The Ungdomshuset action continues (but what to make of it all?)

Okay, this whole Ungdomshuset issue is getting rather confusing.

First, an update.

Following the eviction of Ungdomshuset in Copenhagen (click here for a little background on this) on Thursday, plenty of action has occurred Friday and today. Some of it obnoxiously violent and destructive (like a school in Christianshavn in Copenhagen getting looted and heavily damaged and a lot of cars getting torched yesterday). It seems an undefined portion of it was caused by troublemakers coming in from abroad in order to get in on the action. That is, opportunists using the Ungdomshuset controversy to attract attention to themselves.

Once again, thanks is in order to TV2 News (and all the rest of the mainstream media) for playing right into their hands with their largely superficial but in-your-face coverage. The police, it seems, have done a good job arresting those causing the violence, and expelling a number of people from the country. What choice did they have?

There has been a lot of peaceful protest actions, as well.

today's (peaceful) demonstration heading down Istedgade

For example, a demonstration that originated just down the street from our place on Istedgade just went by. It was as peaceful and calm as they come - there were people of varying age involved and plenty of parents with their children mixed into the crowd. And plenty of Ungdomshuset support banners. Unfortunately, there was no obvious denunciation of the more violent actions that have been occurring in the name of support for Ungdomshuset - which was a shame.

a closer look at today's protest crowd - what you didn't see much of in the news coverage - lots of kids and bikes

Because the mainstream media in Denmark (as most places) has a difficult time covering the nuances of the story - and the peaceful side of it - it's hard to know how things really are. It's easiest for the mainstream media to basically to lump everything that has happened under the same banner ('support for Ungdomshuset'). Naturally, this tars the purpose and viewpoint of all of those who are trying to peacefully make their point.

Given the violence that has broken out, should those who still believe in the wider (peaceful) cause simply abandon it and disappear?

I hardly think so. If people abandoned a worthy cause every time a few undesirable people tried to latch on to it with differing ideas and viewpoints (including the use of violence), well, frankly there wouldn't be much in the world worth trying to stand up for. People would just be continually splitting up into their own little factions and refusing to discuss, cooperate and resolve their differences. And the level of debate, in general, would remain rather unsophisticated.

That said, had the protest over the past days (and months) remained entirely non-violent, personally, it would be much easier to continue supporting the Ungdomshuset cause. This became rather more difficult to do when it came out that a number of individuals were 'protecting Ungdomshuset' by loading up piles of bricks on the roof (so they could throw them at police) and making gas bombs - just in case. There was also the rather violent clash in December with police out front of Ungdomshuset. Not terribly intelligent or productive moves (and not moves likely to succeed). You could say this was the point when they basically lost me.

Nonetheless, there has never been enough evidence to conclude that all the right decisions have been made by the local government during the dispute, prior to where we are now.

It's hard to believe the outcome - all that has occurred this week, including all the violence and demonstrations across the city - was inevitable. If the local government in Copenhagen had accepted the idea from the that start that there would always be a small minority of people who would stake out anti-establishment position (and for whom a place like Ungdomshuset could meet their social needs quite well), then an agreement could likely have been found long ago. In terms of the Ungdomshuset crowd, we're not talking about a fixed set of faces, but rather a constantly evolving group - because inevitably numerous of its members are forced by, well,
reality to become increasingly part of the very establishment they claimed to be against. At the same time, those fashioning themselves as adamentently anti-establishment (for a time) will always find a place to gather, somewhere or other in the city.

Providing an outlet for such people to 'hang' is pretty progressive and clever, as I see it.
Those using Ungdomshuset had a place to congregate, and they could organise parties and events to raise money they needed to keep the place functional. At the same time, the police could put a clear a definite border around what was and was not permitted - and could continue to come down heavily on any of those who tried to cross this border (i.e. causing damage to neighbours property, etc.).

Much like pouring a few resources into facilities for drug abusers (not that I'm suggesting that the Ungdomshuset crowd should be lumped in the same category as drug abusers) - you don't do it because you necessarily agree with the decisions they made to get them there - rather you do it because it's an effective way to deal with this permanent reality. And it makes it much easier to deal with as an ongoing issue. You also assume that those who use the facilities will be a changing group of faces over the years - much like those who use Ungdomshuset.

Yes, it does require a significant level understanding to acknowledge this reality and to accept that though it may have a cost (a very small one in this case - just let them continue using the crappy place they've been using for the past 25 years anyway), it can actually be worth it.

Now that Ungdomshuset has been taken away from them, eventually another similar place will likely emerge as the chosen 'hang-out' - probably some rundown and neglected building somewhere in Copenhagen that has been forgotten. Which means that nothing productive will have been accomplished out of all of this.
And when it does, the city will be forced to deal with it. Again.

The local government may have made its point ('you are not a group that deserves any special privledges') - but so what? It's a hollow victory, if ever there was one.

But of course, it has made for a great news story.

For the record: Apparently over 600 people have now been arrested for 'rioting' over the last 3 days. At the same time, one of the largest demonstrations in support of Ungdomshuset, 2000 -3000 people,
took place at Raadhuspladsen at the center of Copenhagen and was the entirely peaceful (and included those who marched by our apartment). Talk about a tale of two protests...

Read more about the news coverage of what went on here, the peaceful demonstrations and what it was all about here, a nice eye-witness commentary on the 'riots' here, and 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.

1 Response to "The Ungdomshuset action continues (but what to make of it all?)"

  1. Marcin says:

    Pamplona has its bull running, Manila its crucifixion reenactments, and Copenhagen its royal weddings ... and occasional street riots.

    * * * Just a small subjective eyewitness account about Norrebro Thursday and Friday night. * * *

    I think Tim's comment comes very close to explaining the cause of all the 'ballede':

    "opportunists using the Ungdomshuset controversy to attract attention to themselves" . I would probably add killing boredom as another their other motivation.

    But a couple of things were just intereting to note:

    Bystanders opened up. Even if it meant that they approached you to share comment like "are we in the Gaza strip or something?" -- still it was a genuinely spontaneous reaction. Or hand out some beers to strangers on the street from a ground-floor apartment's window. So making friends was easy. But maybe it was exactly due to the beer, which:

    Continued to pour from places like 7-11 on Norrebrogade till early morning hours. Well, who cares that there's a 'barricade' [a word the media just loved to use in the coverage] burning on the street. Inside your 7-11 you'll always find your late night treat of beer, cigs and sausages. A completely grotesque situation, but perhaps on par with sights like:

    People waiting for the light to change to cross 3am, despite all car traffic being diverted from the area...Again, maybe I'm too picky because that is a perfectly rational behavior -- which insurer would pay you if you crossed at red and something happened to you actually ??

    And how did the about 600 or so people got arrested? Well, seen a couple of idiots getting cuffed for throwing some junk into fires, kicking phone booths etc. Completely deserved it, but I reckon they were out by afternoon the next day, possibly even with a nice warm big mac, courtesy of the politi>

    But apparently you could also end up in jail simply by not being a fast enough runner. Those enjoying the concert at Skt. Hans torv had to show some pretty impressive sprinting skill after tear gas containers ended up right in the middle of the crowd, pretty much unannounced. Some stubborn guys decided to confront the police but they literairly were taken away, one by one, within minutes. Meanwhile, those across the street could enjoy a tasty shawarma before peacefully finding their way to the next fire. And only to have to run again whithin a while - such was the night.

    Whats my impression of the riots?

    Safe. That has to be said. Safety is a trademark of Copenhagen, and even with 'riots' on, the probability of something bad happening to you is slight, unless you of course you ask for trouble.

    Boring after a while. Lots of teenagers and tourists, perhaps some Jyder and desoriented locals. Everyone waiting for some
    'action'. Everyone taking photos like crazy.

    And my motivation? Pure curiosity.

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