by Pavol Stracansky
(IPS) BRATISLAVA -- Thousands of people have joined anti-fascist marches following the murder of a young white Slovak by suspected neo-Nazis.
Anti-racism campaigners say the killing has finally brought home to Slovaks the danger from extremist right-wing groups.
Daniel Tupy, 21, was killed after he and other friends were attacked, apparently by neo- Nazis, as they walked home in Bratislava on the night of Nov. 4. Police believe Tupy was singled out simply because he had long hair and was carrying a guitar.
The murder shocked the nation. Within hours of news of Tupy's death an anti-racism march in capital Bratislava, as well as a concert featuring top pop stars, had been arranged.
Thousands, including politicians, celebrities and rights activists, joined the march Nov. 9. Slovak media have offered large rewards for any information that could lead to the arrest of his attackers.
Newspapers have carried pages of reports on the killing and interviews with celebrities, artists and intellectuals condemning the attack and racism in general.
Police have poured huge numbers of officers and resources into the case and said they will not rest until they catch Tupy's killers.
But anti-racism campaigners, while welcoming both the police response and the high- profile public condemnation of the attack, have said the public outcry came because Tupy was white and that the white Slovak majority have suddenly realized they too are targets for right-wing extremists.
"There have been plenty of attacks by neo-Nazis on white people before, but they rarely drew headlines because the people did not die," Daniel Milo, head of the group People Against Racism, told IPS. "Previously the people killed in these kind of attacks had been Roma, and there was not such a reaction in those cases."
Milo said it is a shame that racism got attention only when someone white died. "I can only hope that from this there will be a change in society's attitude to neo-Nazis because they now know that they are a real danger, that it's not just the Roma or someone else who could be attacked, that it could even be them and their children."
Many of the racist attacks recorded by police are on members of Slovakia's 500,000 Roma population. The Roma, also known as Gypsies, are a people of Asian origin who migrated into Europe centuries ago.
Less frequently there have been attacks by gangs on members of the 500,000 ethnic Hungarian minority, or on foreign students or some of the very small numbers of Asian and Middle Eastern ethnic groups.
Under communist regimes former eastern bloc states did not experience the post-war immigration of different races seen in western European states. This left many central and eastern European states with massive majority-white populations -- something which has mostly continued in the 16 years since the fall of communism.
With small or virtually non-existent minority nonwhite ethnic populations, many racists and neo-Nazis are forced to target other groups, experts say.
"The situation is the same in places like Poland and the Czech Republic where these attacks happen as well," Milo said. "If there is no visible ethnic minority, as is the case in for example Bratislava, then the targets are people in other, alternative society groups."
Such concerns have grown following reports that neo-Nazi gangs across Europe are becoming more organized and therefore more dangerous.
Miroslav Mares, an expert on extremism at Masaryk University in Brno in the Czech Republic, told the Slovak daily Pravda Nov. 8: "Recently there has been an attempt among skinheads to professionalize violence and to avoid, if possible, attacks as some kind of spontaneous idea after ten beers. In short there is a tendency to put violence on a more sophisticated, even terrorist, level."
This view is backed by those involved in neo-Nazi groups. In an interview with the Slovak daily Novy Cas published Nov. 10, a former neo-Nazi who gave his name just as Peter said: "The attacks are harder and more brutal, people (neo-Nazis) are more organized. You can see that in the case of the death of Tupy."
Anti-racism groups estimate that there are up to 3,000 right-wing extremists and neo- Nazi supporters in Slovakia carrying out racially motivated attacks and spreading hate propaganda. Of those, they say a hardcore few are linked to both legitimate and illegal right-wing political groups.
Slovakia's far-right political parties have enjoyed a reasonably stable level of political support since the country came into existence in 1993 after the split of Czechoslovakia.
Recently though, a new far-right political party, Slovenska Pospolitost (SP), made headlines after rallies where members appeared dressed in black uniforms reminiscent of those worn by fascist parties across Europe in the 1930s.
SP leaders called Roma "parasites" and paid tribute to the president of the wartime Slovak Nazi puppet state, Jozef Tiso, who oversaw the sending of tens of thousands of Slovak Jews to Nazi death camps.
When SP first began its rallies earlier this summer some politicians called for it to be outlawed. The High Court is currently considering a petition by People Against Racism to have the party disbanded.
"There is no integrated national neo-Nazi network here. But there is a definite connection between them and right-wing groups such as Slovenska Pospolitost," Milo told IPS.
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