitated by statements that such behavior is not extremism," Félix said.
Ján Greššo, head of the theater in Nitra, has called the attack brutal, hateful and inhuman. "I am always aghast when I see the kind of rancor that harms others not just physically, but also psychologically," he said.
Slovak presidential candidate Pavol Hrušovský lives in Nitra and is demanding harsh punishment for the perpetrators. "This kind of brutal violence is worthy of condemnation. I am sorry the police investigation took so long when they had the video recording all along," he said.
The right-wing extremists in Nitra have also assaulted famous Slovak actors. Lukáš Latinák and Milan Ondrík were attacked there almost 10 years ago when they went out for a beer.
At the time there weren't many places to go, Latinák recalls, as many were already closed. "A larger group [of neo-Nazis] was sitting at the bar, about 13 people," he recalls.
When the waiter served Latinák and Ondrík, the locals began to chant and shout slogans. Latinák doesn't recall whether they also gave the Nazi salute.
Suspecting problems, the actors wanted to just finish their drinks quickly and leave. "I just heard someone shout: 'Hey, hippie!' Since I was the only person there with long hair, I guessed they meant me," Latinák says.
Hearing steps behind him, he moved his beer to the side because he was afraid someone was going to bang his head into the table. He turned around and was struck by someone wearing brass knuckles.
"They gouged my eyebrow and drew blood," he recalls. The scar from that blow is still visible today.
The assailants then kicked Ondrík in the head; Latinák says he never even had a chance to stand up. In a previous interview for SME, Ondrík said that he had been assaulted by neo-Nazis as many as three times, one time in the capital, Bratislava.
The actor described how during a separate incident in Nitra dozens of neo-Nazis giving the Nazi salute came into another business. "They beat me and the others up with baseball bats. The next day the news reported that nothing very bad had happened," Ondrík said.
Latinák claims to still love Nitra, but he is upset that the right-wing extremists who assaulted the customers of the student bar are still at large. As for the organizers of the Bratislava Jazz Days, Grape, Konvergence, Pohoda, Slížovica, Topfest, Uprising, Vrbovský Větry and Wilsonic music festivals, they have all joined forces to express support for the customers and staff of the Mariatchi.
"Independent festivals rely on an independent club scene, on small businesses where various kinds of people can meet one another without fear. We do not want people in our country to have to be afraid to go to a bar, a club, a festival or a pub. We don't want them to have be afraid to go to a park, or any other kind of public space, or to walk down the street just because they have a certain hairstyle, skin color, or are speaking their native language," reads the declaration, which has been signed by nine festival organizers so far.
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