KKK leader detained in Prague
David Duke's arrest shows erratic response to extremism
Posted: April 30, 2009
Authorities detained Duke April 24 and released him hours later.
By Wency Leung and Martina Čermáková
As politicians commend the April 24 arrest of former Klu Klux Klan leader David Duke, some human rights activists are puzzling over inconsistencies in the Czech Republic's efforts to crack down on racism.
Duke, a visiting U.S. citizen, had been scheduled to give lectures in Prague and Brno over the weekend to promote his book, My Awakening. He was arrested by a team of at least 30 masked policemen at a Prague restaurant on suspicion of denying the Holocaust, and was later released and given a midnight deadline to leave the country.
Interior Minister Ivan Langer told the Czech News Agency (ČTK) that he applauded the police for a professional job in handling Duke's expulsion, while Human Rights and Minorities Minister Michael Kocáb said he also supported the action.
Meanwhile, April 25, yet another nationalist extremist march of around 100 demonstrators took place in Krupka, north Bohemia, extending on recent high-profile extremist rallies in Ústí nad Labem and Přerov.
Prague-based Roma rights activist Gwendolyn Albert, who monitored the Krupka march, said she believed arresting and ejecting Duke was the right move. "However, it really underscores how schizophrenic the Czech authorities are and how weak they are when it comes to addressing hate crimes in real time," she said.
Albert noted that, while Czech police had sought out evidence in Duke's book to arrest him, they were deaf to the racist taunts that protesters shouted during the neo-Nazi rallies in Ústí nad Labem and Krupka. "Even if Czech authorities did deport David Duke, they are far from leaders in the fight against hate speech," she said.
Tomáš Kraus, executive director of the Federation of Jewish Communities in the Czech Republic, also supported Duke's arrest, saying it offered a clear signal to international community and local extremists that personalities like Duke are not welcome. But, he, too, noted that the Czech Republic is a long way from fully addressing extremism in the country.
"I only think the authorities managed this individual case properly," Kraus said. "More important is, what's next? What's the next step [in tackling] the local neo-Nazi movement?"
The recent extremist rallies - as well as an April 18 attack on a Roma family in Vítkov, which left a 2-year-old girl in critical condition - indicate a possible increase in extremist activity in the country, and have cranked up public pressure on authorities to take action against racism.
At the same time, authorities' response to Duke's visit has generated criticism from extremist groups over the level of freedom of expression in the Czech Republic. Duke's arrest was met with outrage from his supporters, who labeled him "a prisoner of conscience." About 80 of them gathered in protest in front of the Interior Ministry April 25, without incident.
Filip Vávra, who invited the controversial U.S. personality to speak in the Czech Republic, said he was with Duke at the Prague restaurant Černý orel (The Black Eagle) at the time of his arrest at 5:45 p.m. Vávra said Duke was being interviewed by Czech newspaper Právo when about 30 heavily armed commando police and about another 15 plain-clothed officers stormed in.
"Compared to this, there were only 10 of us in the restaurant, including two women," Vávra said. "The police didn't use violence, but … [they] were pointing tasers at us the entire time."
Vávra added the police treatment of Duke was unfair and unwarranted. "It's scandalous that a person who has never hurt anyone is not wanted in this country, and [yet] the president of Israel who massacres Palestinian civilians is welcomed here by top politicians," he said, referring to Israeli President Shimon Peres' March 30 visit to Prague.
Spreading the message
Ironically, in his interview with Právo minutes before his arrest, Duke mentioned that he had given speeches all over Europe, including Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Sweden and France, without running into problems with the authorities. "I don't think something like that would happen in the Czech Republic," he told the daily.
On his Web site, following his release at 1 a.m. April 25, Duke suggested his arrest and expulsion had, in fact, worked to his advantage. "I am doing tremendous numbers of interviews because of this false imprisonment, so we are reaching literally millions of people here in the Czech Republic and around the world that I would not have reached otherwise," he wrote.
He added that he had not intended to discuss the Holocaust during his planned lectures in the country, where denying the Holocaust is punishable by up to three years in prison.
Police said Duke left the country within hours of his release.
The U.S. Embassy declined to comment on the grounds for Duke's arrest and expulsion, referring reporters to Czech authorities.
In an e-mailed statement, Interior Minister Langer said he had not ordered the arrest, but noted that he wanted to "warn that Czech laws also apply to foreigners."
Duke's lawyer Klára Slámová, meanwhile, said a complaint against the police has been filed on Duke's behalf. "There were no grounds for his arrest," she said.
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