Danish political claustrophobia

I have been using time since March 2009 trying to discuss with any kind of organizations and activists involved in climate justice movement in Denmark whether environmental, left wing, peasants or any other strand. As I live in Sweden two hours from Copenhagen by train it has been fairly easy to go there. I have never in my whole political life met such paranoid people willing to take any odd argument for their extremist positions against each other. Regularly it was impossible to actually find out what the different positions were. Instead of speaking up organizations and individuals chose to read into their opponents actions and statements only that which exaggerated the polarization further.

It was as if what actually people had stated or done was uninteresting, the only thing to focus upon was the possible worst case scenario of what they could have said or were going to do, most often far beyond any worst case scenario. The insensitive intervention by activists from other political cultures were omnipotent language was claimed to be necessary to mobilize people in contrast to the Nordic more consensus oriented political culture also among system critical movements did not make things easier.

Danish poster for the 12 December march in typical youth house occupant style. Photo Tord Björk

The paranoid perception of uncontrollable masses of potentially violent activists coming to a large extent from abroad had caught the minds of any of those in the leadership of formal Danish organizations. There were exceptions as the Permaculture Association, the initiator and main political force within Klimaforum that tried to calm things down. But in general it was impossible to get a discussion focused upon what people actually have said or stated at different points, many times it was even impossible to find the original quote when it was inaccessible on the internet. People claimed exaggerating things about what had actually been said but were uninterested in serving international cooperation partners with the actual statements and in Denmark none seemed interested in a constructive debate based on a fair assessment of what different actors stated.

This included unfair criticism of every actor including the main stream NGOs but was mainly directed against the reclaim power action. Typical for the formal Danish organizations to react is that they responded to what reached the media, not when they received the actual reports from meetings. It is as if the Danish formal organisations have left any respect for agreements made by movements together and instead have become market oriented with mass media as their central reference for how and when to act.

Thus the formal Danish organizations did not state strongly their critical opinion against mass civil disobedience at the Bella center at the CJA meeting in June. They did not even open their mouth when the minutes from the meeting was sent 11th of June. Only when the Guardian wrote an article in late July about the Reclaim power action were WWF Denmark stated strong criticism against the violence this would cause the Danish organizations to start reacting.

Part of the reason why Danish system critical environmental and left wing organizations do not speak up is the result of a consensus culture built on trust. Thus when the strong reactions against the CJA decision in June to disrupt the official summit for a whole day and entering the conference building from the outside came they were tempered by the fact that Danish CJA activists told others that they also opposed the decision and that it would be changed if one trusted the process.

CJA meeting in October at Christiania. Drawing Tord BJörk

This was also the case, at least partly at next CJA meeting in October when the formulation was changed from entering the conference building to entering the Bella center area. But the problem was that the formal Danish organisations actually were totally against any non-violent civil disobedience action at the Bella center. The only problem was that they had refused to state their opinion openly making it possible for concerned climate change persons in Denmark or the rest of the world to react to their opinion. To late in late October chair persons for three social movement organisations, a peasant, a fisherman and a construction worker stated what most formal organizations thought, a non-violent action at the Bella center would result in unacceptable violence destroying the focus on politically important issues. The formal left wing and environmental organisations chose a more secret way of doing politics, they in practice often were even more opposing than the organizations whose chair persons had signed the open letter, but saw it as tactical to in practice be against the reclaim power action more covertly than state it openly. To enable an open discussion was against the interests of many formal Danish organizations.

It was as if they looked upon the climate summit as entirely an internal Danish affair were open discussion with movements from the rest of the world was irrelevant. They had the chance and why not then take the privilege of doing as they wanted as they had all the key positions for doing so within the state of Denmark. After all, global popular movements as Via Campesina should more be seen as a problem for their role in domestic politics and a trouble in their relationship with the police and governmental donors than legitimate promoters of civil disobedience at the Bella center. To the left it was more important to sit and clap the hands at movements and governments in the rest of the world struggling for climate justice and freedom than to engage in any serious discussion on cooperation across boarders in a way that somehow would put their well entrenched position in domestic Danish politics at any risk.

But this chauvinistic attitude within formal Danish organizations is not sufficient to explain their support of police and media perspectives. The claustrophobic feeling the unwillingness to in time discuss the most conflictual actions with international cooperation partners as if Denmark is isolated from the rest of the world was matched by also other disturbing tendencies.

Regularly when trying to discuss with Danish organization it became clear that it was not only polarization between organisers of different larger activities and between separate organizations but also within. Thus it was almost impossible to find any collective responsibility for the actions of the organizations. In the case of CJA it was all open. The decisions were made in consensus at meetings and the minutes published openly at the web site for all to see. Here the actions supported by CJA as well as when there were criticism of the political content of the 12 December message was possible to find.

When asking formal organisations the most common was to find out that it was someone else that actually was the one to ask. Especially problematic was it to find out the position of the Red Green Alliance in spite of that their activists played a central role in all mass activities in Copenhagen and in spite of that I met with both key persons from the party both from the organizing committee of the demonstration and their national board. Some of the organizations, most obviously Friends of the Earth Denmark could elect new representatives who totally opposed what the former representative had stated after endless discussions impossible for anyone to understand outside Denmark.

While organizations acted as if they had no responsibility to make their collective position known to others or even themselves there was a much more effective collective actor at work. When trying to discuss political principles and how to relate to different organizations and networks quite often the discussion focused on persons. We do not trust Tadzio Müller would the answer be on questions regarding why CJA was not taken seriously. As if I at all were interested in their claims that there were something called we that had opinions about individuals. When this kind of politically irrelevant critique of a consensus based mass action was repeated by Swedish left wingers this we became explicit as a collective actor, an actor willing to avoid any serious discussion on collective decisions and replacing it with a narrative of the great broad mass demonstration and the violent actions. One could of course trace some statements from Müller two years back at some climate camp showing that he was totally opposing UN or something else. But did it matter? Any politically active individual to not talk about organizations change their positions. What is relevant when discussing CJA is not the personal quality of some of the elected spokes persons, it is the collective decisions and estimations of what the mass of people would do.

Thus the political atmosphere in Denmark among formal organizations is individualistic, claustrophobic, and chauvinist. The argument often used is that things have changed so much in Denmark that there is no other possibility. That this is the case compared to the 1970s or 1980s is clear when centre left governments and the position of popular movements  were stronger. But that it has substantially changed also after 2002 when the same kind of right wing government was in place during the EU Summit as know can be questioned. It cannot be only external factors that can explain the way formal Danish organizations behave.

Tord Björk


The COP15 promising ALBA mass meeting

The lost left wing opportunity

How the left supported the police against demonstrators in Copenhagen

Day by day reactions on repression December 12 to 18:

Saturday 12th of December – Come safely to peaceful demonstration

The left wing cover up

Sunday 13th of December – ”we were violently opposed”

Monday 14th of December – ”unfortunately too many arrests”

Tuesday 15th of December ”It does not belong in a democracy”

Wednesday 16th of December – “No soft feelings”

Thursday 17th of December – ”Eat breakfast with Morales”

Friday 18th of December – International networks demonstrate against Danish repression

Danish self-criticism

Why is the left promoting police perspectives?

Danish political claustrophobia

The way the Danish left assess Copenhagen

The paternalistic Red Green Alliance

Trotskyist climate heroes without guts

Non-parliamentary left: A Waterloo for activists, not a new Seattle

From anti neoliberal left to authoritarian state-media governance left

Other material:

12 December Initiative – huge success or background for branding?

Open letter on Denmark’s freedom and legal situation

The whole world on trial

The Fall of the Bella Wall: Power Reclaimed


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