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Tuesday, 11 May 2010

3 German rightists convicted in neo-Nazi camp case (Germany)

Three members of a far-right group were convicted Tuesday of organizing events to indoctrinate youth with neo-Nazi ideals, including a camping trip that had children painting masks with swastikas.

All three were members of the Homeland-Faithful German Youth, or HDJ, which was banned by Germany's Interior Ministry last year for promoting racist and Nazi ideology among children and youth.

The Berlin state court convicted Ragnar R. for his role in organizing a 2006 trip during which children decorated masks with swastikas and all participants wore black uniforms, court spokesman Robert Baeuml said in a statement.

He was also convicted of involvement in a 2007 event where youngsters were taught far-right racial theories and shown the Nazi propaganda film "The Eternal Jew," Baeuml said.

Co-defendants Christian F. and Daniela K. were also convicted of participating in the second event.

The court did not release the last names of the defendants in accordance with German privacy laws. It also did not give their ages and Baeuml could not be reached by telephone, but Germany's NDR news reported that Ragnar R. was 26, Christian F. 27, and Daniela K. 24.

Ragnar R. was given a 17-month suspended sentence, Christian F. a 12-month suspended sentence, while Daniela K. was fined €1,800 ($2,285).

The HDJ — whose initials evoke the German abbreviation for the Hitler Youth, the HJ — was founded in 1990 in Ploen, near Kiel, but is now based in Berlin and had several hundred members around the time it was banned, the Interior Ministry has said.



Bulgaria’s Commission for Protection from Discrimination has raised racism charges against vocal far-right leader Boyan Rasate. The first sitting of the trial will take place on Monday, May 10, 2010, the Commission has announced. Rasate is sued for his statements made in a Nova TV and Darik Radio talk show in which he declared himself against the acceptance of “Third World refugees” by Bulgaria. “Rasate’s statements are xenophobic, racist, and stir prejudice and discrimination against people of a different race, nationality, ethnic group, human genome, citizenship or origin,” says the Commission statement. He is accused of using manipulative and discriminatory rhetoric by likening dark-skinned people to monkeys, defining refugees as “exotic representatives of unknown peoples”, and presenting them as a crime risk factor. He is also said to have presented the refugees coming from non-European countries as unable to integrate into European societies “because of their genetic structure.” Two years ago, Bulgaria’s anti-discrimination commission raised homophobia charges against Boyan Rasate but they could not be proven subsequently. In 2009, Rasate was charged again because of comments that he made in his former talk show “National Guard” where he described people of the Roma ethnicity as “gypsy parasites”, “persons dealing with robbery and prostitution”, “murderers slaughtering dozens of Bulgarians”.

The charge was raised by Roma leader Toma Nikolaev, the founder of the Roma information agency De Facto (currently inactive). Nikolaev is known to be close to Volen Siderov, the leader of the major Bulgarian right-wing nationalist party “Ataka”; Siderov and Rasate has been tangled in a personal conflict and legal battles for a couple of years. The Roma discrimination case against Boyan Rasate was thrown into the hands of the Supreme Administrative Court where the nationalist was acquitted and won the case because according to the ruling his words were true and reflected the actual situation in Bulgaria. Rasate is known as the leader of the minor but vocal far-right party Bulgarian National Union GUARD. In 2007, his movement announced the setting up of a "National Guard" aimed at protecting Bulgarians against "Roma terror" but the paramilitary formation was outlawed. He is also known for being arrested as one of the instigators of the Molotov cocktail attacks against Bulgaria’s first ever gay pride parade, which took place in Sofia in June 2008. In April 2010, Rasate got in a car accident with the owner of the Balkanski Circus in Sofia, which led to a fight and exchange of insults, with the nationalist allegedly offending the non-Bulgarian staff of the circus because of their ethnic origin.



At the end of last month, the court in Benešov heard testimony in the October 2008 case of neo-Nazis rampaging against random targets in the town. The main witnesses and court experts gave their testimony in closed session; the trial was then adjourned until the start of June. The media are not reporting on it. The hearing was closed because one of the defendants was a minor at the time the crime was committed. This is why the media are not even attempting to follow the trial - not one journalist was present at the courthouse last month. The public, therefore, is learning nothing about it. The Romea news server was the only media outlet to publish a brief announcement that the trial was taking place. To an outside observer, it seems that the law in this case is primarily defending the rights of the defendants. In June the victims will have to testify without supporters present before a large number of defendants and their attorneys. During the first hearing, some of the defendants ended up sitting in the benches normally reserved for the public for lack of seating. It is as if the victims had no right to legal counsel, or as if it were better to make sure the current degree of danger posed by neo-Nazis in the Czech Republic is neither known nor spoken of. There are 12 defendants on trial at the district court in Benešov. At the time of the crime they ranged in age from 16 to 22. They include several people who, according to other reporting by the daily MF Dnes, have previously participated in training camps for hand-to-hand combat held for those interested in Nazism. Filip Stránský (24) of Tábor, for example, is the alleged founder of the neo-Nazi group White Justice in the Czech Republic. In 2007 he was sentenced by the district court in Tábor for committing ideologically motivated battery and for supporting and promoting a movement aimed at suppressing human rights and freedoms. He is currently being prosecuted for other crimes, information the courts are not releasing because of personal data protections.

What happened at the start of October 2008 in Benešov? A 15 to 20-member group of neo-Nazis attacked an 18-year-old youth who believes he was randomly selected for assault. The brutal attack caused him serious injuries with permanent consequences. After finishing with this first victim, the mob continued to frantically chase other people throughout the town. They attacked another youth and shouted racist slogans at him; he also was hospitalized as a result, although his injuries were fortunately light. He met the first victim at the hospital, who had ended up much worse off. Seriously injured victim effectively lacks information about his rights “The physical attack on the man occurred on Friday 10 October at 20:30 when a group of men aged about 20 and dressed in black-and-white camouflage, black or blue pants, and bomber jackets attacked by kicking him and striking him with collapsible nightsticks and brass knuckles. Their faces were masked with bandanas. The victim has been hospitalized with serious injuries,” police spokesperson Zuzana Stránská announced shortly after the crime occurred. The life of the primary victim of this attack was acutely endangered. In addition to bruising all over his body, he suffered serious injury to his spleen, which he eventually lost, and to his kidneys. He was hospitalized for almost three weeks and then continued to be treated as an outpatient. He had to abandon his studies and his employability has been compromised as a result of the permanent injury he has sustained. This victim was not instructed by police on how to demand compensation from the state as the victim of a violent crime – or at least, he was not instructed in such a way as to make him aware of his rights. Since the law establishes the deadline for filing such a request as one year from the date of the crime, this victim has lost the opportunity to access a minimum of CZK 100 000 (EUR 4 000) in compensation. Shortly before the second hearing, the family of the Benešov victim requested assistance from the attorney-in-fact for the victims of the arson attack in Vítkov. Unfortunately, motions for compensation should have been filed prior to the start of the trial.

The victim described the events to the local paper as follows: “I was going to visit a friend at Spoøilov at 8:30 in the evening and I walked by the cultural center near the Jewish cemetery. Near the garage below Klášterská street I noticed a band of about 20 masked people. Two girls were walking in front of me, and the group let them pass without any problem. Suddenly I had a strange feeling - I was listening to music on my MP3 player and I thought they would leave me alone as well, but I was no match for them. One of them pushed me down on the ground and the others mercilessly kicked me. They didn’t swear at me, but one of them ridiculed me when they were leaving – ‘That hurts, right?’ They just kicked me like a dog and left.” The girls mentioned in the victim’s account followed the attack from afar but did not attempt to defend the victim out of fear that the mob might attack them as well. Once the assailants had left the scene, the girls helped the victim walk to a nearby shop. Salespeople there called the ambulance that took him to the hospital. The suspects have been charged with the crimes of grievous bodily harm (five of them), attempted racially motivated grievous bodily harm (six of them), rioting (all of them), and racist violence against a group (all of them). According to the criminal code in effect at the time, they face prison sentences of between two and eight years. Those suspects for whom racist motivation cannot be proven face a maximum of three years in prison. The state prosecutor has issued the following statement: “All of the defendants met together in Benešov and subsequently decided to proceed through the town and to physically attack anyone of a different appearance, or mindset, or ethnicity, or race. They paraded through the town in two groups which closely followed one another….” The groups committed their attacks in various places.

Delays jeopardize prosecution
How is it possible that the prosecution of such a serious crime has undergone such delays? Police wanted to find the greatest possible number of suspects involved and collect sufficient evidence to charge them. This was not an easy task given that the assailants attacked under cover of darkness and were masked. In the end, some of the suspects confessed to their participation in the crime and revealed the names of the others. Last May, more than six months after the crime took place, the 12 defendants were charged. Benešov state prosecutor Stanislav Novák then requested political scientist Zdeòek Zboøil to analyze the propaganda material police found during searches of the suspects’ homes. The amount of material discovered was so enormous the expert had to travel several times from Prague to Benešov to review it all; he did not receive the information in digital form from the state prosecutor until several months later. His analysis is meant to demonstrate the defendants’ ideological motivation. Zboøil said some of the defendants were in possession of some of the most hardcore examples of Nazi propaganda, such as recordings of the neo-Nazi band Judenmord. A member of the Anti-fascist Action organization claims that in Filip Stránský’s case, police only searched his mother’s apartment even though he was not living there at the time. Police have found almost no evidence of his motivation.

Another attack, directly at the courthouse
During 2007 and 2008, the White Justice group organized military trainings to take place in outdoor settings. Police say professional soldier Lukáš Sedláèek of the unit based in Tábor taught the neo-Nazis how to properly attack “living targets”. He was recently discharged from the Czech Army as a result. Czech Defense Minister Martin Barták commented on the news last November, saying: “I personally ordered the instigation of the appropriate steps to immediately discharge him from service.” “I am one of the founders of this organization. It was founded by me, Filip Stránský and a person named Jana," the daily MF Dnes reported Sedláèek as saying during police interrogation. At the time the professional solider confessed to training about 30 people at the camps. He taught them hand-to-hand combat, with and without weapons, and how to attack both living and inanimate targets. He also trained them in techniques for setting cars on fire and destroying other kinds of property. However, Sedláèek now denies participating in the group’s activities and claims to have stopped having anything to do with neo-Nazism long ago. Police have not succeeded in demonstrating a connection between the training and the Benešov attack, even though it is more than likely the attack was actually part of the training.

This year the Organized Crime Detection Unit (Útvar pro odhalování organizovaného zloèinu - ÚOOZ) has tried to charge several neo-Nazis with the crime of terrorism over an alleged plot to kidnap police officers and politicians. The state prosecutor refused to take the case forward, allegedly for insufficient evidence. Why did the Benešov court not announce this trial to the media? Evidently out of concern for the fact that the witnesses might have begun to fear the possible results of testifying. Most of the witnesses did show up to testify without concern at the end of April. However, as a result of failing to inform the public of the degree of danger involved, another attack occurred at the courthouse. An unidentified perpetrator, evidently a supporter of neo-Nazism, was watching the courthouse during the trial. While one of the main witnesses and his attorney were inside, the perpetrator slashed their tires. It will be difficult to prove who committed the crime as police did not patrol the area in front of the courthouse. After learning of the attack, Jakub Polák, the victims’ attorney-in-fact, said: “They think they can just bully someone like that and get away with it. It makes me want to see this through even more.” In the past, Polák represented a Romani youth who died after a neo-Nazi attack in broad daylight in the center of the South Bohemian town of Písek. The youth drowned in the river after his assailants prevented him from getting out of the water. Over the course of many years of painstaking work, Polák managed to convince the state prosecutor to classify the crime not as rioting, but as racially motivated murder. Three young neo-Nazis were eventually sentenced to long prison sentences five years after the crime was committed.



Some 2,000 people participated in a protest march dubbed "For Justice", organised by several Albanian civil society groups, in downtown Skopje on Monday. The protest passed off peacefully, with obvious heavy police presence visible in the downtown area. Protestors demanded the immediate release of those convicted in the so-called Brodec and Sopot cases, in which ethnic Albanians were found guilty for staging or helping terrorist activities. The protestors also demanded that all cases against ethnic Albanians involved in the 2001 armed conflict in Macedonia be scrapped and that all state funded project which promote ethnic and religious discrimination be stopped. The crowd shouted "liberate the political prisoners" as they marched in front of the Skopje court building. Later the protesters moved in front of the parliament and government buildings, causing traffic jams in the downtown area. In 2001 Macedonia suffered a short lived armed conflict between ethnic Albanian insurgents and the state security forces. Although the clashes ended the same year with the signing of the Ohrid Peace Accord and the pronouncement of amnesty for all insurgents, the situation in some areas remained problematic for some time following the signing of the accord.

Two years after the conflict, a mine killed two international KFOR soldiers near the wetern village of Sopot. 11 residents from Sopot were later convicted and given a joint prison sentence of 156 years for their participation in the incident. In the Sopot case the ombudsman’s office and former Macedonia prime minister Vlado Buckovski asked for the case to be reviewed, expressing their concern that the convicted might not be guilty. In a separate case in November 2007 Macedonian police raided the village of Brodec on the Sara Mountain in northwestern Macedonia, killing several armed men and apprehending several others. The court later found the men guilty for planning terrorist activities and sent them to prison. The protestors, marching under the umbrella of the so-called Council of Albanian Organisations, demanded that the government put a halt to the state funded revamp project for the capital, dubbed “Skopje 2014”, claiming that it stirred ethnic division by promoting values that are close only to the Macedonian majority. The ongoing project envisages the construction of at least 10 new buildings and at least 17 vast monuments depicting heroes and historical moments from Macedonian history. The organisers of the protest insisted that they had no political support for their activities. However, the opposition ethnic Albanian party New Democracy previously supported the march, while the ruling Democratic Union for Integration, DUI said it would not support it. The opposition Democratic Party of Albanians, DPA did not comment on the event.

Balkan Insight