BRATISLAVA (Reuters) - Slovakia’s Prime Minister Robert Fico unveiled a special police unit to fight extremism on Wednesday, warning about the rise of fascism in Europe and Slovakia.
The 125-strong unit will investigate crimes related to support and funding of terrorism and extremism, hate crimes and hate speech, both online and offline, the police said.
In an electoral shock, the far-right People’s Party-Our Slovakia entered the Slovak parliament for the first time last year after winning 8 percent of the vote in March’s election.
The party openly admires Jozef Tiso, leader of the 1939-1945 Nazi puppet state who allowed tens of thousands of Slovak Jews to be deported to Nazi death camps and was tried for treason after the war. It is also hostile to Slovakia’s Roma minority.
“A new wave of fascism has been on the rise not only in Europe but also in Slovakia. We have neglected the history because nobody expected it could return,” Fico, head of the centre-left but socially conservative Smer party, said.
“Today we see people in the parliament and regional government using the fascist salute (...) we see statements challenging the results of the World War Two and the Holocaust on a daily basis.”
Right-wing and anti-immigrant parties have been on the rise across Europe after years of slow economic growth and the arrival of more than a million migrants and refugees from the Middle East and Africa.
Fico himself has been criticized by human rights groups and socialist colleagues in the European Parliament for refusing to accept the EU quotas on accepting refugees and for saying in a May 2016 interview “there is no space for Islam in Slovakia”.
He has also repeatedly blamed high unemployment in some Slovak regions on the Roma, who make up around 300,000 of the country’s 5.4 million population.
Also on Wednesday, General Prosecutor Jaroslav Ciznar called on lawmakers to scrap their immunity on statements made in parliament, saying it prevents authorities from prosecuting hate speech.
People’s Party-Our Slovakia lawmaker Stanislav Mizik is facing a 1,000 euro fine for breaching parliamentary standards by calling Islam “satanic”. He also criticized President Andrej Kiska last month for giving state honors to what he called “people of Jewish origin”.
Another of the party’s lawmakers, Milan Mazurek, has said on social media that the history of Nazi Germany and the Holocaust had been “distorted”.
Reporting by Tatiana Jancarikova; Editing by Catherine Evans