Extreme right-wing youth culture growing

Searchlight, April 2003

In 1996, a large segment of Dutch youth culture was dominated by the so-called "Gabbers" and their music, "Gabber house", which is very fast and has a heavy beat.

As well as a sound, "Gabber" was also a style and, in the big cities, like Amsterdam and Rotterdam, but also in a lot of smaller places, there emerged groups of (mainly white) boys with shaved heads and training suits, who hung around in groups on the streets, went to legal and illegal house parties and used drugs. Although they have no formal organisation or structures, the "Gabbers" declare themselves proud of their city and country and oppose the multicultural society.

Because of the mushrooming of this subculture at the time and the import of, and mixing with, other subcultures and non- political ideas in the scene, the more hardline racist slogans tended to disappear into the background.

Nevertheless, a hardcore of racists kept a foothold in the "Gabber" milieu and some were recruited by fascist parties like the now outlawed CP'86, even if their use of drugs was often a problem for the "political soldier"-type activities of the fascists. In the end, however, CP'86 was not very successful recruiting them, and, when the organisation broke apart, activity directed towards the "Gabbers" effectively ceased.

Four years on, in 2000, the "Gabber" scene collapsed, but ex- "Gabbers" remained active in some towns and turned back to racism, on various occasions even resorting to violence, together with organised fascists, launching attacks on refugees and their homes. Foreign shops and snack bars were also targeted and terrorised.

From 2000, these ex-"Gabbers"‚ started behaving and dressing more and more like racist skinheads and were increasingly mobilised and more or less organised by Stormfront Nederland, another fascist organisation. This outfit was able to attract many ex-"Gabbers" to its meetings where rabble-rousing hate speeches and heavy drinking formed the main part of an evening's "discussion".

Stormfront Nederland, however, has gone the same way as many other nazi groups before it, because the more events it staged, the more unwelcome attention it drew from the mass media, the law and anti-fascists.

The catalyst for Stormfront Nederland's demise was a big fight at a hate rock concert in Geleen, in Limburg near the German border, a fiasco which cost the nazis their popularity among skinheads. At the same time, members of Stormfront were convicted for crimes like racial violence or daubing a Jewish cemetery with swastikas.

As a result of the opposition and opprobrium, Stormfront Nederland's leaders proved incapable of holding the group together and, in any case, were too spaced out on booze and drugs to organise any more meetings. Thus, by 2002, Stormfront Nederland evaporated.

That, unfortunately, was not the end of the story because, in February this year, public concern discussion about right-wing youth culture hit the headlines again, occasioned by problems at a school in Landgraaf, near Limburg, where apparel like army boots, bomber jackets and the Lonsdale brand were banned. The school's board of governors decided on this drastic measure because of an increase in racist behaviour by pupils wearing such gear. The move was not popular with the students who made a declaration claiming that "Lonsdale-clothes are used by the "house" culture, which is against racism". Some of the pupils claimed to support the slogan "Gabbers‚ against racism and fascism" but other pupils said that the ban on the clothing was "a victory for the Turks".

Since the attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York, tension has grown between young people of different ethnic origins, leading some groups to fall back on ethnic identity and their own group and culture. Thus, young Turks and Moroccans, but also Moluccans, for example, are wearing their national flags on their jackets, rap culture youth are wearing their characteristic hats, wide trousers and chains etc. and some white youth have started to kit themselves out as skinheads.

Other schools are suffering the same problems as in Landgraaf and the same controversial measures are being taken but it is also tensions outside the educational world that are causing attitudes to harden amongst young people and generating divisions between them.

The late Pim Fortuyn, who sensed these splits more than any other politician in Dutch society and exploited them for political gain, contributed massively to the widening gap between migrants and the Dutch. Because of Fortuyn, who accused the "left elite" of turning migrants into a taboo subject, an "everything has to be said" culture has arisen.

To this can be added the strident anti-immigrant signals emanating from members of the government, the List Pim Fortuyn (LPF), the right- wing liberals of the VVD and the media, still in shock from the unforeseen rise of Fortuyn, which now emphasises the problems of immigration in a bid to to appear "objective".

The result has been a tangible heightening of racial friction exemplified by a recent case in which, after a magazine interview, police arrested two boys aged 15 and 16 years old. The two had proclaimed in the interview that "throwing a Molotov cocktail at a Turkish coffee house is OK" and that "it's impossible to send all foreigners back, so killing them, as Hitler did, is an option".

Schools, youth workers and anti-fascists now face a big challenge of keeping young people out of the hands of the fascist parties.

By Jeroen Bosch of Alert! in Utrecht