Dutch riots: who are those branded 'scum'?

The Hague (AFP) –


The Dutch government has vowed not to bow to those it labelled "scum" and "criminals" after riots against a coronavirus curfew, but who is really responsible for the unrest?

Officials and analysts say a diverse mix of people ranging from bored teenagers to hardcore Covid-19 conspiracy theorists are involved in the worst unrest to hit the Netherlands for decades.

That is coupled with a long-standing liberal streak in a country already uneasy about its first nationwide curfew since the Nazi occupation during World War II.

- Covid sceptics -

The Netherlands has a small but vocal group of people who are sceptical about the existence of Covid-19 or its deadliness, and who have held numerous demonstrations over the past year against lockdown restrictions.

This group was mainly responsible for illegal demonstrations on Amsterdam's famous Museumplein on Sunday where police used horses, dogs and a water cannon to disperse protesters.

"This group is mainly peaceful, but they do have a radical core" that could be prone to violence, Jan-Willem Duyvendak, sociology professor at the University of Amsterdam, told AFP.

Mixed into this group are often also "little jerks, who think it's fun taunting the police", added Tom Postmes, social psychology professor at Groningen University.

Covid-sceptic theories have been amplified by some politicians, particularly the far-right Forum for Democracy party lead by populist Thierry Baudet. The party recently called on people to "resist" the curfew but Baudet said he condemned the violence.

There is also a long tradition of anti-vaccination sentiment among conservative Protestants in the so-called Bible Belt in the central Netherlands -- which includes the fishing village of Urk where the first riots broke out on Saturday night.

- Bored youths -

The more spontaneous anti-curfew riots that erupted in Rotterdam, the Hague and other cities appeared mainly to have involved disaffected youths, officials and analysts said.

The Dutch public prosecution service said on Tuesday that "many of those arrested are teenagers and live at home with their parents".

They appeared to have no firm agenda besides anger with the curfew and 10 months of coronavirus measures, alongside broader socio-economic frustrations.

Dutch media reported that many had used social media groups to organise where to meet.

"There are pent-up frustrations and anger at the situation. There is a feeling that 'the world is bad and stupid'," Carsten de Dreu, social psychology professor at Leiden University, told AFP.

While centre-right Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said he was "not going to look for sociological causes" behind the riots, the unrest often took place in lower-income areas or in city centres where youths were more likely to gather, analysts said.

"There are many young people who have to join online classes with a single laptop for three children, who do not have their own bedroom," added De Dreu.

"The only place where you can be yourself is going outside and meeting your friends in the street. Then, if there is tension, it can easily escalate," he added.

"The first stone is thrown and the rest is history."

- Football fans -

The Netherlands has several highly partisan sporting rivalries and "there is definitely an element of football hooliganism involved in the rioting", Jan-Willem Duyvendak told AFP.

But in a twist, hardcore fans came out in force in towns including Den Bosch, Maastricht and Tilburg saying they wanted to "defend their city" and assist the Dutch police.

Police "in some places (were) even welcoming them as a type of militia", said Duyvendak, adding that "it was remarkable that police didn't have to be afraid that football hooligans were going to riot".

Dutch police commander Willem Woelen however insisted that while fans were allowed to "share information with the police", law enforcement is "reserved for the police". The curfew applied to the supporters too, a police statement said.