Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Czech expert on extremism resigning due to neo-Nazi threats

One of the few expert witnesses on extremism in the Czech Republic, Michal Mazel, has decided to resign due to the constantly increasing pressure on him from those whom he has studied. Diatribes against him, primarily by promoters of the ultra-right, have taken their toll.
The final straw was a charge of bias leveled against him by an attorney for ultra-right activist Lucie Šlégrová, who is on trial at the District Court in Most. The attorney alleged that Mazel could not objectively critique Šlégrová's behavior because of his allegedly Jewish origin.

"I have been considering stepping down for some time, but these most recent matters have affected me such that I don't think I could handle my job in the future. There is enormous psychological pressure involved. One must remain disinterested," Mazel told the Czech daily Právo. He has served as an expert witness for three years.
"This has been an interesting experience for me, I have learned a great deal about the ultra-right scene. Sometimes I had the feeling that from time to time too much emphasis is placed on expert witnesses. The courts and police should be able to digest some matters on their own. Other cases being tried seemed too trivial to me. The defendants in whose cases I was asked for my expertise often defended themselves through a kind of Czech 'Švejkism' [a reference to the literary character from the Good Soldier Švejk], claiming they should be able to espouse National Socialism because [former Czech Social Democratic Party chair] Jiří Paroubek espouses something similar. Fortunately the courts have not accepted those excuses," Mazel said.
Lucie Šlégrová, a member of the Workers' Social Justice Party (DSSS) and its republic-wide Commission on Arbitration and Conciliation, filed a complaint through her attorney alleging that Mazel is a biased court expert because he is of Jewish origin, which means he cannot objectively evaluate a case in which she was charged with making a speech about National Socialism during a demonstration in 2010. She deduced the alleged Jewish origin of the expert witness solely from his name.
"That surname often also turns up in variations similar to Maazel and comes from the Hebrew 'Moshe', which means Moses. Another similar variation is, for example, Maisel," Šlégrová argues in the motion, which Právo has obtained a copy of.
"As a person of Jewish origin, the expert witness is doubtless very sensitive to the question of the Shoah (the Holocaust) and German National Socialism and, like many of his fellow tribal members, has a tendency to overreact. Such oversensitivity can become an inappropriate sensitivity to anything related to this question. That is why it is understandable that the expert sees an anti-Semitic reference to the 'chosen nation', i.e., the Jews, in a speech where the defendant is merely talking about the current establishment, about the government in the broader sense," the motion reads.
"I am no longer amused," Mazel said, "to read on the internet what sort of weapon I should be smashed in the head with, or that I am a stingy Jew who should get a black mamba for Hannukah. I am not of Jewish origin, but the Nazis have no compunction about writing that until the cows come home. It is hard to remain calm when the Nazis start writing where you live and other things on their websites. In time, the pressure would affect my work."
"The state should think through whether expert witness work in the area of extremism should continue as it is currently organized," Mazel said. He has worked, among other matters, on the case of the Vítkov arsonists, and his testimony helped dissolve the Workers' Party (Dělnická strana - DS). On the basis of his evaluation, leading members of the DSSS, including party chair Tomáš Vandas, have been given suspended prison sentences.
Miroslav Mareš, another expert witness on right-wing extremism, also stopped performing such work in 2008 for reasons similar to Mazel's, including neo-Nazi threats and fear for his personal safety. When he stepped down, Mareš also criticized the current system for making use of expert witnesses on extremism. Mazel is now resigning with similar feelings.
"I personally believe, in the final analysis, that it would be best not to support the special branch on extremism any more. It leads to not only police officers, but sometimes even judges asking the expert which statements are the 'flawed' ones, which is a kind of alibi for their refusal to think for themselves. What would be correct would be for them to evaluate all of the indications of the crime themselves. They should only ask an expert witness about matters related to the fields of history or political science, or for the meanings of various symbols and their various purposes," Mazel said. He has worked at the Czech Interior Ministry as head of the Security Policy Department, as director of the Division of Analysis, and as Director of Security.



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