Villes et métropoles

The pink rebellion of Copenhagen

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Danish youth revolt and the radicalization of the European creative classLe Danemark est le seul pays Ouest-Européen à battre les Pays-Bas sur le
plan d’un sous-courant socio-politique profondement nationaliste,
réactionnaire et xénophobe, ce qui n’est pas peu dire. Mais tout comme les
Pays-Bas, l’étranger a plutot une perception sympathique de ce petit pays
champêtre et soi-disant bon enfant. Les émeutes de Copenhague à
l’occasion de l’éviction et de la destruction du centre culturel de jeunes
‘Ungdomhuset’, batiment historique où Clara Zetkin proclama les Droits de
la Femme au debut du siècle dernier, sont pour nous rappeller a la réalité
alors que s’estompe le souvenir de Prague, de Goteborg et de Genes. La réalité
d’un naufrage politique de l’Europe est de plus en plus manifeste, conséquence
de l’aveuglement et de la surdite de ses élites technocratiques ; mais
également celle du surgissement d’une nouvelle conscience rebelle au bel
avenir. Et cela là ou on s’y attendait peut être le moins. A tort, et les
héritiers des Vikings continueront de nous surprendre.

Patrice RiemensIt was a very hot weekend in Copenhagen between March 1st and March
3rd, particulary in Nørrebro, the alternative neighborhood where the
evicted and demolished Ungdomshuset was located, and around
Christiania, the hippy free city known Europe-wide being harassed by
the Rasmussen government. But the the eviction and the three days and
nights of heavy rioting that followed were initiated by the local
socialdemocrats, who have been in charge of the city since 1900. The
harsh treatment of protesters, Andersen’s mermaid who went pink, and
the 600 arrests of activists, have prompted a wave of transnational
solidarity among the European youth with appeals, actions, boycotts,
and occupations of Danish consulates, not only in nearby Malmö,
Göteborg, Hamburg, Oslo, Helsinki, but also in Berlin, Munich, Leipzig
and every single German city, as well as in Warsaw, Poznan, Budapest,
Amsterdam, Venice, Milan, Athens, Salonica, Istanbul.

Why in Denmark? Why there such a forceful rebellion of the city’s
dissenting youth, promptly joined by the immigrant youth? How could a
full-scale riot occur in peaceful and wealthy European capital, with
burning barricades and sustained the clashes with the police, who had
to bring in help from Sweden to put the situation back under control?
Wasn’t consumerist European youth supposed to be only eager to
discover the world, flying and chatting low-cost? Wasn’t the younger
generation deemed to be irreversibly post-ideological, much less
attracted to radical politics?

In political terms, Denmark is a special country in more ways than
one. It’s been part of the EU since 1973, but its people have opposed
Maastricht with all their will, with major riots (the only comparable
to last weekend’s in recent history) breaking out after the 1993
referendum, which in retrospect were at least as important as the 1995
French strikes in catalyzing the antiglobalization movement in Europe.
And many Danes were in Göteborg, a crucial episode in the maturation
of noglobal protest in Europe, just before Genoa. As the now
respectable Italian right-wing leader and former fascist Gianfranco
Fini said to Time magazine: “Genoa will be like Göteborg, or worse.”
(Since he went on to commandeer the riot cops in Genoa, he made sure
his dire prediction would come true.) As a consequence of the fierce
popular opposition to Maastricht, Denmark is not part of the euro, but
it’s very much part of the eurocratic mainstream. The reason:
flexicurity, currently the solution favored by the European Commission
to temper the disasters (and limit the political costs) brought by
unilateral flexibility, while forcing workfare down the throats of the
unwilling youth of Europe. Although a Nordic country with an extensive
welfare system and strong unions, social democracy hasn’t had an easy
life in 21st century Denmark. A staunchly occidentalist,
neoconservative right has been in power since 2001. Denmark has turned
into a faithful bushist ally, more long-lasting than Berlusconi’s
Italy. This exceptional partiality to NATO and America make the Danish
version of flexicurity – the latest edition of Nordic social model
after the demise of the top-down and paternalist, but generous and
universalist, socialdemocratic welfare state – particularly liked by
the Barroso commission.

Of course, the land which hosted the first Jacobin revolution outside
France and invented quantum physics remains a land with a penchant for
free thinkers and rabble rousers: the Danes have a fierce sense of
humor, which compares favorably with their Scandinavian neighbors
(remember The Kingdom by Lars von Trier?). And Copenhagen, a city
fully immersed in the informational networks and supply channels
(think container and shipping giant Maersk) feeding the global
economy, is full of them. With respect to the British or Italian
creative class, Danish brainworkers are more radical and libertarian.
Anarchism has flourished since the early 80s from anarchopunk to black
bloc and beyond. Radicalism with red and green tinges is also in full
bloom. In fact, generalized reliance on peer-to-peer sharing and free
downloading has been furthered by collectives such as piratgruppe. And
antiprecarity ideas and actions are currently fermented by groups like
flexico. And who could ever forget such great subvertising stunts like
anti-pepsi Guaraná Power (also a commercial success in the Jutland

And this is just a fractal part of what Copenhagen’s creative class is
able to achieve, when it thinks in terms of political action and
cultural engagement. But Denmark is also a strongly agrarian economy
which has prospered under the Common Agricultural Policy, thanks to
its superior dairy and pork products that have conquered European, and
world, markets. Farmers are as religious and narrow-minded, lily-white
protestant and patriotic, just as urban dwellers tend to be secular
and open-minded. The former have been pivotal in the rise to power of
the Right, the latter are increasingly dissatisfied by the traditional

The Danish antiglobalization movement has been the only one in Europe
to develop its own independent political force. Sections of it joined
the Red-Green alliance, bringing a woman under 30 to Parliament, and
constituted a Pink list in Copenhagen’s municipal elections, which
scored almost 10 per cent of votes at the city level, and in
alternative neighborhoods like Nørrebro is firmly in the double
digits. No wonder Andersen’s mermaid was covered in pink as a sign of
solidarity with the protesters (the 69 signature instead refers to the
street number of Undgomshuset, which uses it as some kind of punk ying
and yang in its posters). The osmosis of activists into local politics
and cooperative ventures has created a multi-level context, in which
radical forces of all denominations can work in synergy if the
situation requires, from the streets to the city to the parliament,
with a tacit division of labor that respects political autonomy at all
levels. The proliferation of networked autonomous struggles and
alternative media networks combined with municipal representation has
enabled a common political understanding of the connectedness of
various forms of dissent and protest, and has encouraged
experimentation with the possibilities of social radicalism in a
European metropolis. This was not simply a rebellious episode: it will
have far-reaching political consequences.

In the Nørrebro, the neighborhood’s culture of non-conformity has
managed to bridge the divide between alternative youth and ghetto
youth, or more sociologically speaking, between the mainly white
creative class and the mainly immigrant service class. The
neighborhood has long been an inclusive space for young bohemians
and/or immigrants: it hosts many venues of social interaction, and has
a history of connections and exchanges between Arab kids and the
mainly white activists. As the youth of Arab descent was heard saying
during the riots: “You helped us, we help you.” Militant antiracism
was pivotal in breaking the wall of mistrust and building some mutual
respect in Copenhagen, although deep differences still remain between
the two groups. Unlike Paris, where the students storming the
universities and the boulevards to protest against juvenile precarity
and the French government did not really fundamentally connect with
the rioters (there were actually tensions during the demonstrations
between students and radicals and banlieusards intent on looting and
fighting the police), in Copenhagen recent social turmoil has mostly
seen white and non-white youth on the same side of the barricade.

Large-scale riots occur spontaneously in response to blatant
violations of individual liberties and collective rights and arrogant
abuses of state and police power. Think of Rodney King trial and the
1992 L.A. riots, or remember the electrocution of teenagers running
away from the cops which triggered the uprising of Paris banlieues in
2005, and you can understand why the raid of the Danish special forces
to evict Ungomdshuset in the early morning of the first of march, was
just like a match thrown on the parched prairie. Riots are spontaneous
processes emerging after all hopes in non-violent tools of protest and
confrontation are exhausted, due to the deafness of power.

And Danish state power is as deaf as it is dumb. As soon as the Right
took office, it launched a cultural crusade to protect the Occident
from Muslim immigration, perceived as a threat to the Danish cultural
identity. The extent of its hostility to migrants in Denmark (a very
nativist state with very strict immigration laws, in an already
xenophobic European Union) became clear to the whole world with the
mishandling of the crisis of satirical cartoons. The cartoons,
purportedly making fun on the Prophet, were in reality the political
editorial of a conservative newspaper, traditionally expression of the
right-wing agrarian interests above noted. Only a panislamic boycott
of Danish products pushed the country’s multinationals to plead for a
more sensible approach with the Danish Prime Minister, Anders Fogh

In fact, the prime minister – whom Berlusconi advised as lover to his
wife for his good looks (seriously!) – shares his last name with a
prime mover of European politics, Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, head of the
European socialdemocrats in Strasbourg and influential in the
Socialist International. The socialdemocratic blunder made in
Copenhagen with the shady sale to a homophobic and islamophobic
Christian sect of the social youth center Ungdomshuset, worsened by
the forced eviction (there had already been skirmishes in September,
so it was clear Copenhagen’s youth was going to explode at the next
provocation) makes one thing clear: the two Rasmussens are one of a
same kind! European politicians, either socialdemocratic, liberal or
conservative, increasingly look indistinguishable. They all share
deference to financial markets, big corporations, have repressive and
xenophobic instincts, and pander to firmly established interest groups
and older generations. Even the mainstream Danish unions are realizing
socialdemocrats are no longer reliable to defend the interests of
employees, and when push comes to shove, they side with student
protesters, as it happened during the general strikes and university
occupations that rocked the country in the spring of 2006, when
Rasmussen announced welfare “reforms” cutting benefits for youngsters
and aged workers alike, which the socialdemocrats opposed only
rhetorically. But it would be foolish to ascribe to a supposed Danish
exceptionalism the extension and duration of the riots. Rather, by
virtue of their socialist past and libertarian present, Danish
movements are in a privileged position to fight against the
sociopolitical consequences of both Atlanticist neoconservatism and
European free-market liberalism. Copenhagen’s pink rebellion could be
the harbinger of a more generalized youth insurgence in Europe,
involving large sections of the so-called creative class of
net/flex/temp workers.

In fact, it makes sense to see in the Copenhagen riots as a
continuation of the French protests of 2006, and both as instances of
a new phase for radical movements after the decline which followed the
failed attempt at blocking the Angloamerican invasion of Iraq. In
particular, it is tempting to see it as an anticipation of the
generalized rebellion of the European creative class against the
hyprocrisy, arrogance and corruption elites ruling the EU, which have
been delegitimized by the French-Dutch no, but are clinging to power
as if Europe were an asset that belonged to them. The Brussels summit
is supposed to spruce up the environmental credentials of the EU, in
order to make it appealing at least to somebody beyond the privileged
few. Later in March 2007, the Berlin summit (which will issue the
Berlin declaration on the constitutional future of the EU) will
celebrate half-a-century of European treaties, but it will be the
death of European federalism and the transition to some kind of
confederation of nation-states, combining the bellicosity and racism
of the former with transfer of sovereignty of the latter. We’ll also
see how thing turn out in Heilingdamm-Rostock in June, and how
movements from East and West of Europe will be able to fight the G8
and the huge transnational police force that will protect its
closed-doors decisions. The insurgence of European youth in
Copenhagen, Paris and elsewhere seems to point toward increasing
political awareness and radicalization among young people working in
information, knowledge, culture industries. Only the creative class
can alter the course of European history away from its present
reactionary path toward social emancipation of a finally mulatto
eurogeneration. We have to act now for radical Europe, by connecting
and solidarizing with major struggles like the Copenhagen and Athens
revolts: let’s create a European space for radical youth culture!