Copenhagen Youth Centre Eviction Followed by Clashes, EFUS News 2007

by Sven Engel (EFUS News, April 2007)

The eviction of a long-standing youth center in Copenhagen’s Nørrebro neighbourhood last week and the following clashes between protesting youth and riot police have shed a troubling light on the situation of youth, and on real estate development, in the Danish capital.
The “Ungdomshuset” (literally: youth house) has been an alternative independent youth center in a former squat, tolerated by the city’s administration since 1981. When the city sold the building last year to a religious sect, the new owner asked for an eviction title and announced to demolish the structure. The youth then took over the building, but lost much support in the usually rather tolerant Danish society after they turned town several offers for relocation to other areas. However, also the new owner declined to find a solution when an offer was made to buy the building back to preserve the youth center.
When a special anti-terror-police unit evicted the building on March 1st, protests that began peacefully ended in violent confrontations between protesting youth and the police, and continued for several nights. More than 650 youth were arrested, and 20 people hurt in the following incidents. The events show the great need for consensus-oriented solutions between youth – and especially rebellious youth – real estate interests, and city agencies if serious confrontation should be avoided.
The Copenhagen administration who owned the building over years, has apparently underestimated the frustration and anger over the loss of a symbol of alternative youth culture when they sold it to the Christina sect “Faderhuset” (Fatherhouse). The transaction also falls into a time of growing alienation between a youth subculture and the right-wing government of Denmark. Not only has the Copenhagen government not been able to offer alternative solutions that could have been accepted by the youth as well as by a larger public, but the city’s efforts have done nothing to reduce the provocative aspect that lies in the fact of a religious group taking away a highly symbolic convergence point for non-conformist youth culture and activities. The gap is further widening between disenfranchised and marginalised youth and a government which has pushed through a series of anti-immigration, anti-European, and neoliberal policy shifts together with the extreme right, in what was formerly known as one of the most tolerant societies in Europe.
This conflict shows the intensifying disputes and growing struggle about the use and appropriation of public spaces, and the very differing values being at stake. An urban culture, that is based on solidarity, tolerance and caring about the “misery of the world” has been questioned by the predominance of private property interests. The fact that an alternative youth scene was here opposed to a religious sect, that they saw supported by public authorities, has fueled the clashes. This is a worrying trend that has also affected similar youth scenes in Amsterdam (eviction of KALENDERPANDEN at Entrepotdok), Barcelona (conflicts around several squats) and Berlin (conflicts around illegal bars at KOPI ) in recent years.
Whether we like it or not, whether punks, graffiti artists, and squatters are to our tastes or not, the concerned youth are thus further pushed to the margins and more and more alienated from the rest of society. Is the Scandinavian and Dutch model of a tolerant society, that has allowed for larger spaces to diverging views and lifestyles now being replaced by a rigid security policy that has no space left for alternative youth cultures? Much of the answer will depend on the ability of city administrations to offer and continuously support spaces and activities for the integration of young people in urban culture.
Another important lesson can be seen in the fact, that many youth from neighbouring countries, especially Germany, have participated in the protest. This is a sign of greatly increased mobility across Europe in the communities of young, counter-culture youth. In other word, closer connections between people from different urban contexts that ally themselves with their peers in similar situations elsewhere have developed and the results can be seen in a support movement of the young people in Ungdomshuset with spontaneous but well organised protests following in Hamburg, Amsterdam, Oslo and neighbouring Sweden. Although the police tried to block people at borders and searched numerous houses after the first violence broke for foreign protestors, this strategy apperently did not have a great effect. Although many arrested young foreigners have been sent back to their countries immediately after arrest, a strategy that aims to block people’s movement within Europe must increasingly fail.
The question which must be answered by all of us remains: what kind of people and what kind of behaviour can be accepted in our urban communities?

Further Links:
– On conflict resolution, see also the SecuTopic MEDIATION in the menu above. 
– Read the recommendations on “New conflicts, new solutions?” adopted by European cities in the ZARAGOZA MANIFESTO in November 2006.
External Links:
– The site of the evicted UNGDOMSHUSET in Copenhagen.