Cablegate: Czech Republic: Anarchist Riots Overshadow Planned

DE RUEHPG #1225/01 3191340
P 151340Z NOV 07




E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (U) SUMMARY & COMMENT: The much-anticipated and, in some
cases, feared neo-Nazi marches through Prague's Jewish
quarter on November 10 were largely nullified by effective
police work and well-organized counter-demonstrations. Most
of the day's events passed peacefully with nearly a thousand
people, many wearing Stars of David, attending solemn prayer
vigils on the 69th anniversary of Kristallnacht. Thousands
of ordinary Czechs participated in other peaceful gatherings
throughout the day, and Foreign Minister Schwarzenberg and
his German counterpart visited with local Jewish leaders.
Though the participation of right-wing groups at the protests
was ruled illegal, many nevertheless attempted to
demonstrate. Czech authorities intercepted scores of
neo-Nazis coming from abroad and apprehended many local
extremists before they reached the demonstrations.

2. (U) SUMMARY & COMMENT CONT: However, it was the rallies by
several thousand left-wing radicals that overshadowed the
neo-Nazi actions. An anarchist march later in the day spun
out of control and led to clashes with police and
by-standers. In all, approximately 400 people were arrested,
90 of whom were foreigners. Many would-be demonstrators had
weapons. Though prepared for the worst, police forces
exercised admirable restraint in containing the riots and not
responding to provocation. Nevertheless, the demonstrations
and clashes raised uncomfortable questions for the Czech
Republic: namely, whether the country can find a proper
balance between protected free-speech and prohibited hate
speech; and whether the left was able to exploit the occasion
to further its own extremist goals. END SUMMARY & COMMENT

3. (U) The road to the November 10 demonstrations began on
August 27, when an unknown group in Brno calling itself Mladi
Narodni Demokrate ("Young National Democrats," hereafter
National Democrats) filed a petition with the Prague city
hall for permission to demonstrate against the country's
involvement in Iraq on the anniversary of Kristallnacht. The
city approved the permit, but after some research, it became
apparent that the National Democrats were a front
organization for Narodni Odpor ("National Resistance"), a
group known for its neo-Nazi agenda and history of incitement
against racial and ethnic minorities. The city swiftly
reversed course and canceled the organizers' permit.

4. (U) Through a series of appeals and counter-appeals, the
fate of the permit remained in doubt, with the Prague City
Court holding to its ruling from 2006 that the city had no
legal right to go beyond the organizers' stated intent on the
application when deciding whether to issue the permit. In
essence, the court ruled that free speech rights outweigh a
supposed but unproven potential for hate speech. Meanwhile,
the city discovered that the National Democrats were not a
legally registered organization until two weeks after they
filed their petition to march. Ultimately, the Supreme
Administrative Court overruled the lower court on technical
grounds, holding that as the National Democrats were not a
legally-registered entity at the time they filed their
request, they lacked the requisite legal status to march.
This obviated the need for the city to issue the permit and
made it unnecessary for legal authorities to decide the more
substantive constitutional issues.

5. (U) The constant high-level political and social focus on
the controversy generated intense media interest, including
steady coverage in the foreign press, and elevated what might
have been a poorly-attended right-wing rally into a
high-stakes spectacle. With neo-Nazi groups in neighboring
countries stating their solidarity with their "brethren"
against a "communist-like" local government in Prague; strong
reaction from the Jewish community, which promised
counter-demonstrations and considered direct action to
prevent the marches from occurring; and permission by the
city to far-left anti-fascists groups to demonstrate at the
same time and place as the neo-Nazis had proposed, the event
that took place November 10 took on a life of its own,
overshadowing what had started out as a free-speech debate.

6. (U) Throughout the legal battles, high-level Czech
politicians, including President Klaus, former President
Havel, and Prime Minister Topolanek came out strongly against
the marches and appealed to authorities against granting
legal cover to what they feared would be incitement to hatred
and violence. The legal wrangling also attracted the
unwanted attention of foreign extremist groups. According to
Minister of the Interior, Langer, last weekend the Czech
border police mobilized to turn back neo-Nazis planning to
travel to Prague. Nevertheless, many managed to slip
through, as over 90 of those later arrested were foreigners.

PRAGUE 00001225 002 OF 003

7. (U) The events of November 10 began with prayer services
in the Jewish quarter to commemorate the 69th anniversary of
Kristallnacht. Near-freezing temperatures failed to deter
almost a thousand people from attending a prayer vigil in
front of the Old Synagogue, and thousands of ordinary
citizens took part in well-organized gatherings on Old Town
Square, handing out leaflets, and listening to speeches by
Holocaust survivors warning against a resurgence of extremism
in Europe. Security was unusually tight, with more than 1400
riot police lining the streets and sealing off entrances to
alleys and side streets to block right-wing activists who
vowed to demonstrate even without a permit. Police efforts
were largely successful, as few neo-Nazis entered the protest
area; most were headed off on their way to the city center.

8. (U) The peace and quiet that largely characterized the
day, however, was shattered late-afternoon after
approximately two thousand left-wing anarchists, mostly
Czechs, shouting anti-fascist slogans and waving flags
showing fists crushing swastikas and a figure kicking another
figure under the banner: "Good night, White Pride" began a
counter-march through the Jewish quarter. There they met
heavily armed riot police with APCs and anti-riot gates meant
to stop opposing sides from confronting each other.

9. (U) Hundreds of anarchists filled the area and, believing
that neo-Nazis were marching on the other side of the
blockade, surged toward the barriers, with a group of about a
dozen breaking through the cordon. Horse-mounted police
moved to re-establish order, but by then the crowd's mood had
turned ugly. With nary a neo-Nazi in sight, and shouting
"Anti-Fa! Anti-Fa!" (short for "Anti-Fascist"), the
anarchists turned their anger on the police, striking at them
with nightsticks and clubs made from protest banner handles.
Several demonstrators lobbed incendiary devices over the
crowd's head, and loud explosions erupted sporadically for
the next several minutes, filling the area with dense smoke
and making it difficult to breathe. A tense standoff
followed where it appeared that the police would mount tough
counter-measures or a stampede would ensue. However, the
police maintained their positions and only forced protesters
away from the barriers with their riot shields. (NOTE: While
conflict came to characterize the conditions at the end of
the day in the Jewish quarter, most other areas of the city
continued to function as normal throughout the day. END NOTE)

10. (U) After the rallies and protests concluded, local
community leaders expressed overall satisfaction with the
high turnout of supporters who had effectively marginalized
the much smaller right-wing presence. However, the presence
of thousands of anarchists at a largely peaceful event gave
rise to the question of whether officials, admittedly bound
by court decisions that require strict interpretation of
applications to demonstrate, had inadvertently benefited
left-wing anarchists by giving them a highly-visible platform
from which to project their radical views. While the
question of whether right-wing extremism was on the ascendant
seemed to be decisively answered in the negative, the
question of left-wing extremism, thriving on confrontations
with authority figures, was less easy to answer.

11. (U) COMMENT: From a rule of law standpoint, the Czech
authorities demonstrated that they were up to the task of
maintaining order under difficult circumstances, without
resorting to the aggressive tactics that characterized past
confrontations, such as the case of human rights activist,
Katerina Jacques. (Jacques, the government's former human
rights ombudsman, and now a member of parliament from the
Green party, was assaulted by police during 2006
counter-demonstrations against a far-right gathering in
Prague.) The GOCR's commitment to providing an orderly
environment during which advocates can express free, even
unpopular, speech was reflected in the fact that the Czech
government spent as much on the weekend's public safety
operations as they had spent on last summer's POTUS visit to
Prague. The government will have its next opportunity to
show this restrained but robust approach on November 17, the
anniversary of the 1989 Velvet Revolution, when demonstrators
will square off again over a number of current hot-button
social and political issues, such as the war in Iraq and the
proposed radar installation.

12. (U) COMMENT CONT: In a November 14 op-ed piece in the
center-left daily Pravo, President Klaus pointed the finger
of responsibility for the extremist phenomenon not only at
the extremists but also at the Czech society from which they
come. Klaus questioned whether the seeds of extremism in the
Czech Republic do not lie in a general decline of moral
values in Czech society in recent years. He went on to say

PRAGUE 00001225 003 OF 003

that in taking down barriers, Czechs may have also
inadvertently erased limits that would have kept extremism in
check. Indeed, it is fair to wonder whether the high-level
interest shown by community and political leaders on the
topic of extremism will endure beyond the current headlines.

13. (U) COMMENT CONT: Long-term, it appears that more work
needs to be done to curb the lure of extremism, especially
among the youth. According to Charles University lecturer
and expert on extremism, Zdenek Zboril, this is a critical
challenge facing Czech leaders today. Zboril stated that it
was incumbent on Czech politicians and society at large to
assimilate at-risk youth as quickly as possible, noting that
"these young people will be with us for the next fifty or
more years." However, on a more immediate basis, the
government needs to decide how it will deal with the same
problem before next year, when all sides of the controversy
will file their paperwork and look to express their vastly
different opinions once again. Lacking clear judicial
precedent, the government may need to revisit the substance
of the law in question, and ask itself the difficult question
of how much free speech is too much. END COMMENT

© Scoop Media

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