by Nikolaj Heltoft

Ungdomshuset and the Copenhagen Youth Rebellion

>From workers stronghold to social center, placed in the neighbourhood
of N=F8rrebro historic, Ungdomshuset has been the epicentre of
political contestation and social protest in Copenhagen. Today the
Youth House is no longer. It was first evicted the torn down. The kids
and their supporters hit the streets.

History crashing down

The house from 1897 which stood in the centre of the conflict,
originally named Folkets Hus (the People's House), was the result of
the early workers movements. In 1910, The Second International and
the German Socialist Clara Zetkin declared March 8 an International
Women's Day of Struggle from the house. Vladimir Lenin and Rosa
Luxemburg spoke there and in 1918 the great demonstration against
unemployment when workers stormed the Danish Stock Exchange started in
the house. After the war, the house gave shelter to German refuges for
a while, but as the Socialist movement's social texture in Copenhagen
changed, the house was abandoned in the 60's and stayed that way until
a group of young squatters from N=F8rrebro decided to squat the empty
building as a part of their year long campaign for a self managed
youth house in Copenhagen. In 1982, the mayor of Copenhagen Egon
Weidekamp gave the house for the young use and the house was named
Ungdomshuset (the youth house). "They get a house, and we get some
peace", the mayor said before handing over the keys. Those words were
to become very significant 25 years later.

For more than two decades Ungdomshuset served as the main temple of
the Danish underground scene and a safe haven for all those kids
who just did not fit in anywhere. Lenin and Luxemburg were replaced
by punk rock and libertarian political attitudes opting out on the
nuclear threat and the old left en bloc. Ungdomshuset above all was
young. Generations of very young people have learned things the "do it
yourself way" in Ungdomshuset, played their first set of broken drums
or had some of their first indignant political experiences. The writer
of this article is one of them.

The list of "now superstars" who have played in Ungdomshuset is long.
They came there before anybody else in Copenhagen knew who either
Bj=F6rk or Nick Cave was and in 1991 an American teenage punk band
called Green Day played in the house before shooting off to world
fame. The house however, always remained a thorn in the side on many
local right politicians; the young were uncontrollable and many a
political action and demonstration has started in Ungdomshuset during
the years. Conservatives had wanted to close the house for years, but
as the municipality of Copenhagen has been Social Democratic for 106
years, it would take a Social Democrat to achieve that goal.

"Our price is low, but we are selling a problem"

In 1999 the Social Democrats decided to sell the house and vote
with the right. The official reasons for selling the house changed
constantly. The building was set for sale for a remarkably low price
in 1999. As a conservative city board member put it: "Our price is
low, but we are selling a problem".

Very few people wished to buy the house though, a right turned
Christian sect called Faderhuset (casa del padre) was turned down as
buyers because a majority found them to be an "unserious buyer". But
then an unknown joint-stock company called Human A/S made a bid on
the house. The front person, a rather eccentric lawyer called Inger
Loft, claimed to want to help the young. Her mysterious company was
accepted as a buyer and Ungdomshuset and the young users were sold
against their will. The lawyer became object for many speculations in
the years to come. It was soon discovered that she had possessed an
administrative position in the municipality until recently before her
bid and people started talking about a Social Democratic manoeuvre.
After a year of silence Lawyer decided to sell the stocks in Human A/S
to Faderhuset lead by their pastor Ruth Evensen. One day before the
sale, further mystery was added to the matter. A loan was taken in the
value of the house through another mysterious company called "Sarah
Lee Jones Corporation" based in Panama. Every search for the investors
behind this company ends in a dead end. The house ended in the hands
of the same right wing Christian sect which had just been labelled
an "unserious buyer". It seems likely that the lawyer's role was to
act as a middleman somehow. But who knew what? Did forces at the
municipality look for a way not to sell the house directly to a right
wing Christian sect? We'll probably never know.

The sect's interest in the house was simpler it seems. In their
conception of Christian awakening, sin has to be battled offensively.
They participated in a crusade against "Muslims taking over
Copenhagen", they fight homosexuality openly and their pastor Ruth
Evensen had a vision from God telling her to buy Ungdomshuset and get
rid of the young. Years of protests, court cases, a change of mayor
and some serious initiatives from a foundation of lawyers, cultural
entrepreneurs, etc. trying to save the house did not prevent the
eviction. The commune had left the most vivid cultural activity house
in the hands of crusaders and the new Social Democratic Mayor would
not go as far as to pay the young people a new house =96 which the
commune had originally promised. She gave them the offer of letting
their supporters buy a house to replace Ungdomshuset. Price: 1,9
million Euros. In this way the scene was set for this weekend's riots.
The intensity, the diffusion and at some points irrationality of those
riots came as a surprise even to the activists in and around the

"Don't worry; today they are not looking for Arabs"

What happened in Copenhagen last weekend went beyond the classic
clash between political activists and police. As described correctly
in last Saturday's Il Manifesto, the struggle for Ungdomshuset has
assumed far more widespread significance than that of a relatively
isolated underground fighting for their house. A threatening eviction
of parts of the historical free town of Christiania within the coming
year most certainly has raised the level of tension a brought more
young people to the streets. The riots however unveiled a more general
level of social unrest among young people in Copenhagen than what
can be referred struggles for the town's "free spaces", as could
be seen when a school on the other side of town was destroyed. For
sure, it was not pretty or politically rational. Moving through the
streets of N=F8rrebro and around Christiania one could not notice how
heterogeneous those crowds were. Thursday night hundreds of Arab kids
joined the clashes letting out a little something of their own. Years
of marginalisation has brought those kids out too, along with all the
others to numerous to mention. As I heard one Palestinian kid say to
his friends in my own street Thursday night (notte) before He joined
the crowds down the street: "Don't worry, today they are not looking
for Arabs, they only arrest the white kids tonight"

That densely significant remark points directly at the more general
level of cultural political contestation in Denmark today. Since its
first election in 2001 the Danish right wing government in line with
other western governments has launched that which they define as "the
battle for the culture". It is a rather diffuse political program
which aggressively targets everything from a presumed 1968 left wing
dominance of universities and state television to Muslims who are
labelled more or less en bloc in the defence of that which is defined
as "common values". There has been a shift which, apart from placing
Denmark strictly on the atlanticist axis globally, has implemented
neo-conservatism in depth in the Danish Cultural Political debate.
>From the cartoon crises last year, to the recent welfare reforms, to
Christiania and Ungdomshuset you find this generalized sense of truly
escalated aggressive policies of cultural uniformity. The refusal
of this generalized political cultural state of emergency is what I
find to be recognizable across Europe and beyond these days, when
young people take it to the streets in solidarity with Ungdomshuset
in Copenhagen, from Venice to Hamburg, from Istanbul to Bologna, from
Oslo to New York and as far as New Zealand.

Yesterday the users of Ungdomshuset were crying on the street as
masked construction workers broke down their house. Today they invite
people to party and play music, the Ungdomshuset way, in central
Copenhagen demanding a new self managed space. Saturday, young people
from all over Europe are invited to join that party at a large
peaceful demonstration.

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