Copenhagen: Riots in the streets

Posted on March 25, 2007

1


 ungdomshuset2.bmp

by tim anderson

News reporters in Copenhagen, and in particular TV2 News – Denmark’s 24-hour news channel – recently had what was probably their biggest news week for several years.

It all began with a police raid of the Ungdomhus (‘The Youth House’) in Nørrebro in Copenhagen on March 1, which succeeded in clearing out the occupants of the building. The Ungdomshus had been the subject of much controversy over the previous months (and years) thanks to the steadfast refusal of those using the building to voluntarily vacate the premises.

You see, it had been sold by the local government some years before and had been used by a large number of young people for many many years (since 1982, in fact) to stage regular events and parties. The controversy basically ended with the demolition of the building 5 days later.

The aftermath of the police clear-out of Ungdomshus carried on throughout the weekend (March 1-4) – some 400-600 were arrested and plenty of demonstrations in support of the building ensued.

It was a tale of two protests, you could say.

On one hand, over the course of the weekend a good number of punches thrown, fires lit, cars torched, windows broken, and even a school was broken into – with stacks and stacks of books and other miscellaneous items from the building becoming bonfire fuel. It seems an undefined portion of ‘rioting’ was caused by troublemakers coming in from abroad in order to get in on the action. That is, opportunists using the Ungdomshus controversy to attract attention to themselves.

However there were also plenty of peaceful protest actions, as well. A demonstration that originated just down the street from our place on Istedgade and eventually swelled to over 2000 people, was as calm as they come – it consisted of people of varying age with plenty of parents with their children mixed in.

The mainstream media in Denmark seemed rather challenged when attempting to tackle the nuances of the story, particularly the more peaceful side of it. Their preference was for the more hectic ‘live from the streets of Copenhagen’ reporting approach, which gave the impression that rioters were running amok all over Copenhagen. But in reality, it wasn’t quite like this.

Reports from bystanders on the streets where the so-called ‘riots’ took place painted a rather different picture – one of a fairly controlled situation, one that was quite boring to witness once the initial fascination had passed. The police essentially managed to contain the violence and arrest anybody stepping out of line fairly quickly.

In that respect, the coverage of the events surrounding the Ungdomshus was a story in itself. According to police, on the day that the Ungdomshus was cleared out, there were about 100-150 journalists hanging out in the area covering the story. For every punch thrown it seemed there was a crowd of photographers and reporters.

Perhaps those at home momentarily enthralled by watching the Ungdomshus story unfold as reported on television were just amused by the fact that something of this exciting nature was actually happening. Something even a little bit violent and seemingly unpredictable. Something that kind of resembled a TV show or movie at times. It made for compelling viewing, at least for a while.

And hence the nearly continuous and overly-dramatic (at times) live-on-the-scene coverage of the events and the particular spin that the mainstream media chose to put on them.

Want to read more? Read about the news coverage of the events, the peaceful demonstrations and what it was all about, a nice eye-witness commentary on the ‘riots’, or watch an amusing video of a couple of the demonstrators getting arrested.

ungdomshuset1.bmp

Advertisements