“A constructive rebellion”: A Wroclaw skinhead’s journey from brown to red

Investigating the history of Poland’s skinhead scene, you’re bound to get your hands dirty. That is to say, although the mid-80s beginnings were relatively apolitical (see our article on Kortatu’s visit to Warsaw in 1987), no neat separation between ‘boneheads’ and others is possible until at least 1992-93. Although the information flow from Western Europe to the Polish People’s Republic was somewhat hampered in the 80s, whatever made it through the Iron Curtain in the form of zines and tapes was happily absorbed. This included the likes of Blitz, Kortatu, Symarip and Angelic Upstarts – all of which received mention in the pioneering Polish skinzine Fajna Gazeta – but also Skrewdriver, provocative nazi posturing and ultra-violence against enemy tribes. All of these influences added up to a subculture made up of hooligan ex-punks, determined to make a name for themselves as the most fearsome youth cult of all.

In Wroclaw, Lower Silesia – the city known as Breslau when it was part of the German Reich until 1945 – skinheads appeared around 1986. They regularly met in the Rynek (Market Square) in the historical town centre, then a rough quarter of Wroclaw rather than the gentrified tourist attraction it is today. Some of the better-known characters were known by nicknames such as Bonanza, Smolar, Czeski, Kufel, Mareczek, Siudy and Robson. As the scene became more politicised in the year of Poland’s transition to capitalism, Robson became a prime mover. Then aged 19, he helped to set up the Aryan Survival Front (AFP), a bonehead network modelled on Britain’s Blood & Honour, and he became the manager of a new RAC band from Wroclaw that would soon become influential: Konkwista 88. Looking back on this scene in a short interview with Gazeta Wyborcza in 2005, Robson felt that he had been “the most ideological of them all”. After all, it was him who “came up with the idea of forming the AFP (…), helped to set up Konkwista 88, organised their first gigs, answered all their letters, as well as contributed the odd verse or chorus to their songs”.

Where they all hung out: Wroclaw’s Rynek (Market Square) in 1988

On 24 February 1990, Robson and some 15 friends disrupted a street demonstration in Świdnicka Street, shouting abuse at African students and Solidarność activists who were celebrating Nelson Mandela’s release from prison. The ensuing scuffle made the news as the first racially motivated riot in post-socialist Poland, and Mieczysław Michalak’s iconic photograph of the action – seen at the top of this page – went around the world. Video footage of the incident can be seen in the TV documentary Krzyczylismy Apartheid (2006), which is available on YouTube with English subtitles.

Legend has it that the band Konkwista 88 was formed that same evening. In any case, it involved some of those who had been present at the punch-up. They wanted to name the group after a novel by Waldemar Łysiak that had come out in 1988, the political thriller Konkwista (conqueror). The man appointed as the band’s manager that night, Robson, suggested they add the number ’88’ to their name – though not necessarily in reference to the book’s year of publication… A series of tapes combining competent songwriting and musicianship with openly National-Socialist lyrics established Konkwista 88 as one of Poland’s two main neo-nazi RAC acts of the 90s, the other being Honor from Gliwice.

For many participants in Wroclaw’s nazi skinhead scene, it all ended badly. By the end of the decade, they found themselves undergoing alcohol or drug therapy – such as Konkwista 88’s guitarist, Czerwony, who had spent the best part of the 90s shooting up heroin outside Wrocław Główny train station. Or they graduated to organised crime – like a character called Mareczek, who got himself shot dead in an underworld feud.

Robson’s native Popowice neighbourhood

Not so Robson: in 1993, after a period of doubt, he switched sides and became a redskin. In 1996, Łukasz Medeksza conducted a long and thorough interview with Robson, which was originally published in the Polish punk zine Pasażer and in the anti-fascist magazine Nigdy Więcej. An interesting historical document, it offers insights into Wroclaw’s nascent skinhead scene and its rapid drift towards the extreme right after 1989. We have translated it for you, and we’ve also asked the original interviewer, Łukasz Medeksza, a few retrospective questions.

We approached Robson too. He told us – politely but without giving any reasons – that he was “not interested” in being interviewed. We can therefore only give you a rough sketch of what happened in his life after 1996: Robson remained a redskin for at least another decade (in the 2006 TV documentary mentioned earlier he still sports a crop and a button-down shirt), during which he organised security for leftist events. That’s how he eventually ended up in the Polish Socialist Party (PPS), a left-wing organisation orientated towards working-class politics and national sovereignty (the party is modelled on the historical PPS originally founded in 1892). “I can’t remember if I was the party chair for Wroclaw or for the whole Lower Silesian voivodeship”, Robson said in Gazeta Wyborcza, “but I was certainly on the national council”. Later, he set up a security firm that provided bouncers for Wroclaw’s gay and lesbian nightclubs, and today he appears to be a family man with a keen interest in boxing.

“We’ll all meet at the station”: Wrocław Główny train station,1988. Photo: Mariusz Czułczyński

Alas, the fact that he declined our invitation to speak to us leaves a number of questions open. We understand that Robson embraced neo-nazism, which is distinct from OG nazism in that it promotes not pan-Germanism, Prussianism or Nordic supremacy, but the international solidarity of what it considers the ‘white race’. The latter is an Anglo-American concept introduced into the movement by George Lincoln Rockwell, who merged aspects of Hitler’s ideology with the segregationist racism of the southern US, thereby creating the ‘white nationalist’, Klan-loving neo-nazism that we know today.1 This serious modification allows Slavic peoples such as Poles and Russians, once designated for enslavement and extermination as part of Hitler’s colonisation project, to join the ‘white race’ and wave swastika flags…

However, it isn’t always easy to keep historical nazism and its Americanised update apart: in Robson’s own words, the imagery served up by Konkwista 88 was “strictly Hitlerite”. The band even had a song extolling the virtues of the Waffen-SS and eulogising its Eastern campaign. I admit that I still struggle to get my head around this most blatant contradiction: unless for shock value, how can a Pole – even a fascist Pole – glorify an organisation whose actions and entire mission were so utterly contemptuous of Polish life?2

Furthermore, if Robson had no time for the narrow nationalism of parts of the scene, why didn’t he gravitate towards, say, the pan-Slavism of other factions?3 And if he was mainly into the ‘leftist’ aspects of nazism, as he relates in the interview, why didn’t he instead follow a path similar to the band Sztorm 68, who rejected nazism altogether and much more resolutely pursued a ‘national-bolshevik’ direction?

Konkwista 88 self-published tape, 1991

Chances are we’ll never know. Nor will we learn what Robson makes of his interview with 25 years of hindsight. Given Wroclaw’s complicated history – the city has been variously German and Polish – it would have also been interesting to learn more about the strange identity crisis that apparently tormented some of his mates. Although living in a town whose population largely descends from eastern Poles resettled there from Lwów/Lviv in 1946–1947, it seems that many Wroclaw skins went through a phase where they considered themselves German!

We should issue a word of warning: the translated interview is the authentic voice of someone who was part of Wroclaw’s early skinhead and bonehead scenes. However, his account doesn’t represent anything like the “last word” on that era. For all the fascinating and detailed historical information, it is but one individual’s subjective point of view and inevitably partial.

We’ve edited the interview only slightly, cutting out some tidbits on various obscure characters from nineties Poland that we thought were inconsequential from today’s point of view (as well as some “revelations” about Nicky Crane that were partly old hat and partly inaccurate). Just in case this needs saying: we’re running this article as part of our investigation into the historical beginnings of the Polish skinhead scene. We do not endorse racism or nazism, and we think that Robson’s decision to become a redskin, especially in what was once known as Poland’s “bonehead capital”, commands respect.

We’d like to thank Łukasz Medeksza for replying to our questions. Many thanks also to Mieczysław Michalak, who let us use his photograph of the February 1990 riot at the Nelson Mandela demonstration. Michalak has been a photojournalist for over 30 years – some of his work can be seen on his website here.

Matt Crombieboy

Click picture for Robson interview part 1
Click picture for Robson interview part 2
Click picture for Robson interview part 3
Click picture for Łukasz Medeksza interview

  1. “My task is to turn this ideology into a world movement”, Rockwell said of his utalitarian approach in an interview with Playboy in 1966, “and I’ll never be able to accomplish that by preaching pure Aryanism as Hitler did. In the long run, I intend to win over (…) the people of every white Christian country in the world.”

  2. See also the nazi government’s Master Plan for the East: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Generalplan_Ost

  3. The political Polish skinheads of the early 90s split into three factions: 1) ethno-nationalists who drew on the National-Democratic movement (1886-1947) and endorsed Catholicism as part of Polish identity, 2) neo-nazis who considered themselves part of an international movement comprising the entire ‘white’ world, 3) the ‘Slavic’ faction, which drew on eclectic sources and comprised all manner of revolutionary nationalists, pan-Slavists, neopagans, neo-fascists and even a few ‘national communists’. The common denominator was their desire to flesh out a radical nationalism that was not linked to nazism or Catholicism.

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