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Has Ungdomshuset Reached The End Of Its Road?
Interview With Activist from Danish Social Centre
After waging a battle against Christian right-wing sect Faderhuset for several years, recent decisions in both the Copenhagen City Court and the National Court has ordered the current occupiers of infamous Danish social centre Ungdomshuset out on December 14th, 2006. This decision and the process through which it was made is hotly contested. This is obvious through both extensive coverage in mainstream Copenhagen social democratic newspapers like Politiken and in how opposition from the centre´s users more recently spilled over into street fighting when police attacked ( 1 ) a Reclaim the Streets demonstration.
Other links: Latest updates in English on Ungdomshuset site | You Tube video of solidarity action in Dublin | Youth Space Under Attack | A Short History of the Copenhagen Squatters Movement | A normally quiet Copenhagen scene becomes a whirlwind of activity | Danish Social Centre Under Threat | Early morning raids on Barca squats | Katsiaficas' History of the European Autonome Movement
This interview was carried out during their 24th birthday party which was from the 25th to 29th of October. It tries to go into some of the recent history around the Ungdomshuset court saga so far, strange alliances and how the future is likely to pan out for a building that remains highly emblematic as a symbol for the left overs of the Northern European autonome scene.
The Ungdomshuset saga seems to be finally reaching an end, at least in terms of the courts. There hasn't been any updates on the English section of the site in some time - can you fill us in?
We went to city court in 2003, and then the national court in 2006. You all know this as you've seen it on the web. After we went to the national court we did not get a date for when we had to be out of the house because we didn't move Faderhuset brought us into this "quick court" institution that there is in Denmark. We went there and they said that we have to be out on the 14th of December. This we have appealed or we are going to appeal, cause we haven't done it yet, we're going to do it, but they can still say before the 14th of December that we have to be out of here. That's the situation and we've been talking back and forth with the politicians who at the city level support us. They say that they want to do everything and that they cannot do anything more cause it's crossing over the right to private ownership which cannot be crossed over.
How have the court battles been fought so far?
When did not move out and they decided to sue, instead of suing us as a whole, they took four former activists, the one's who signed the contract in 1996 and we have used six years in court saying that it was the wrong people they sued. And there were two questions in this case, one being that they said that we had to move out and we were saying that's okay but you did not ask the right people to move. The other one was that we had to pay them 1.8 million, cause they have not had rent coming in. The court said it was the right first people that they sued for saying that they had to kick us out but they said it was the wrong people that they were suing for the money. This was in both city and national court cases.
There's a two instance right in Denmark which you can go to court two times. But we have three planes or levels of court; city, national and supreme court. We went to city and national court but we have filed, you can apply to get the permission to go a third time, we've done that. So we can get this permission, we don't know if we have this permission yet to appeal to the supreme court.
The struggle to keep Ungdomshuset open has not however been confined to the courts, what variety of actions and protests have taken place to defend it?
There's been a broad variety of actions in the streets, demonstrations, happenings, symbolic actions, political ... From the demonstration with 3,000 people, which a lot of Irish people went to, to putting hoodies over every statue in Copenhagen and giving them signs saying "For the right to have Free Spaces". And running around asking politicians for help and being annoying.
From looking over the Internet it seems the street fighting in and around the recent wave of protests was fairly intense - how did this start and can we expect more in the wake of this decision setting an eviction date?
We had this plan for the weekend, which was that there's this old saying that we always say that "We choose when we want to fight!" and we had decided not to fight for this weekend, but it turned out that the cops attacked the demonstration and we will always defend our demonstrations when we ask our friends to come up and join us. So if the cops attack us again, of course we're going to defend ourselves. It's never going to be a question when we are on the streets and it's never going to be a question when we're around the house and of course if they try and come and take our house this was only a small taste of what we're going to give them back.
During the recent protests against attempts to evict Ungdomshuset, many Irish people headed over - these mainly came from the punk and DIY milieu. Why do people from within these scenes across Europe share such an affinity and concern for Ungdomshuset?
Cause no matter what country we are in we are all fighting the same battle, which is for the right to do stuff in the way that we do it. And when we listen to each other, which we are quite good at, we see people in other countries having the exact same struggle. This normalising everything tendency that there is in Denmark, happens all over Europe. We see it in Alter Meirei in Germany, and we see it in Blitz in Oslo and we had a mail from Japan the other day from this squat getting evicted too, saying we're having the same fight as you are. It's a worldwide thing.
Rumours circulated on the net that an Irish activist was arrested in disturbances back in September - was this true? How has the case turned out?
Yes it's true. Paul from Ireland was arrested at the Reclaim the Streets. He was arrested and charged with Paragraph 119 (violence against the police). he was sentenced to remand for 11 days. ABC (Anarchist Black Cross) Copenhagen were in touch with him straight away advising him to change his court appointed lawyer to a much better and more sympathetic one. He was able to receive money, letters and clothes. He was held for nine days, where upon all charges were dropped due to the charge, cost of proceedings being out of proportion and lack of evidence. He is now eligible for a claim of roughly 900 euros for having been illegally detained. Paul is now staying in Copenhagen, helping out at the house and preparing for the eviction attempt in December.
Ungdomshuset is quite a historical space, being a site of organization for the early Danish labour movement - are those currently using it aware of much of this history and has their been any signs of opposition to the eviction from the current Danish labour movement?
The history with us and the union movement is that this is an old union house which they built in 1896 to be a place for those who had no other place in society to go and end up and rest. So we're still using it for that. The union has supported us in that way that one of the most high position people in the unions in Copenhagen went into the group of people who tried to buy the house so that they could help that way and they have supported us with claims that they support a future for this house. They have said about an eviction or the Faderhuset selling they have said that they cannot see in any way that anybody is going to work on this house without it being under police protection, if it's not us who ordered the work and they're not going to work under police protection on this house. So unless we order the work they're not going to join.
So are people who use the house aware of this history?
I think a lot of the activists are but I don't think a lot of the guests who just come here for parties are. These days of course there's a lot of writing in the papers, so if you read the papers you can hardly not know.
Ungdomshuset is famous for its K-Town festival - what's going to happen that if the place closes?
Of course we are very glad that everybody likes the K-Town festival and we hope that we can continue doing the K-Town festivals but we also ask people to respect that if we get evicted in January or February we are not going to use the next three months to plan a K-Town festival, we are going to fight to get our house back. And then you are all very welcome to a party when we succeed.
What other projects does Ungdomshuset provide space for?
By way of projects other than K-Town, we have four rooms for people who can practice with their bands, we have soup kitchens, we have workshops, we have rooms that people can come and say "I've got this project that I want to make, can I make it here?" It's almost impossible to get a room in Copenhagen to do something if you don't have the money to do it. So we're the place where people can go and try out their projects, figure out if they want to do it or if they think it's fun, or just do it.
Ungdomshuset of course provides services for more than the punk and DIY milieu, who else uses it and what do the local community think of it?
We have the soup kitchen were people can come in and they think it's very nice, cause you can come and actually see what it is and have a way into this house which is really black and dark from the outside. When we have concerts and parties and the bar opening people come in, drink a beer, see what it is, see the young kids that they're quite afraid of sometimes and use it as a way of just knowing what it is. Every year at the Fastelavn, which is kind of our Halloween, we open for the community, the children, so they come here and have a party where we decorate the whole house and they come and use it. We have had two parties for the kids of the community. The last one was a large jungle party where the institutions, the kindergartens from Norrebro, came in and we made a show and there was a circus, a kids bar, so they could use it in that way.
Did many of their parents come along?
It was the institutions who came with them, and their parents picked them up and in that way their parents came and saw the house too. One of the things that has already been decided now is that if we get the situation solved and get to keep the house, we are going to put in a heating system in the big hall, where we always have the big K-Town festival parties and the kindergarten across the street wants to use it for the kids so they can do gymnastics.
How central to politics in Copenhagen is Ungdomshuset?
It's kind of divided into two, to the mainstream representative democracy politicians, "scene" haha, we are in the situation where they want to support us in the media but when it comes to it they really don't want to support us anyway, cause they want to say that they don't want to lift a finger. They are very afraid of what's going to happen if this house gets evicted, very, very afraid and you can see it in their eyes when you talk to them. And they know it's going to end on their shoulders in the end and that's why, I think, that the last couple of months they've been doing everything to say "we support Ungdomshuset" so they can say in the end when the shit goes down "we wash our hands, we did everything we could and these kids still went out and made a street fight".
In the other sense of the not directly parliamentary politics we are very important in the way that this is the house in Copenhagen where people can come in and join meetings, start discussions, act together political conscience about stuff. I think a lot of people go through this house and learn a lot of stuff about respecting themselves and not being afraid of standing out and say what they think and after having been here to go out and join the politics scene in Copenhagen and involve themselves in a lot of discussions.
Has there been any attempts to buy Ungdomshuset from its current owners?
Two years ago we started this project with making a fund, which we actually succeeded in building up with a large support, or a really strong gathered support member crew which was five, or seven people. There was a guy called Leif Skov which was one of the id men behind Roskilde festival and has made a lot of cultural events during Denmark. He's really recognised by the plain Denmarkians. Then there was two lawyers, Lulla Forchhammer and Knud Folchack, who are also the lawyers of Christiania and who have made Baldersgade-Bumzun the collective and who has specialised in helping situations like this with making solutions, where they find the money to buy it up and they were at a lot of times.
Then there was the chief priest of Copenhagen, Anders Gadegaard, who was out talking to the leader of the Faderhuset many times and told her that it is not Christian in any way to do what she is doing and in that way that's the way that he's been helping and it's been really good looking towards the community support that we've had this priest in our, and he's had this basic idea that he just wanted to help us and let us run it and leave us afterward. So he's been really cool about that. More than you could ever expect from a priest. Then there's been an old activist from the scene, Martin Sundbøll, who's always, also been an activist in the house and among the first crew who got the house. Then there's been a professor in social living, rights and psychiatry in the university, Per Schultz Jørgensen, who's been in there talking about how important we are for the social abilities of the youth of Copenhagen.
That group of people, said "we'll help you buy the house and give the right to use it to us". They started to offer 4 million kroner, Faderhuset paid 2.6 million, and they've gradually been increasing the offer. Last Tuesday they made a closed offer and said you have until Friday at four. So yesterday they just said no and it turned out that it was over 10 million offered. Even the right wing press in Denmark said it was a really good offer and they were really surprised that they didn't take it.
The politicians talked about making a local plan for the house, can you tell us a little about this?
Every local area in Denmark has a lokalplan, that says what the lokal government want there to be in this place. Houses can be marked with different categories. One saying that in this house there should be for housing, in this house there should be an institution and so on. It is also possible to make this lokalplan for just one house. In the case with Ungdomshuset whey wanted to make a lokalplan saying, that there could be nothing else than activities for young people in this house. Faderhuset could then of course just do something for young people in the house, but they would not be able to sell it to someone who would build apartments. By doing this the house would not be worth that much.
It is legal to do this to a house, if it is because of a political wish for the community to have a house like this, but it is not legal if the main goal by doing it, is to make a house worth less, and thereby forcing the owner to sell.
After it was agreed that a plan like this should be made, the politicians went out and said that they wanted to force Faderhuset to sell, and thereby they made there own plan illegal. Therefore the plan was dropped.
How well networked is Ungdomshuset with other such projects across Europe?
There's a really good booking network and in this process we've been in now, we've used that network to write out and tell everybody about our situation. We've had the most contact with Blitz, Oslo and Alter Meirei, Kiel. We've been going there and giving good talks there and they've been coming here giving speeches at our demos.
Have there been many solidarity actions elsewhere?
There's also been a list with about twenty places there's been support parties and about ten places that have held support demonstrations, all over Europe. From Finland to Greece. From Athens to Oslo people have been doing demos, 3 squatted embassies, including Toronto.
Have there been any solidarity actions in Dublin?
Yes, there was an "occupation" of the Danish embassy and banner drop. Lots of Irish people went over to Copenhagen for the action weekend in September and people are currently organising to come over for December 14th.
If people wanted to support Ungdomshuset - what should they do?
They should always keep themselves updated. One of the things the media in Denmark is constantly focused on is how much international support there is going to be, and the Danish politicians are really afraid of the scenario of 3,000 foreign punks in Copenhagen city centre. So we need our foreign friends to already now send a message to the Danish press, that they will come and support any eviction attempt. They can do that by sending pictures of their "Support Ungdomshuset" actions to us at firstname.lastname@example.org or by writing a solidarity declaration. People should keep updated on our web page, about when to come. We promise to be better at updating.