European far-right leaders, including Marine Le Pen of France and Geert Wilders of the Netherlands, gathered in Prague on Thursday for private meetings and a public rally in support of Czech politician Tomio Okamura’s Freedom and Direct Democracy party, or the SPD. The fiercely anti-immigrant, Eurosceptic party is the fourth-largest in the Czech lower house and aims to win its first seats in the European Parliament in May.
Police in riot gear were out in full force for the SPD rally on Prague’s Wenceslas Square, striving to keep the proverbial “thin blue line” between supporters of Tomio Okamura and pro-EU protesters – who tried to drown out the speakers’ with incessant booing, by banging on pots and pans, setting off sirens and blowing whistles, while chanting anti-fascist slogans.
The raucous rally at the top of the square kicked off with a performance by Ortel, a Czech band known for its xenophobic and hateful lyrics -- one of whose songs was the anthem of the now banned neo-Nazi Workers’ Party.
Throughout the SPD rally – at times even in the midst of a politician’s speech – Czech police broadcast warnings “in the name of the law” that if the protesters did not stop disrupting the event, they would be forcibly removed and could face arrest.
In the end, riot police slowly pushed back most of the protestors further down Wenceslas Square. Skirmishes mainly took the form of shouting matches across police lines. About a dozen people were detained. At least one apparent SPD supporter – caught on video flashing a ‘Sieg Heil’ – may face criminal charges, as the Nazi salute can be constituted as illegal hate speech.
Okamura’s populist SPD party is the most anti-migrant, anti-Muslim, anti-EU party in the Czech lower house of Parliament, where it controls 22 of 200 seats.
With the help of Marine Le Pen and Geert Wilders and other MEPs in the Europe of Nations and Freedom movement – the smallest political grouping in the European Parliament – Okamura hopes his SPD will win its first-ever seat in Strasbourg.
Evoking the spirt of Saint Wenceslas, Okamura railed against Brussels for allegedly looking to create a “multicultural super state” that would to rob the Czechs of their sovereignty and open the floodgates to Muslim immigrants. “We are not alone”, he said as a refrain, before introducing Geert Wilders, leader of the Dutch Party for Freedom.
“My friends, you Czechs are an example to all of us. Because you are opposing the asylum policy that is a disaster of the European Union. You are opposing the Islamisation of Europe. You say: Ne, Nikdy. (No, never) And your resistance inspires us!”
Meanwhile, polls suggest support for Okamura’s party has more than halved in the past 18 months, and analysts say – the odd group rally aside – the European far-right is far from united.