Repression law package unifies

Tord Björk | civil disobedience,Climate,police,Repression,Summits | Sunday, October 25th, 2009

A proposal for new legislation against riots in Denmark can severely effect the demonstrations during COP15. Sentences for a number of acts like staying in a demonstration after it has been dissolved by the police or other crimes that are hard to define in a grey zone is supposed to be followed by much higher sentences in prison or fines than before.

This has caused also main stream NGOs to react apart from active work from Danish CJA activists. People’s Climate Action were many main stream NGOs participate have been speaking up against the new law package arguing that this law will scare people from participating in any type of demonstration, and that it will demonize demonstrators. The Climate Movement and the people behind the 12th December Demonstration have said something similar and so have the Danish Action Aid. Of the political parties only the Red Green Alliance are purely against the law package. The Socialist Peoples Party are sending mixed messages, and all the other political parties are in favour of the law package.

Demonstration at a prison during the EU Summit protests in 2002

Here are some notes concerning repression in Denmark from a Swedish perspective

FoE Sweden have been trying to find out more about different aspects of the repression in Denmark and possible scenarios for actions in December. It is mainly from Swedish sources were exchange of information and strategies to counteract repression have been more common after some bad experiences, primarily during and after the EU-Summit in Gothenburg 2001.

Organisations fight easily each other rather than react in common against repression

The Danish political culture is rather repressive. This is not only due to the government, the political parties, the police and the media but also highly competiveness between organisations. Thus to attack each other rather than cooperate in solidarity against repression sometimes occurs. This takes place also when the movement is very strong as in the era of Vietnam war protests. When the police violently attacked a demonstration outside the US embassy in April 1968 the result was a severe split between organisations without activists and activists with a very small organisation. Still today there is a tendency in Denmark to easily adopt a repressive culture and accue each other rather than in solidarity criticize repression.

Riots and unsuccessful bombing of the World Bank Summit

The split became obvious during the first Summit riots which took place in Copenhagen 1970. Some ten thousand people demonstrated and quite a few participated in many days struggle with the police. A group put bombs at the doors of the Summit venue but the bombs failed to explode. After these riots the movement became even more split.

The police hunting the bomb group is today in charge of police tactics

The group that made the unsuccessful bomb attempt at conference venue 1970 developed into a urban guerilla group making many successful robberies giving support to liberation movements ending with murdering a policemen. It became the only such group in all of Scandinavia. They were caught first 1988. The policemen responsible for hunting this group for 15 years is no the main decision maker on how the police should behave during the Summit. It may be considered a possibility that this policemen do not trust left-wing activists.

Police surrounding a demonstration against repression during the EU Summit 2002

One cannot trust Scandinavian police

At times there has been a common understanding that Scandinavian police are less violent or less provocative than in many other countries. This picture was clearly changed in Gothenburg 2001. The police in charge had been trained 40 times in the US and decided to act proactively according to US models after Seattle used in Washinton 2000. The only difference was that the proactive action used in the US against places were activists stayed before demonstrations was now ten-folded in number of activists encircled and stormed. Instead of a warehouse were puppets for the demo was produced the Swedish police decided to storm the main infrastructure of the counter summit including the convergence center and sleeping quarters of 700 demonstrators with predicable outcome. Riots for two days. This became the place were repression against Summit protests for the first time used live ammunition against demonstrators.

Small number of police may trigger unusual tactics

The reason given for the drastic Swedish police tactic  was sometimes presented as a question of very small number of policemen in relationship to demonstrators. The prime minister of Sweden pointed at that 15000 policemen at the EU Summit in Nice 2000 were not able to stop demonstrators coming so close to the conference hall that tear gas came into the venue hall while in Gothenburg 4000 policemen were able to do a better job. In Copenhagen the number of police in the small country has also been a question discussed in public as a problem to consider.

Danish police did better in 2002

At demonstrations and a mass action at Bella Center in 2002 Danish police had learned something from Gothenburg and did not provoce as much. Yet there were anyway attempts to provoce the big demonstration. Especially plain clothes policemen with masks (which is illegal in Denmark) aggressively tried to provocate confrontations but were unsuccessful. The mass action against the Bella Center also wet well. The area is easy to defend for the police and there was never any chance to push through the police lines. There are pictures from this mass action at www.akivism.info/socialforumjourney in the article memorandum on December 16 action.

Also political parties did better in 2002. Red Green alliance and socialist people parties, both in parliament, made strong efforts in 2002 to support the demonstrators meeting delegations at the border, criticizing the police in parliament and working as watchdogs which put limits to what the police could do.

The demonstrators 2002 were divided concerning the mass action at the Bella center. The Italian white overall known for having been successfully inventing the tactics of mass penetration of buildings saw the idea of mass penetration of the Bella center as useless as it was impossible to implement. It was carried out anyway with no bigger effect.

Danish police went undercover abroad to provoce confrontations in Malmö 2008

The European Social Forum demonstration in Malmö september 2008 Danish plain clothes  policemen tried to provoce. They were identified by the ESF demonstration guards who informed the Swedish police about their behaviour.  The Swedish police then took them away from the scene. It became a minor scandal as the behaviour was strongly criticised by the Swedish police and that the Danes had not official assignment.

Violent Danish police

A times Danish police have been extremely violent and use plain clothes policemen to provoce confrontations. How much the head of the police is in charge of what happens is also unclear. At a EU referendum in 1993 the police in Copenhagen were shooting more than 100 bullets into a crowd of protesters injuring 11, mostly above the belt. By chance none died. The media supported the false police stories about what happened which only afterwards were revealed when it became clear that the police had lied about how the situation had happened. This caused some changes in Danish police tactics but the action against the Youth house once again proved that at times Danish police can become very violent and have strong support from media.

Swedish police refuse to go to Copenhagen

Swedish police reformed its tactics after Gothenburg confrontation in 2001 which caused both internal and external criticism. They no regularly at bigger manifestations use dialogue police and make some attempts at deescalation rather than the opposite. The result is not that one can always trust the police but at times this tactics makes the situation more predictable and better. The Danish police asked for help from Sweden for COP15 but were refused. The reason according to well informed sources is that the Swedish police do not trust the Danish police tactics which in general is refusal of dialogue concept used by the Swedish police.

The Danish police prepare with unsual methods

The Danish police have established a network of 1000 citizens and institutions at the Amager island were Bella center is situated that will help the police to report anything suspicious. Worrisome is also water cannons which when used in December in the cold can cause sevre problems. It showed how violent it can be both at the deportation of Iraqi refugees at Brorsons church and the Shut it down action this autumn.

Many repressive methods

There has also been a range of escalating the repressive political climate against protesters. Thus the fine for confronting or not following the orders of the police have been proposed to be raised almost ten-fold, a new law making it possible to arrest people and temporarily move them have been implemented and the media is doing its best to present committed activists as violent. It would be useful to get information from Denmark more precisely about these measures and what demonstrators can be accused of and how they can be punished as for instance not being allowed into Denmark for a couple of years.

The climate justice cause is the most important

Keep in mind that the repressive Danish political culture is volatile and with the right kind of political actions it might be turned around. Repression is not there to make us stop struggling but if we are well informed we may use better tactics and can defend our cause better.

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