They can be found in almost any European or North
American city. After 1989, they became a regular feature in the Central
and Eastern European media as well. People, recognize them easily, but
paradoxically they remain a relatively misunderstood and surprisingly varied
subculture in society. For many Czechs, they're all just skinheads. There
is little will to engage in a theoretical discussion of their origins or
their international social, and cultural context.
The skinhead subculture seems to have emerged out
of England in the 1960s, although some analysts have placed their roots
even further in the past. The mid-1960s saw the emergence of a specific
subculture in England known as Mods. Extravagantly done up, with short
hair cuts and conservative clothes, they passed their time riding around
on motor-scooters, taking euphoric drugs, and listening to black soul music.
This group disappeared from the scene relatively quickly, only to return
at the end of the decade in a slightly altered form. The somewhat refined
character of the Mods was replaced with a rougher, albeit still elegant,
look made up of heavy workers' boots and shirts, jeans, and short hair.
These "Hard Mods" were the first British subculture to embrace Jamaican
reggae and ska music as well as soul. The first enclaves of immigrants
from the British colonies in the Caribbean established a group known as
the Rude Boys, characterized by their clothing, slang, and especially disrespect
for convention and authority. These gangs fascinated the Mods, who saw
the lifestyles of these immigrants as a possible way out of their own oppressive
working-class conditions. Thus, two apparently irreconcilable culture groups,
Jamaican immigrants and white working-class youths, gave birth to a subculture
that exists to this day -- the skinheads.
These early skinheads, originally know as the Boot Boys, borrowed much
from the external appearance of the Mods but were set apart by pride in
their working-class origins, patriotism, and Puritanism. They distanced
themselves from hippies, drugs, and intellectualism. Their favorite music
was reggae and ska. One of the most important characteristics of these
early skins was their rejection of hippie values such as long hair as a
symbol of peace and eroticism. Some commentators note that in its clothing,
proletarian chauvinism, patriotism, and love of beer, boxing, and football,
the skinhead subculture was an attempt to recreate the English working-class
In those early days, the skinheads did not embrace xenophobia and racism.
Rather, they were marked by a tendency toward hooliganism and brawling,
especially during football games. Some groups of skinheads targeted their
violence against students, homosexuals, and sometimes people of other religions
Riding the punk wave
By the early 1970s, the skinhead subculture had
significantly weakened partly due to police crackdowns. The movement was
not revived until the end of the decade, in the midst of the punk explosion.
The British economy had fallen into its worst crisis since World War II
and the country was beset by social problems. Meanwhile, the almost forgotten
skinhead cult had returned to the scene, but in contrast to its original
apolitical conception, some of the new skinheads had started to move toward
the radical right. The politicization of the skinheads was an apparent
reaction to the growing unemployment rate among young, unskilled men. Some
people started to blame the unemployment rate on the immigrants, who were
said to be "stealing" jobs from native Britons. Furthermore, various extremist
right-wing political groups capitalized on the potential inherent in the
physical prowess and patriotic inclinations of the skinheads.
A young man by the name of Ian Stuart Donaldson played a key role in
the transformation of the skinheads from a subculture into an international
political movement. In 1977, Donaldson established the rock band Screwdriver
to ventilate his uniquely right-wing philosophy based on violence, survival,
and rebellion. Two years later, this talented musician set up the political
group White Noise, which soon caught the attention of the British National
Front. After just two albums, Screwdriver assumed a leading role in the
creation of white power music -- a right-wing extremist and racist offshoot
of the rock scene.
The wave of nationalistic feeling was accompanied by an increase in
the number of racially motivated crimes committed by skinheads. The ultraright
branch of the movement immediately became the focus of media attention
and social condemnation. Meanwhile, the apolitical skinheads distanced
themselves from the xenophobic attitudes of the ultraright, eventually
giving birth to a left-wing and decidedly anti-racist rock music movement
right at the heart of the British music scene.
To the Czech Republic
In the early 1980s, the skinhead movement appeared
in continental Europe, especially in Germany and Italy. For the most part,
the continent imported the fascist branch of the skinhead movement, often
in the form of neo-Nazism.
The movement reached Central and Eastern Europe toward the end of the
1980s. After 1989, there was a veritable boom in such groups throughout
the region. In the former Czechoslovakia, the rock band Orlík played
a key role in popularizing the skinhead cult among young people. From the
first early attempts to organize a Czech skinhead movement on the basis
of nationalistic feelings with an emphasis on the Hussite tradition, the
movement's adherents had by the early 1990s moved toward a racist, authoritarian,
fascist, or national socialist position.
Similar trends are evident in other countries of the former Eastern
bloc. The opening of the borders and of society itself in those countries
brought in a wide array of problems, including immigration, higher crime
rates, an expansion of the drug scene, prostitution, and unemployment.
Democratization also exposed other long unresolved problems, such as the
integration of ethnic minorities, especially the Roma. Furthermore, the
postcommunist countries imported the skinhead cult from Germany rather
than England, and therefore apolitical and non-racist skinheads are almost
completely unheard of in Central Europe and Eastern Europe.
The right-wing branch of the skinhead cult continues to attract new
sympathizers in the Czech Republic, although the early massive increases
in membership seem to have come to a stop. The average age of members continues
to decline, and even elementary school children (known as Kinderskins)
can be found within the ranks. In terms of social class, students form
vocational schools dominate the younger rank and file, whereas high school
students are in the minority. As for adults, the movement is largely made
up of blue collar workers and the unemployed.
The basic point of departure for all types of right-wing extremists
is a form of racism that finds expression in the belief in "biological
exceptionality" and in the "superiority" of whites. The worst crime in
the eyes of right-wing extremists is the mixture of the white race with
other races, and the most militant groups openly call for a "racial holy
war" or a "white revolution." Those ideas are mainly expressed in a contempt
for people of other races, especially immigrants. Such xenophobic attitudes
are generally based on the accusation that the immigrants are worsening
the unemployment situation by taking all available jobs -- a result of
the immigrants' greater willingness to work for lower wages. Ironically,
immigrants are often also accused of being "parasites" on the system, since
many of them -- lacking money, higher education, and linguistic ability
-- often find themselves on welfare.
Euphemisms are often used in place of the terms "racism," "xenophobic,"
and "anti-Semitic." The most common of these is the word "patriotism,"
which appeals to a person's sense of pride in the nation, national traditions,
and so on. But the history presented according to such theories is always
distorted or purposely one-sided -- national myths are presented as historical
fact. Such theories usually try to draw a connection to the distant culture
of the Celts and Vikings and the medieval era of the Crusades.
The non-fascist skinheads
In reaction to the growing influence of the fascist
camp within the skinhead movement, a new anti-racist faction known as SHARP
(Skin Heads Against Racial Prejudice) emerged in the United States in 1986.
The SHARP group forms a counter-balance to White Power Skins. Armed conflicts
have erupted between the two groups in several American cities.
The concept of an anti-racist skinhead culture quickly made its way
into Europe. But the various branches of SHARP in America and Europe are
not linked and they have various stances on political engagement -- from
a strict rejection of any political involvement to an adoption of left-wing
opinions. The latter groups tend to have close contacts with various anarchist
groups and take part in anti-fascist demonstrations.
Characteristics the fascist skins and SHARP have in common are patriotism,
pride in their working class origins, the cult of strength and manliness,
and their opposition to drugs. They also dress similarly only the symbols
and emblems they wear are different.
SHARP has been operating in the Czech Republic for three years now but
it has amassed only a few dozen supporters in several cities. Despite their
low number though, these supporters manage to publish several music magazines,
called fanzines. Ironically, rather than representing a threat to anyone,
the SHARP skins in the Czech Republic are threatened both by the Roma,
who understandably see all skinheads as their enemies, and the fascist
skinheads, for whom SHARP members are "racial traitors" and "leftist dirt."
Racial attitudes of skinheads in the Czech Republic reflect those of
Czech society at large. Tolerance of different races and nationalities
is another matter. A 1993 poll found that Czech society was not prepared
to accept the growing wave of immigrants coming into the country. The poll
asked the question, "How should the Czech state deal with foreigners/immigrants
who are now living on its territory?" Fully 73.4 percent of respondents
expressed support for various forms of deportation, and only 5.7 percent
said the state should allow immigrants to live here. Thus, it would seem
that the perpetrators of racially motivated crimes may be justified in
feeling that they have the quiet support of the majority.