Myth of Danish democracy unmasked


Richard Moore

Original source URL:

    The Battle for Ungdomshuset
    By David Rovics
    t r u t h o u t | Guest Contributor
    Wednesday 07 March 2007

I was awoken before dawn last Thursday by the ringing of my cell phone. On the 
line was a friend from Copenhagen: "I'm sorry to call so early. It's happened." 
Having very recently spent a lot of time in Denmark, I knew right away what this
meant. Denmark's flagship anarchist squat, one of Europe's oldest squatted 
social centers, had been attacked by the police. "They landed helicopters on the
roof," my friend informed me.

Danish anti-terror police landed at dawn, unannounced, and certainly uninvited, 
using helicopters, construction equipment, and lots of tear gas to overcome 
resistance from the handful of youth who have for some time now been keeping a 
24-hour watch over Ungdomshuset ("Youth House" in English). The medieval-looking
barricades that had been perfected over the course of the past few months were 
impressive to see, but everybody at the house that I talked to during my recent 
visits to Copenhagen was fairly resigned to the possibility of an assault using 
helicopters being impossible to resist.

Every afternoon since the police occupation of Ungdomshuset, thousands of people
from all walks of life have been peacefully demonstrating in support of the 
squat. Every night, thousands more have been taking to the streets in decidedly 
less pacific ways. Various parts of the city have been characterized by burning 
barricades, broken glass, water cannons and tear gas. With 600 people arrested 
by Saturday night, the streets were a bit calmer.

Police have been recruited from all over Denmark to participate in the 
repression of the squatters' movement and their supporters, and they have 
apparently even borrowed police cars from Sweden. Being part of the Schengen 
zone, driving into Denmark is normally as easy as driving across the border from
Massachusetts to New York, but for the past several days there have once again 
been government agents at the borders. Among the 600 arrests in Copenhagen have 
been scores of Germans, Norwegians, Swedes, and other international supporters, 
but many more would-be supporters have reportedly been turned away at the 

My contacts tell me that people from within Denmark have been turned away from 
entering Copenhagen if they raised the suspicions of the police. Denmark is made
up of three main land masses connected by two very long bridges. Pretty much 
anyone coming from one of the two western sections of Denmark would be coming to
Copenhagen over a bridge, so keeping Danes from reaching their own capital city 
is not logistically as challenging as it might be in many other countries.

Several leftwing social centers, infoshops and collective houses have been 
raided by the police, who have destroyed property including a number of doors 
which they unnecessarily smashed down, and people inside have been arrested. 
Members of the Anarchist Black Cross doing legal support for those already in 
prison were themselves arrested.

At Ungdomshuset and the surrounding neighborhood of Norrebro, activists there 
estimate that 100-200 police are guarding the building at all times. The 
struggle for Ungdomshuset has received tremendous support from much of Danish 
civil society, including the unions, who in principle refuse to work under 
police protection. The rightwing Christian sect that bought the building, 
Faderhuset ("Father House"), however, has found people to work on clearing and 
destroying the building. They are wearing masks because they don't want to be 
recognized. A Danish flag is now flying on top of 69 Jagtvej.

There have been dozens of protests at Danish embassies around Europe in 
solidarity with the struggle for Ungdomshuset, and in Paris, the Danish embassy 
was occupied by protesters.

Supporters of Ungdomshuset formed a foundation with the hope of legalizing the 
squat by officially purchasing the building, but Faderhuset refused to sell. The
foundation has been told by the city of Copenhagen that perhaps a different 
building could be purchased. Ungdomshuset issued a statement rejecting this idea
out of the principle that the government should provide a solution to the 
problem that the government itself created, without making other people pay for 

The squatters of Copenhagen dare to ask the question, "Who's world is this 
anyway?" Who are these people who claim to own everything, these lords of the 
land? Perhaps privatization and gentrification of society are neither just nor 
inevitable. Perhaps the air, water, land and even the buildings on the land 
should be held in common. Perhaps in such a prosperous society every city should
have free social centers like Ungdomshuset, and they should not need to be 
fought for.

Since 1982, Ungdomshuset has been a major center in Europe for the autonomous 
movement. People who have stood against corporate greed, stood for an 
egalitarian society. Against nationalism, for a world without borders. Against 
racism, for a world without discrimination and xenophobia. To these and other 
ends, Ungdomshuset has been host to thousands of concerts, workshops, meetings, 
conferences and protests.

The building that, at least up until last Thursday, housed Ungdomshuset, had a 
long history before 1982. It was built by the Danish labor movement in 1897 and 
was called Folkets Hus - the People's House. VI Lenin spoke there before he 
launched the Russian Revolution. The Second International took place there. From
that house, the first International Women's Day was declared. It fell into 
disrepair and disuse in the late '70s, and was squatted in 1982 by autonomous 

The police takeover of Ungdomshuset and the draconian security measures adopted 
over the weekend come at a time when the Danish government has shifted markedly 
to the right. The Rasmussen government has sent Danish soldiers to participate 
in the illegal occupation of Iraq. Denmark has recently passed some of Europe's 
most restrictive asylum laws.

The sensible toleration that once characterized the Danish state's attitude 
towards marijuana has been shattered by the ongoing police occupation of 
Christiania. The 900-person squatted community in the old military barracks not 
very far from the center of the city has for many years been one of Denmark's 
most popular tourist attractions, featuring a successful bicycle factory, 
restaurants, cafes, daycare and, until recently, an open market for marijuana 
and hash. No hard drugs were allowed, and the atmosphere was very easygoing. Now
the drug trade has once again been pushed underground, violence has gone from 
rare to commonplace (including one beating death) and police are searching 
people at will for drugs, maintaining an intimidating atmosphere for residents 
and tourists alike.

And now, along with selling Ungdomshuset, the Danish government is making plans 
to seize property in Christiania, kicking out residents in order to create what 
they're euphamistically calling "low-income housing." Those seeking to profit 
from gentrifying cities seem to be using the same capitalist's handbook, from 
New York to San Francisco to Copenhagen.

The battle for Ungdomshuset is not over though the building is now occupied by 
the police and being destroyed by masked construction workers. The elements of 
the autonomous movement that made Ungdomshuset the center of its community will 
not disappear, with or without the house. The same fight for common space 
against corporate greed, the struggle between the forces of capital and the 
forces of liberation, will continue in different forms, in Copenhagen and around
the world.

And for sure, whatever Faderhuset ends up building on 69 Jagtvej after they've 
destroyed the historic building that stands there now, they're in for a 
prolonged struggle.


David Rovics is a singer-songwriter who tours regularly throughout North 
America, Europe, and occasionally elsewhere. His web site is

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