‘Facebook fighters’ and hard-bass music fans replace skinheads
As 1990s-era skinheads become less active, a new brand of right-wing extremism is emerging, according to a recent study commissioned by the Interior Ministry – one that is younger, engaged in social networking and drawn by culture more than politics.
Nearly 65 percent of those engaged in extreme right politics in the Czech Republic are under the age of 25, according to the study, which was led by Charles University’s Miroslav Mareš, with a full quarter of the total falling in the age range of 13-18 years old.
While the majority of these young people engage in extremist discourse on the Internet and are unlikely to make their actions more actual – so much so that they carry the nickname “Facebook Fighters” – a corresponding culture of dress and music is also emerging as a powerful recruiting tool by tapping into a sense of youthful rebellion.
“These new trends, from my point of view, could prove interesting for a part of the younger generation,” Mareš said. “The main reason for engagement in the scene is the individual need to be respected and to be part of a ‘superior’ aggressive community.”
This strand of extremists, known as Autonomous Nationalists, differs from established neo-Nazi skinhead groups of the past, and adherents increasingly socialize by dancing to hard-bass music – a genre that combines techno beats with extremist lyrics.
“They hold more public events than the other groups, and their online presentation is better,” longtime Roma-rights activist Gwendolyn Albert said of the Autonomous Nationalist movement.
Adherents also dress differently than their extreme-right predecessors, oxymoronically co-opting styles from hip-hop and fashions that have been traditionally associated with left wing anti-globalization groups. For example, scarves once sported by left-wing groups as a sign of support for the Palestinian movement are now also worn by extreme right-wing groups who view them as a means of taking aim at Israel, with anti-Semitism continuing as a major current within right-wing extremist groups.
“It is about copying the anarchist groups which were, mainly in Germany, being more innovative and creative than neo-Nazis,” said Jana Součková with the activist group Antifa. “It has to do with the change and strategy of neo-Nazis who originally broke into the skinhead subculture, but after this style had been discredited, they went looking for something else to copy.”
Such cultural trends are leading to a split in the extreme-right movement.
“Conflict between the old-style skinhead generation and the new form of Autonomous Nationalism really exists,” Mareš said. “Some protest activities [by the Autonomous Nationalists], like hard-bass dancing, can be a problem for the neo-Nazi scene, because such an image is contradictory to the expected law and order profile of the extreme right.”
The merging of extreme-right-wing politics with pop culture harkens back to a trend particularly prevalent in Serbia during the 1990s. The genre of turbo folk, which merged nationalist narratives with electronic dance music and served as an attractive cultural force in uniting far-right youth, played a role similar to the one now played by hard-bass music in the Czech Republic – with the Czech manifestation occurring on a much less intensive and widespread scale.
“These musical genres and their total media presentation proved themselves to be one of the most powerful ideological weapons of [Slobodan] Milošević’s regime,” said Ivana Kronja, a Belgrade-based media theorist who has written extensively on turbo folk. “This system of values aimed to establish the cult of crime and violence, war-profiteering, national-chauvinism and provincialism, together with the abandonment of morals, education, legality and other civic values.”
Such music remains a uniting force among right-wing groups in Serbia and saw a renewed relevance as nationalist narratives reemerged when Kosovo unilaterally declared independence from Serbia in 2008.
Czech right-wing groups protested the fourth anniversary of Kosovo’s independence declaration in Jihlava Feb. 18, in a sign of another trend highlighted in the Interior Ministry report: increased cooperation and shared ideas with extremist groups from abroad.
“Cooperation on the neo-Nazi scene started in the 1990s; however, today, it is more stable, more intensive and more professional,” Mareš said. “The Internet is an important factor, but common strategies by the European far right also play a significant role.”
About 70 percent of Czech far-right adherents come from groups categorized as lower or underclass, according to the study. Only 10 percent have a university-level education, whereas some 60 percent are unlikely to have finished even high school.
Such demographics point to groups of people largely left outside the economic and social developments unleashed by globalization in the past two decades, and in addition to the fashions of anti-globalization left-wing groups, Autonomous Nationalists have also taken up some of their ideas, with nationalist ideas taking on both racial and economic components.
The report puts partial blame on the far right’s ability to attract young people in schools.
“Children are learning about the Holocaust, but they are not able to understand contemporary political problems,” Mareš said.
Still, with only 400 or so extreme-right activists that Mareš considers “hard-core” nationwide, the far-right extremism is hardly a national epidemic. Most experts point to mass immigration, and the related xenophobia, as the traditional force that spurs the development of organized far-right political parties in Europe. The Czech Republic remains far behind its neighbors in terms of drawing immigrants from North Africa, for example. This leads the Czech far right to focus almost entirely on the Roma minority.
“The immigration issue plays only a subsidiary role in the contemporary Czech Republic, and anti-Gypsyism is dominant in neo-Nazi propaganda,” Mareš said. “However, increased immigration can be a reason for more intensive use of anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim attacks in neo-Nazi politics.”
At present, the Workers Party for Social Justice (DSSS) remains the most organized of far-right groups and the only one seeking to actually gain public office, but few expect the DSSS to reach Parliament anytime soon. Still, the party is making waves on a local level and by all accounts is gaining traction in the Ustí region, the scene of racially motivated violence and protests in the summer and fall of 2011.
While the extreme right is nowhere near becoming a dominant player on the political scene, the trends outlined in the report do point to an effect on national politics moving forward, Mareš said.
“A new type of populist party with anti-Gypsy prejudices can arise in the future,” he said.
– Klára Jiřičná contributed to this report.