Bratislava, Slovakia – Marian Kotleba, the notorious head of the far-right People’s Party – Our Slovakia (LSNS), has been sentenced to four years and four months in jail for extremism by a Slovak court.
Slovak far-right leader first MP to be sentenced to prison
The special criminal court of Pezinok found Kotleba, a member of the lower house of Parliament, guilty of promoting a movement aimed at suppressing democratic rights and freedoms. This is the first time a sitting MP is sentenced to prison since 1993.
The case dates back to 2017, when Slovakia’s neo-fascist leader gave three impoverished families checks in the amount of 1,488€ during a public event held on the anniversary of the foundation of the wartime Slovak state. 1488 is a well-known neo-Nazi symbol, referring to the popular racist slogan “14 Words” and to the Nazi salute “Heil Hitler”, where both words start with the eighth letter of the alphabet.
“I’m not aware of having committed any crime”, Kotleba told the court, denying the reference to the Nazi symbols was intentional and pulling a number of stunts and theatrics in his closing argument, which dragged out the process for nearly eight additional hours. He was eventually fined 500€ for disrespecting the court.
The ruling, hailed by rights groups and activists as a historic move to crack down on extremism and hate speech, is not final, and the 43-year-old far-right politician said he would appeal the court’s decision. The case now lies in the hands of the Supreme Court, and Kotleba remains a member of Parliament until the final ruling is announced.
“A testimony of change”
“It is a testimony of change”, reacted political scientist Grigorij Meseznikov. “What it means for the country is that the legal tools against those who undermine the democracy are finally working”.
Although this is the first time the former governor of the Banska Bystrica region is convicted, this week’s high-profile case was not his first tiff with the courts.
Repeatedly accused of hate speech, particularly towards immigrants and the country’s Roma community, Kotleba became known for organizing marches throughout the country wearing Nazi uniforms, as well as for his public support to Slovakia’s World War II Nazi puppet regime and its leader, Jozef Tiso.
Kotleba’s LSNS party, which first entered Parliament in 2016, was placed fourth in the latest parliamentary elections earlier this year, winning around 8% of the votes. Last year, Slovakia’s top constitutional court rejected a request from the prosecution to ban the party on the grounds that there was not enough evidence to support the claim that LSNS presented a threat to democracy.
To better understand the rise of Marian Kotleba and his party in Slovakia, you can read our dedicated feature piece on the issue.