Prague/Pilsen - A couple of hundreds of far-right extremists gathered at Prague´s Palacký Square today to demonstrate against the alleged freedom of speech violation by the authorities in the Czech Republic. The police was there in great numbers to make sure nothing happens during the rally, which was over in less than an hour.
Right in front of the Memorial to František Palacký a number of demonstrators delivered a speech. Palacký was a 19th century historian and politician who zealously advocated the autonomy of the Czech nation, then under the rule of the Austro-Hungarian empire.
The square bearing his name was designated Prague's Speakers' Corner no too long ago. Public speaking is allowed here without a need to obtain permission from the authorities.
Balaclavas and knuckle dusters
The speakers mostly criticized the state of democracy and freedom of speech in the Czech Republic. They also condemned the alleged harassment from the authorities they have faced lately, having complained about the ban of their planned march which was to take place in Pilsen today. A young girl warned against "Albanese gypsies selling drugs to our children".
Majority of the demonstrators wore black attire, as advised by the organizers' web site. The faces of some were covered with scarves and balaclavas.
After the demonstration ended, the police controlled identity cards of two extremists. No incidents were reported but some demonstrators had to hand over hand-to-hand combat weapons to the police, such as knuckle dusters. According to the police spokesperson Eva Brožová, most of the extremists came from outside of Prague.
Prague instead of Pilsen
The neo-Nazi march in Pilsen was at first permitted but the mayor of Pilsen Pavel Rödl rather unexpectedly banned the march on Thursday at a press conference, arguing that he would not want to head a city where neo-Nazis can freely salute.
In Pilsen, neo-Nazis planned to march past the Great Synagogue coinciding with the 66th anniversary of the first Jewish deportation to the Nazi concentration camps. There were about 2,500 Jews living in the city before the World War II.
Pilsen´s authorities did not want to leave anything to chance and security was stepped up with over a thousand of police deployed around the city today.
German police and troops were to control roads and see if any German neo-Nazis were to head to Pilsen. Hundreds of them were expected to show up according to extremists' websites, but hardly any materialized in the end.
A small number of ultra-right extremists eventually showed up in Pilsen, as the spokeswoman of Western Bohemia's police Helena Malotínská confirmed. According to her they moved around the city only in small numbers without violating public order.
At Pilsen´s main bus station police have been on patrol since morning. Aktuálně.cz reporter saw them checking indetity cards of a five-member group of neo-Nazis.
A helicopter was flying over the city, water cannon was on standby and the city's crisis management had been convened for the first time since the Kyrill superstorm brought the city to a standstill last summer. The city had adopted a crisis plan, similar to the one used for natural disasters.
No major public order breach was noted by the police on patrol. Only two foreigners were arrested for giving a Nazi salute, both of them reportedly drunk.
Pilsen´s Jews remembered
In the meantime, commemoration of the Holocaust victims took place in front of the Great Synagogue, Europe´s second largest.
The extremists´ plan to march in front of the synagogue triggered outrage among the Czech public. There were about 500 people present at the memorial gathering, among which were the Jewish Community leaders, the mayor of the city and young anti- fascists.
This was the second time the neo-Nazis attempted to march around a synagogue in the Czech Republic in past few months. In November 2007 they tried to demonstrate in Prague´s Jewish quarter on the anniversary of a 1938 Nazi pogrom against Jews which became known as the "Kristallnacht".