Not surprisingly, the Supreme Administrative's Court's decision was welcomed by the vast majority of the general public and the media. For most people, the Workers' Party, which was strongly identified with a neo-Nazi ideology that aimed "to combat the system," was simply an eyesore on the Czech political landscape. Ranged against them, proponents of a second school of thought argue that imposing a ban is a largely self-defeating solution that inevitably raises the profile of an extremist party. Finally, advocates of third view claim that it is completely hypocritical to enforce a ban of this kind without taking action against the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSČM).

The decision to dissolve a political party or even to suspend its activity certainly represents an extraordinary intervention in the functioning of a political democracy, and as such, it will always prompt a range of conflicting reactions. Over the last 20 years, our experience of political pluralism has highlighted the weakness of a naive position that used to be widely accepted, which maintains that no political party should be outlawed — even the most hateful groups should have the right to exist, and it is up to democratic parties to defeat them elections.

Preventing a repeat of Nazism

In contrast, the latest ruling is effectively based on the so-called principle of democratic self-defence, which will now take precedence in Czech jurisprudence. Originally devised as a safety mechanism in post-war Germany, with a view to preventing a repeat of the rise of Nazism in a constitutional and democratic state, the principle of democratic self-defence insists on the right of a constitutional democracy to protect itself from forces that aim to undermine its existence. In particular state institutions have to be safeguarded against extremists of all colours — from neo-Nazis to leftist guerillas — and hostile ideologues who aim to impose religious values or membership of cult religions like Scientology. Once this principle has been accepted, the state can avail of a wide choice of means to defend its integrity: these not only include statutes of criminal and administrative law, but can also extend to specialized intelligence agencies with a brief to monitor political extremism like Germany's Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution.

In practice, initiatives to dissolve or suspend the activities of political parties are almost always unique unto themselves, and they do not always constitute an application of the principle of democratic self-defence. For example, the legal attack on the Belgian secessionist Vlaams Blok in 2004, which resulted in the party starting afresh under a new name, has little in common with Germany's longstanding campaign to outlaw the extremist National Democratic Party (NPD). In the United Kingdom, the British National Party (BNP) has so far successfully eluded legal sanctions. On 14 February of this year, it even voted to modify its constitution and open its ranks to members of ethnic minorities, so as to avoid prosecution for racist discrimination.

Disgraceful language resulted in violent acts

The case of the Czech Workers' Party and the procedure adopted by the Supreme Administrative Court, whose 120-page verdict goes well beyond the restrictive framework of strict legal argument, is also to a large extent unique. Disgraceful language resulted in violent acts. Those who assert that in the light of the court's decision, judgements may now be based on words and ideas rather than actions associated with racial hatred — even though in the case in question these took the form of the torching of Roma homes and attacks on members of sexual minorities — are mistaken. The court did not abolish the Workers' Party for advocating a repugnant and xenophobic political programme, but on the basis of a complex analysis, which proved the existence of a direct link between the discourse of party supporters, their ideology and hateful acts of organized violence.

It follows that the Supreme Administrative Court's ruling should not be understood as a simple judicial intervention against extremism, but as a defining judgement that will establish ideological boundaries that must not be crossed by any political party which aims to remain in operation. Of course, that is not to say that other means may not be deployed to combat extremist parties. In themselves, legal sanctions, court decisions, and police investigation will never be enough to eradicate political extremism. We also need greater civic commitment and more courage on the part of democratic leaders, and enhanced credibility for our democratic institutions. Only when these conditions have been fulfilled will we have a democracy that has the ability to efficiently defend itself.