Monday, March 05, 2007

Riots in Copenhagen

Imagine my surprise when, Thursday evening, I discovered pictures of cars ablaze, police in riot gear, and breathless Danish TV reporters covering it all LIVE in downtown Copenhagen. The TV reporters were really quite dramatic, although I could not understand what they were saying. I found out later, they were describing the scene as a "war zone".

Copenhagen and Denmark are such nice, peaceful, and friendly places. The Danes are quite possibly the most orderly people I have seen. Even their riots seem orderly, and amazingly enough, no one died. You can be sure in the United States, people would be killed in such riots. The rioters threw things at the police, but no one had a gun or started shooting.

The reason behind this rioting is a long simmering controversy over something called "UNGDOMSHUSET" or Youth House. In the early 80s, this building was abandoned, but still owned by the city. Leftist youth groups, made up of mostly Communists and hard left Socialists (I am told), started squatting on the property, turning it into a sort of commune. The city did not do much to evict them, and the situation has remained for the past 25 years.

In 2000, the city finally sold the property to a mysterious "Christian Group". I say "mysterious" only because no one in the media will name this group. It is unclear if it is the Danish state church or some other organization. Yet, I would think the identity of the group would be important. Why did they agree to buy a property they had to know was occupied?

Upon sale, the group went to court to get an eviction notice. The students fought back, saying that the city had no right to sell "their" house while it was occupied. The courts disagreed, and an order of eviction was entered. That brings us to Thursday, March 2 when the riots began.

The students protested by overturning cars, setting them on fire, setting fire to police barriers in the area, and throwing bottles, rocks, etc at the police. The police have arrested over 500 people during the weekend, and everyone was urged to stay away from downtown Copenhagen. The police have tightened border controls, because this Youth House is a rallying cry for far left groups throughout Europe.

The interesting thing about this situation for me is that under US property law, the students would long ago have seized title over the Youth House. They would have done this under the concept of Adverse Possession. From 1982 onward, the city did nothing to exercise its legal property rights or dominion over the building. They sat back while the students seized the building, lived in it, and passed it on to other students. In the US, when you neglect your property as it is being publicly seized and used by someone else for a period of 7 years, you lose that property. It is as if you legally made a gift of it by abandoning it. So around 1990, those students could have had title in US courts. Not so in Danish courts.

The building is being demolished so the police are expecting things to quiet down. However, that may not be the case for long. On a website devoted to the students, plans for major protests this weekend are in order. Hopefully, it will be peaceful.

The sad thing in all this to me is the lack of US coverage of this event. I went online to let my mom know quickly that I was OK, and she said, "What riots?" Same for my friends. No one had any idea that anything was happening in Copenhagen. The US papers said nothing. A bus full of ball players crashes on I-75 in Atlanta, and every news website in the world headlines the event. I would think that a peaceful city like Copenhagen exploding into riots would also merit coverage.

To educate my readers on this issue, I refer you to the following articles:

And if you can perchance read Danish, the best coverage is probably found here:

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