Skinheads have been frightening a lot of people in post-communists Central Europe, but several governments are trying to control them
Among the countless plaques and memorials in the ancient bit of Hungary's capital overlooking the Danube is one that mourns German and Hungarian soldiers who died trying to break out of Buda Castle at the end of the second world war. This was where, on February 13th, 500-odd neo-Nazi skinheads from around Europe gathered to lament the passing on the « SS heroes», after which they headed off to a nightclub called the Viking. When police appeared at the club and started asking for pass¬ports, the skinheads rioted. Several policemen ended up in hospital, 30 foreign skinheads were arrested, six of whom were quickly tried and found guilty of assault. So it goes for skinheads: thuggery at home pil¬grimages to Nazi memorials and scrapes with the law abroad.
Their numbers vary from country to country, but have been going up. Government and police tend to deflate figures; human-rights groups and the skinheads themselves usually bump them up. One serious study, by the Anti-Defamation League in New York, reckons that, of some 70,000 hardcore neo-Nazi skinheads worldwide, Central Europe now accounts for a good quarter.
Human-rights watchers are less sure. Skinhead groups are well run. They distribute propaganda printed by American neo-Nazis in various languages and send out «skinzines» illegally through the post. The Czechs alone have 15 of them. They are nasty, but it may be hard to pin charges of inciting hatred on the arrested skinheads.
Still, many Central Europeans are trying to stem the skinhead tide. A few days after the riot in the Viking club, several thousand Hungarians gathered to protest against racism. Judges are being sent on courses to make them more aware of racially motivated crimes. The police are hiring gypsy advisers. It is only a start. But the alarm bells have rung: more and more decent Central Europeans reckon that something must be done.
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