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13 Nov, 2009 09:09

Czech top brass face sacking after Nazi insignia scandal

The Communist Party of the Czech Republic is demanding that the Defense Minister Martin Bartak overhauls the army after a number of scandals involving soldiers with neo-Nazi leanings.

This week two soldiers have been sacked for wearing Nazi symbols while serving in Afghanistan.

If Martin Bartak fails to present his vision of an effective army reform by December, the Communist faction in the Czech Parliament will push for his dismissal, announced faction leader Pavel Kovacik on Tuesday.

“This is no individual failure in the difficult conditions of the soldiers' operation in the Afghan mission, but rather a managerial failure in the system of directing the military and the defense sector,” he said

The politician was referring to a major scandal in the army, where two men were photographed wearing Nazi insignia.

Lieutenant Jan Cermak was part of the 480-strong NATO Czech contingent in Afghanistan. Back home he was happy to get a medal for his service from the Czech defense minister. Cermak didn’t know then, however, that in a matter of days he would turn from being seen as the pride of the nation to a total disgrace.

Several of his brothers-in-arms contacted journalist Jan Gazdik from the Czech daily newspaper “Mladá fronta” and claimed that he and another serviceman had been seen wearing SS symbols on their helmets while on duty in Afghanistan – logos of Hohenstaufen and Dirlewager divisions. Gazdik, who is a former army man himself, broke the news, fearing that his country’s army was heading in the wrong direction.

“Reports from Afghanistan suggested that these two were very rude, aggressive towards locals there. And if other solders had not reported it to us, in a couple of years they could have been promoted to chiefs of battalions, and their commander to the Chief of Staff. We could have had passive neo-Nazis out there,” the journalist told RT.

The two men were immediately kicked out of the army. Their commander, who reportedly knew about their act and failed to do anything about it, was suspended.

The former Czech Chief of Staff Jiri Sedivy was concerned as to why it was only a suspension. The retired general remembers a similar incident which happened almost ten years ago:

“It was a little bit different – it was not an elite unit; it happened in a regular brigade. And we were very fast to kick them out,” he said. “These people were the representatives of our army in Afghanistan and they destroyed the good reputation of our army.”

It is especially appalling, many say, that it was Czech soldiers wearing Nazi symbols, as the country went through so much pain during the period of Nazi invasion. Just like most of Europe, the Czech Republic suffered massive losses in World War II. Over 300,000 Czechs perished on the battlefield and in concentration camps. A memorial stands in the very heart of modern-day Prague as a reminder of that, and six decades on people continue to gather there to remember what happened back then.
Now the evil which they fought against sixty years ago is knocking on their door, as the SS helmet incident isn’t a one off.

Last week, a professional soldier was dismissed from the armed forces for his connection with the Neo-Nazi cell White Justice. It was reportedly plotting terrorist attacks in the republic. Politicians in Prague are now facing what they describe as the penetration of Neo-Nazism into the military.

The country’s Minister for Human Rights Michael Kocab also points out that both cases are a serious violation of the Czech Republic’s law.

“Using Nazi symbolic or propaganda of Nazism, according to our law, could result in a prison sentence from six months to three years. Almost a year ago I informed the defense minister of alarming tendencies in our country and he was also deeply concerned by it,” he said.

While it is unclear whether any legal action will be taken against these soldiers, Prague is fired up with a debate on where the Czech army is heading.

“Our troops don't feel like defenders of the state, but like special units, that ordinary people know from action movies. It's no surprise that in such an atmosphere some soldiers are caught up in a cult of violence,” commented the scandal former Czech President Vaclav Klaus.

Investigations into the incident continue and reporter Jan Gazdik believes more defense ministry generals could be found to be involved in the Nazi scandal. Meanwhile, opposition parties say that it’s just the first signs of big trouble and the whole army needs to be radically changed.