Five years after the physical destruction of the anarchist hangout Ungdomshuset, the first urge is to try to find some place to pin responsibility for the ensuing rampage that did 14 million kroner worth of damage to buildings and cars in the Nørrebro district.
But while it’s important to identify a cause in order to prevent similar events from happening again, it’s also important to ask why last week’s commemorative march went off without incident – and why fewer people (500) attended than were arrested (700) during the original riots.
Few who witnessed the violent outbursts in 2007 would have predicted this would have been the case, but it shows that giving disaffected groups a place of their own helps to prevent further outbursts of frustrated anger.
For the young people associated with Ungdomshuset specifically, it shows them that the city is serious when it comes to offering them creative outlets for a youthful energy that experience has shown can just as easily manifest itself into destructive acts.
The impetus to engage the young people, culminating in them being given a new building to use as a hangout, wasn’t so much the demonstrations themselves – Copenhagen is certainly no stranger to public displays of disaffection – but the depth of their anger. Once the fires of consecutive nights of rioting had burned out, the young people moved on to holding weekly demonstrations for an entire year until the city gave them a new Ungdomshuset to call their own.
When that happened, critics shook their heads and said that acquiescing in the face of violence opened the door to similar tactics being used each time someone wanted something. But those critics should have also considered whether the violence of the method used to evict the young people – a commando-style raid by anti-terrorist police dropped in by helicopter – also influenced the way they would approach adults.
It could be argued that instead of caving in to a tantrum, the city chose to treat the Ungdomshuset group like adults by giving them a building of their own and emphasising that it saw the existence of an Ungdomshuset, wherever it was located, as normal.
That may not have done anything to get the young people to forget or to forgive the way they were treated, but that apparently hasn’t prevented them from taking an adult attitude towards the issues that are important to them. It’s hard to imagine this would have been the case if they were still out on the street burning cars.