A day of action at Ungdomshuset in Copenhagen (and a little too much news coverage)

by Tim Anderson (timothyanderson2005@gmail.com)

Today was a big news day in Copenhagen - especially for TV2 24 News and the TV2 News helicopter. Politiken, one of the local newspapers, also got into the action publishing a special after-hours extra edition (a couple page supplement being handed out on the streets). Must have been big news!

the TV2 News helicopter - in action over Ungdomshuset

Yeah, I suppose. The police tried to clear out Ungdomshuset early this morning with predictable results (fighting, riot police, etc.) - apparently they succeeded. The aftermath of this carried on throughout the day, with a good number of people arrested (100-200 hundred, by some reports). In fact, at this moment there are a couple demonstrations in support of Ungdomshuset going on. The last time there was such a large scale demonstration in support of Ungdomshuset, the protesters (some who came from as far away as Germany) marched peacefully right by our apartment, trying to make lots of noise. These ones today seem to involve more in the way of projectiles, bonfires, blocked streets, smoke and well, action.

the previous (peaceful) demonstration right outside our window
- it wasn't much of a big deal

This story, as anyone living in Copenhagen knows, has been ongoing for some time but seems to at last be coming to a head.

Now on a normal day, TV2 News (the new 24-hour Danish News channel) must have a painfully tough filling 24 hours with of (mostly) Danish-oriented news, since so little of what happens in Denmark could be considered 'newsworthy' (i.e. out of the ordinary).

In that respect, the coverage of the events surrounding Ungdomshuset - particularly today - is becoming quite a story in itself. According to police, there were about 100-150 journalists hanging out around the house covering the story. You can be sure for every punch thrown, there was a crowd of photographers.


For those unfamiliar, Ungdomshuset is a squat in Norrebro in Copenhagen that has been used by a large group of young people for many many years (since 1982, in fact). Regular events and parties are held there - and those who now considered the building to be theirs didn't want leave, unsurprisingly. Unfortunately, the place was sold a couple years ago by the local government, and the buyer would kind of like to take over the place.

Personally, I do have some (not complete) sympathy for the Ungdomshuset crowd - a crowd often portrayed as unruly, anarchist-types who are just freeriding off the city (and there's little doubt many of them are). I've been inside the place and actually enjoyed a couple of the club/party evenings they have put on. I also remember the toilets and urinals overflowing - the washrooms were beyond revolting, believe me.

Since there will always be a small minority of such anti-corporate/supposedly anarchist-type young people in every major city going through such a phase of thinking (some more determined than others to hang onto it for a prolonged period of time), one part of the question is certainly how to best convince them that there are many ways they can meaningfully contribute to society that extend beyond sitting around and doing nothing much.

The other equally important part of the question is how best to deal with this permanent (if evolving) discontented minority. Allowing them a place to gather would seem a potentially good way to keep them contained and relatively contented - and at a pretty low cost. It would be foolish to pretend that it wasn't normal to find such a group of people - somewhere in the city. In Copenhagen, they just happen to have a highly visible hangout located in a fairly central spot.

This does not excuse some of the more violent behaviour that certain residents and supporters of Ungdomshuset have been resorting to over the past weeks and months as the dispute has escalated and the police have increasingly become involved. In fact, it was likely that behaviour that ensured no real solution would ever be found. If the group had steadfastly avoided all violence, I suspect they would have found much more sustained sympathy for their situation, even from those who didn't really share their views.

That said, those like myself who are on the outside looking on, must consider that it's not likely one is going to ever be able to sit down and have an entirely rational conversation with such people. Does this mean the best long-term solution simply to remain uncompromising and pretend that the more rational of the people holding these beliefs about the nature of society, don't exist?

More importantly, TV2 News (among others) got completely carried away with the story - particularly yesterday, and should shoulder some (small) portion of the blame for what transpired. Sitting at work today and watching the flat screen TV's that are positioned around the office (they normally show TV2 24 news throughout the day - as it's a media bureau office, you see), unsurprisingly a huge part of TV2's newsday was spent covering the goings on at Ungdomshuset.

Or to put it another way, all day today the violent faction of the Ungdomhuset crowd has had a live voice. One almost exclusively focused on them. You might wonder if TV2 News might be blowing up the story a little out of proportion. And in doing so, this only fans the flames.

Because let's face it - those of us momentarily enthralled by watching and reading about the Ungdomshuset story are more excited about the fact that something of this well, exciting nature is actually happening - something a little bit violent and unpredictable. Something that kind of resembles a TV show.
It's not that the average person in Copenhagen truly cares one way or the other about this eventual outcome - it's just fun to watch it happen.

And hence the nearly continuous and ridiculously over-dramatic live-on-the-scene coverage of the events by TV2's 24-hour news channel.

For more about the Ungdomshuset events you can read about the peaceful demonstrations and what the whole mess was about here, what an eye-witness saw during the 'riots' here, or watch an amusing video of a couple of the demonstrators getting arrested here).

A version of this article appeared under the title Copenhagen: Riots in the streets appeared on Shortcut: A European City Blog.

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