BRATISLAVA Hundreds of people have sent hate mail to a Slovak sportswear company this week after it featured a black body-builder in an advert on its Facebook page, having used the same model twice last year without provoking any such reaction.
Comments have included calling the man "a murderer" and "an ape in sportswear", with some people saying they would never shop at a company that promoted multiculturalism.
Hundreds of others have vowed to buy Nebbia clothes to show their support for the company.
EU member state Slovakia has Roma and Hungarian minorities but very few people of African origin among its 5.4 million people, and almost no migrants or refugees.
Growing racism in Slovakia mirrors the rise of right-wing and anti-immigrant movements across Europe after years of slow economic growth and the arrival of more than a million people fleeing hardship and conflict in the Middle East and Africa.
In an electoral shock last year, the far-right People's Party-Our Slovakia won seats in parliament for the first time after scoring 8 percent of the vote in a March vote.
Nebbia asked customers who had objected to the advert to contact them via an email address which translates from Slovak as "I am racist" if they wish to return their clothes for a refund.
"Nebbia is a global brand which uses sportspeople of colour for marketing purposes. We don't want people who feel racial hatred to wear our clothes," chief executive Martin Pecko said in a statement.
"I thought that racism did not exist in a developed society like ours, unfortunately we see in hundreds of reactions that it's deeply rooted in people," he said.
Slovakia has set up a special police unit last week to fight extremism, terrorism, hate crimes and hate speech.
But human rights activists have criticised Slovak leaders for stirring hatred and xenophobia themselves.
Slovakia has refused to accept mandatory EU quotas for accepting refugees and Prime Minister Robert Fico said in a May 2016 interview "there is no space for Islam in Slovakia".
In January, German retailer Lidl attracted racist comment in the Czech Republic for featuring a black man in a leaflet.
(Reporting by Tatiana Jancarikova; Editing by Louise Ireland)