Predicting and avoiding COP15 repression

This piece was written more than a week ago. As unfortunatly the issue have been proven to be of current interest it is published here to contribute to the current discussion aiming at avoiding unnecessary escalations on all sides to promote political solutions.

Tord Björk


Predicting and avoiding COP15 repression


Have been given free hand to do more than they need to do. Two-sided
assessment necessary.


People accept to a large degree actions against corporations as Shut it down
action against a coal power plant in Copenhagen in September. The corporate
lobby is enormous inside the Bella Center but with low credibility among
people in common on this issue.


Are gearing up for selling violence but have already used up some of its
credibility by hunting shifting ghosts portrayed as villains. Limited by the
gravity of the issue and divisive governments.


Have been doing good anti-repression work in Denmark and the UK. Have lost
much of their strength by being almost totally coopted inside Bella center
and thus in strong need of the mass demonstration December 12 were they need
the alliance with all other groups and have joint interest in stopping
escalating repression. As the same time organisations as WWF are strongly
promoting the picture of violent protesters which should be demonized.

Popular movements

Did not speak up for a long time and when they finally did against Push for
climate justice ideas to overcome police barriers by non-violent action this
caused intense discussions. The tensions are still there but the dialogue is
promising between the different protesting movements and hopefully a better
understanding of Danish consensus political culture also among system
critical left and ecological groups have emerged.


The strong separatism between different system-critical activist movements
in Denmark has been a problem. The omnipotent language of the Climate
Justice Action June decision to close down the COP15 for one day caused
severe questioning of the capacity of formulating political goals that were
achievable and got to the main point. The tendency of using the climate
issue as a guise for a general message that the whole system is totally
wrong without any direct involvement in trying to address the immediate
concerns of people struggling for climate justice all over the world have
also caused severe questioning of the goals of some protesters. But the
non-violent code of conduct already in place in June and the clear
compromise recently restated in terms of making alliances between both broad
international popular movements and progressive governments are positive
decisive factors. Without radical non-violent direct action that is built
upon this kind of alliances we would have been much worse making it possible
to isolate both protesters only using words within the rules of mass media
and lobby culture as well as those doing direct actions without building

Political content

Climate justice political platforms are equal behind many mass activities
which promotes possibilities to focus on common political interests against




Start of more promising dialogues

The possibilities to get different actors and activities on a path were they
complement each other and build upon the different qualities of Danish and
other political cultures are crucial to avoiding repression. For quite some
time this seemed to be a problem in the preparations towards COP15 in
Copenhagen. But the dynamics between the four main mass activities,
Klimaforum, People and Planet First demonstration December 12, Reclaim Power
action December 16 and the mass meeting with presidents from progressive
Latin American states December 17 have together with a beginning dialogue
between different actors the last month opened up for a more promising
outcome. Mass action organizers talks to the police, Danish organisations
with different opinions talk to each other and a dialogue between Danish
organisations and international ones have also taken place pointing at more
political results rather than break down of dialogue between different
protest groups thus opening up for more wide spread repression.

There is always the risk that international organizations come and occupy a
place doing their own thing with some few local cooperation partners and
than move on to next international gathering without understanding or
getting nurtured by the political culture they did not know they visited.
There is also the opposite risk that the local organisations do not make the
effort to understand the reasons and legitimate concern of guest from other
local places on this planet and also uses the situation to project their own
understanding onto the rest of the world. When such diverging interests gets
to strong there are great risks for both splits in the movement and

There are a number of arguments for being careful about the possibilities
for repression during the COP15. In an earlier article about the repressive
culture in Denmark including the way the police behave I pointed at many
worrisome factors. See:

How to predict repression?

In 2002 I published an article in Expressen, a national daily in Sweden, in
advance of similar summit protests as now planned to march to the Bella
Center when EU states of heads were meeting. Then I predicted that the
outcome would not end in escalated confrontations between the police and
protesters while mass media was as full of anticipated violence as now.
During the Summit people dressed up in white overalls with protection
equipment tried to push themselves through the police barriers close to the
Bella Center without success and no escalation occurred. There were tense
situations during the mass demonstration in the city centre when masked
plain cloth police tried to provoke the demonstrators and attempts were made
at splitting the demonstration apart against the promises made by the head
of the police operation. This was well managed by a disciplined
demonstration leadership which demanded from the head of the police to stop
the provocations which also happened. There were also demonstrations to a
prison were people were held in preventive arrests were the tension was
higher when the police encircled the core of the demonstrators but then
allowed people to leave. Then some smaller confrontations occurred for the
rest of the evening but never really escalating into a more violent

This time the situation is different in some aspects. There will be more
people and this time from the whole word and not only EU countries. More is
at stake as this UN conference has been planned for many years as decisive
for the future of climate politics. The variety of actors is wider and the
time of the course of events is a lot longer. But the Danish political
culture have not changed very much, it was right-wing neoliberal then and is
still right-wing neoliberal. The movements have separate strong fairly small
and autonomous  bases both urban and rural while challenging politics at the
national or international level mainly becomes expressed by narrow single
issue mobilisations while the established organisations mainly use the role
as the responsible expert and service provider. As repression in modern
Western societies involves some similar patterns and actors and the Danish
political culture have not changed that much it might still be useful to use
the same criteria for assessing the possible repression this time as well.

The experience that made some Swedish popular movements aware of the
problems with large scale repression was the course of events during the EU
Summit in Gothenburg 2001. The confrontations started by the police storming
the whole counter summit venue and convergence center at the arrival of
president Bush. It escalated on the second day up to such a level that the
police used live ammunition almost killing one of the protesters on purpose.
The third day started with a police attack at the main international
demonstration which was stopped by disciplined demonstration guards and a
police force that was so scared by the media stories that there was a mutiny
and refusal of follows orders on a day that ended when the anti terrorist
squad was used to storm the new counter summit and convergence center were
people were sleeping.

With this experience in mind it was not only possible to a bit better
predict the outcome of repression but also more important the possible
political result of popular mobilisation at summits. This by looking at such
actors as governments, police, media, corporations, political parties, NGOs,
popular movement organisations and activists as well as the political
content of different activities. Of importance is also the actual power
relations and not to overestimate, or to underestimate the possibilities for
changing politics by different activities.

Political parties actively against repression

One decisive factor behind the escalating repression during the EU Summit in
Sweden was the way the political parties acted. Both the Left and the Green
party was part of the broad networks organizing demonstrations. But once the
confrontations started they both avoided going to the places were problems
occurred to see with their own eyes and report about their impressions, or
even opposing repression. They also stopped discussing with other
organisations in the networks they belonged to. Instead they addressed the
media with the same messages as the representatives of the social democratic
governing party had told everybody, that the riots were caused by violent
trouble makers, especially foreigners. The only party that chose to also
criticize the police was the non-left-wing Greens and not only talk about
violent trouble-makers. The Swedish governmental message was also in unison
used by politicians inside the EU Summit that talked about an international
circus of anarchists seeking violence.

When the whole political opposition in parliament including those that
organized protest demonstrations participated in the same political campaign
claiming that the blame should be put on a part that was labelled as
violent, the door was open for escalating violent repression and media
campaigning for the police version of what happened.

In Denmark two political opposition parties in parliament did the opposite.
Red Green Alliance and Socialist People´s party representatives went to the
border as witnesses to assist activists coming in ad took to the streets to
follow up. In parliament the parties consistently brought repression issues
up. These Danish parties would not suddenly start to use the same language
as the government. In Sweden all parliamentary parties had declared that
this was impossible as it would be to interfere with the way the police were
working. As this strong involvement by Danish parties was announced in
advance it was possible to predict that one important factor for reducing
repression was in place.

This time the Danish political parties have been slow in waking up. There
was also a municipal election in the end of November that slowed down their
involvement. The Socialist People’s Party have also developed to a more
populist version trying to forget as much as possible the first word in its
name. But on the other hand the Radical Left (Radikale Venstre, a
social-liberal non-left-wing party) has turned up as involved in climate
issues- Together they and the Red Green Alliance took a strong stand against
the new trouble maker law package saying that they would take it away if
they came to power while Social democrats at first were positive and in the
final end they and the Socialist part voted against but without guarantees
that they would take it away once in power.

The fact that a social-liberal party is more trustable than some of the
left-wing parties in repression issues is strengthening rather than
weakening the parliamentary role compared to 2002 when there were the two
Socialists parties that acted. The wider political party involvement is also
reflected among the supporters of mass activities. The social liberal party
is supporting the demonstration on December 12 as all the left-wing parties.
But there is also some influence via key organisations in the leadership of
the mass activities. The only Danish organisation that is in the
coordinating body of more than one mass activity is the Climate Movement in
Denmark. This organisation is both member of the demonstration coordinating
group and the board of the Klimaforum and have active members from
social-liberals to Red Green Alliance. Thus the situation concerning the
important parliamentary anti-repression work is in good place also this time
as the dialogue and active involvement can be geared up.

Limitations of the aggressive populist politics of the government

It is clear that both the government and media have been aggressively
preparing for repression. With the right-wing populist and climate change
sceptical Danish People’s Party as the driving force with its decisive
support in many issues the government have been pushing for any kind of
hysteria and measures to prevent what has been described as illegitimate
violent protests. Closing the borders for activists has been one of the
popular demands from the Danish People’s Party. The media accepted the
governmental excuse for the trouble maker law package as directed against
those using violence when it was the opposite. Directed against those that
happened to be close to were direct confrontations took place or only was
part of a sit-down action. In discussions with the police the organisers of
the December 12 demonstration was told that the new law package was actually
not needed by the police. They could do everything they wanted also using
the existing laws. Thus we have a government that is doing everything to
present itself as foremost in anti-repression even more foremost than its
own police force supported by the media.

This one could see as worrisome. But on the other hand the government have
some problems when treating the repression issues as only a way to gain
domestic populist goals more than in the run-up to the EU Summit in 2002.
The way the Danish government is in the hands of a climate change sceptical
right wing populist party to handle political issues is not necessary a
strength when it comes to repression of climate justice protesters. At the
Climate summit to much is at stake for the political reputation of Denmark.
Other countries from the whole world are watching.

The decisive difference at the governmental level lies here. This time the
Danish government cannot trust the other participating governments from
having the same view as the host country which they had a the EU-Summit in
Gothenburg. This time the Danish government have to face a different
situation with a perfectly timed mass meeting with Latin American and
Caribbean presidents from ALBA countries on December 17 that might oppose
the words that populistic right-wing parties makes the Danish government to
use about repression against protesters demanding climate and global
justice. A situation were governments that cannot be labelled as irrelevant
as from small island states might share the opinion including the way to act
of many of the radical protesters outside the Bella Center. A situation were
the way the Danish government have handled the repression issue might be
used to state that the COP15 should have been placed somewhere else as
Denmark cannot live up to the democratic right of every voice to be heard.

The whole strength in escalating violent repression against protesters lies
in being capable of labelling the protesters as completely outside any
influence in any issues, as left-wing extremists. This labelling will be
problematic once the actual protesters arrive. Then it must be made clear
that strong links exists between also radical protesters and a wide range of
other actors including governments inside the negotiations.

Thus the Danish government better will do everything to se to that the
repression will not escalate including changing its own rhetoric about
protesters if they do not want to create severe troubles. There is something
rotten in the state of Denmark if the climate sceptical right-wing populism
in fact decides how protesters from the whole world are treated by
governmental rhetoric and repression.


The police have been given free hand to do more than they need to do. A well
informed assessment of the possible ways the Danish police can act has been
produced by Climate Collective in Denmark. It begins by stating in a good
and open mood: The following pages are analyses and guesses based on past
experiences. Use this material for what it is. Use common sense, bravery and
the power to create history to decide the rest. You find it here:

Apart from this analysis of the tactics there is a wider picture to be taken
into account. How much will the police use their many weapons and other
means at their hands? Here a two-sided assessment is necessary building on
both the way the police acts and possible limitations.

The many reports that Danish police is not to be trusted are worrisome.
Yesterday they went into the sleeping quarters at Teglholm handcuffing
some 15-20 people.

The continued developments have strengthened our picture of the repressive
climate. The police seems to behave as they have free hands to do whatever
they like. At a meeting with the organisers of the December 12
demonstrations we have been told that they threatened every foreign
participant in the demo that did not bring their pass ports with them when
walking by immediate deportation if they by chance where belonging to a
group of protesters that the police decided should be identified and moved

The police also claimed at this occasion that they had no need of the new
proposed law, they could already do whatever they needed to do as the
present laws gave them free room to do that. Meanwhile the strongest
supporter of the new law package that the police claim they do not need is
the head of the police operations, Per Larsen. A policemen that used 15
years to hunt down a left wing group that robbed bank and finally killed a
policemen and than got caught.

The way that Danish organizations seems to respond to this is by sending the
message to everyone that they have to bring their pass port with them to the
demonstration instead of starting to question the police and the repressive
climate in Denmark. Is it really so that we should except that the police
threatens everyone among the maybe ten thousand foreign participants with
immediate deportation if they by chance are caught in some police raid.
According to our Swedish information the Danish police has very small
restrictions on what they can do but can be severely punished if they do
something wrong. Thus they could easily claim that they want to put into
arrest large groups of people and then they could easily find some foreign
person among them that had forgotten his pass port and immediately deport
her or him out of the country and none could claim that anything wrong had
been done.

Is this acceptable? Rather then accepting that the police in advance tries
to claim that they will use any law to a maximum it is about time to become
proactive and question the way the police find it OK to deport people or any
other extreme measure which predictably will create disorder rather than the

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