In the Czech Republic, as in other Central and Eastern European countries, the Gypsies (also known as Roma) — targets of Nazi extermination programs during World War II — have been facing a rising tide of racist hate. Skinheads, if not the most numerous among the racists, are often the most visible.
The primative Skinhead racism in the Czech Republic is of the neo-Nazi variety. Although Czech Skins spew anti-Semitic rhetoric, the Roma are their chief targets. Others have been “guest workers” (mainly from Vietnam), Arab and African students, and foreign tourists. The Czech word vycisteni (cleansing) has come into wide use by the Skins and other hatemongers.
Estimates vary as to the number of Skinheads in the Czech Republic. Some observers estimate that between 800 and 2,000 are active in Prague, with several thousand more active in other cities and towns. Czech Police calculate that there are at least 400 in Prague and 3,000 to 4,000 nationally. The largest concentrations are in the industrial areas of northern Bohemia.
April and May 1990, Prague and other cities. There were reports in April and May 1990 of Skinheads attacking groups of Gypsies with clubs and chains in several northern Bohemian cities. On May 1, some 200 Skins attacked Gypsies and foreign workers (mainly Vietnamese) in Prague’s main square and afterwards assaulted a group of Canadian tourists.
February 1991, Prague. In a highly publicized case, a Czech sculptor, Pavel Oporensky, came upon a gang of Skinheads (including some Austrian Skins) that had just assaulted a passerby who had taunted them and viciously attacked another man who had come to his rescue. Jumping in to help, Oporensky was quickly surrounded by threatening Skins. While defending himself, he fatally slashed one of the gang with his pocket knife. He was tried for manslaughter, found guilty and sentenced to four years probation. Oporensky had been a Charter 77 dissident under the Communists and later lived in New York for 10 years. The victim, 17-year-old Ales Martinu, was buried in his Skinhead clothes while Orlik, a Skinhead band, performed.
October 1991, Teplice. Two Gypsies in an automobile were attacked at a railroad station and their car was demolished. Following this, a group of some 60 Skinheads attacked citizens in the center of the city, later escaping aboard a train bound for Prague.
November 1991, Prague. More than a thousand Skinheads and supporters marched for several hours through Wenceslaus Square and then through Zizcov, a largely Gypsy neighborhood, shouting “Gypsies to the gas chambers!”
February 6, 1993, Pilsen. Some 15 or so Skinheads attacked a dozen Bulgarian tourists with clubs, brass knuckles and tear gas at the railway station in Pilsen. Several of the tourists were injured, including a man and a woman who were hospitalized with concussions. The Czech news agency reported the arrest of the youths, who ranged in age from 14 to 18. All were released to their parents.
More recently, on the weekend of March 19 and 20, 1994, various Skinhead factions joined with other right-wing demonstrators in Prague and other cities to commemorate Hitler’s division of Czechoslovakia 55 years earlier.
Stalking Gypsy Children
Schoolchildren have not been safe from attack. A 12-year-old Gypsy girl told of an assault by Skinheads as she and her friends walked home from school: “They shouted ‘Gypsies!’ and they started to beat us. One of them pulled a knife….” There have been many such reports of Skins stalking Gypsy children near schools.
In December 1993, the Czech Ministry of Internal Affairs released a report on racial violence in the country, blaming “extremist groups propagating extreme nationalism, fascism, and anti-Semitism,” and mentioning among such groups at least 10 different factions of Skinheads including neo-Nazis. At the same time, the Ministry reported that three Gypsies had been killed by Skinheads since 1990. Another authority, however, Ladislav Goral, a Gypsy who is a senior member of the government’s Council on Nationalities, disputed the estimate, stating that there were at least twice that many fatalities.
An evaluation by the Institute for Criminology claims that the general populace of the Czech Republic tends to: sympathize with anyone who at least verbally, but better “in reality” stands up for their protection…. Thus, for example, members of a group of skinheads are forgiven and ultimately supported by a considerable part of the population, which mistakes their racist, fascist intolerance for the protection of society from criminality.
Miroslav Martinu, whose Skinhead son Ales had been killed in the aforementioned Oporensky brawl in 1991, insisted that the gangs attacking Gypsies were only going after “criminal elements.” But a policeman was quoted in the Czech newspaper Krety has saying: “If nothing is done quickly about the Skins, they will soon be running around here in SS uniforms. And if there are no Gypsies around, they will find other targets.”
Commenting upon violence against Gypsies in the Czech Republic, the 1993 Human Rights Report of the U.S. Department of State noted: Newspaper reports often link such violence with Skinhead provocations. Such was certainly the case in incidents in Plzen [Pilsen] and Pisek in the fall, in each of which a young Roma died as a result of Skinhead violence. There are credable reports that police ignore or condone incidents of violence against the Roma, although the Government has denounced such violence.
As elsewhere in Europe, Skinheads in the Czech Republic gravitate towards the far-right political parties, of which there are several. The leading such party is the Republicans, whose leader, Miroslav Sladek, is notorious for his anti-Semitic, anti-Gypsy, racist speeches. The party registered significant gains in the 1992 elections, garnering 600,000 votes and 11 seats in the 200-seat Czech National Council. It jumped from less than one percent in 1990 to over six percent in 1992, and opinion polls since then indicate public support for the party hovering around four to five percent. While in the past Sladek courted the Sknheads, he currently claims not to seek their support. Nonetheless, these gangs find his party’s views appealing.
Bands and Zines
There is an active Skinhead music scene in the Czech Republic. The leading band, Orlik, reportedly sold 120,000 copies of its first LP and has drawn as many as 600 Skinheads to its concerts. Other active bands are Buldok, Valasska Liga, and Kon-Kwista.
The Czech Skinhead movement boasts a number of popular skinzines that are blatantly Nazi in tone and ideas, and that carry advertisements and articles on neo-Nazi groups and causes around the world. The more ambitious ones are White Warriors (a Czech-language publication despite its English name), Stuermer, and Fenix, which is written in English in an attempt to reach an international audience. Some zines regularly publish materials from Tom Metzger‘s White Aryan Resistance in Fallbrook, California, Gary Lauck‘s NSDAP-AO in Lincoln, Nebraska, and the SS Action Group in Dearborn, Michigan. (Anti-Defamation League, 26-29)
Anti-Defamation League. The Skinhead International: A Worldwide Survey of Neo-Nazi Skinheads. New York: Anti-Defamation League, 1995. Anti-Defamation League, 823 United Nations Plaza, New York, NY 10017.
Disclaimer: not all skinheads are neo-nazis or white supremacists. There are many skinheads who are non- or anti-racist, and who come from a variety of different religious and cultural backgrounds. Nizkor recognizes their achievements in anti-racism: they are part of the traditional, non-racist skinhead subculture and are not the perpetrators of the hate crimes discussed here.
Unless otherwise specified, the word “skinhead” within these pages refers only to neo-Nazi and white supremacist skinheads, the perpetrators of hate crimes and participants in racist organizations. We cannot edit the body of the text above, because it was not written by Nizkor, and to change the wording would be fraudulent. Please keep in mind that not all skinheads are racist.