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Gothenburg summit protests, 2001


During June 14-16, 2001, about 50,000 people protested in Gothenburg (Göteborg) Sweden against the European Union (EU) summit meeting being held there. Their protest was directed mainly against the European Union's neoliberal economic policies and its plans for expansion into Eastern Europe.[1] The protests have been described as being part of the "heroic phase" of the alter-globalization movement's summit protests, a phase which began in 1999 with the "J18" (June 18) protests in London, England and the protests in Seattle, United States against the World Trade Organization meeting, and extended to the fearsome conflict in Genoa, Italy around the G8 summit of July 2001.[2] Besides being a moment in the global anti-neoliberal movement, the protests in Gothenburg reflected political conflict and dissatisfaction in Sweden stemming from the country's economic crisis of 1992 and subsequent neoliberal economic restructuring, as well as Sweden's domestically controversial 1994 entry into the European Union.[3]

The Gothenburg protests were organized mainly by two coalitions, the Nätverket Göteborg 2001 (Network Gothenburg 2001) and the larger and more politically diverse Göteborgsaktionen (Gothenburg Action). Several smaller protest networks as well as unaffiliated groups also participated. The demonstrators planned to begin with a protest on Thursday, June 14 against the scheduled visit the next day by United States president Geaorge Walker Bush. Other activities were planned for the 15th and 16th, which were the days on which the summit was to be held. These included a Fritt Forum (Free Forum) of lectures, workshops, and discussions organised by the social democratic network ATTAC, and a more confrontational storming of the convention grounds by the Vita Overallerna (White Overalls). Events did not unfold exactly as planned, however, since on Thursday morning (the 14th), police surrounded the Hvitfeldtska high school where many out of town activists were sleeping and getting organized. This led to riots as other protesters attempted to free their trapped comrades, and the storming of the school by police in the evening and arrest of most of the 500 people still inside.

On Friday morning there was a legal anti-summit rally downtown organised by the Göteborgsaktionen. Around 10:30 AM sections of this rally left the state-authorized route in an attempt to reach the actual summit and were attacked by police. Many fled to the main shopping street Avenyn, where there was some smashing of windows.

On Friday evening about 15,000 people took part in a demonstration in the downtown Järntorget square organised by Nätverket Göteborg under the slogan "Sweden out of the EU — No to the EMU". There was no violence at this demonstration. However, at about 8:00 PM a dance party in Vasaplatsen organised by Reclaim the City was attacked, first by fascists and then by the police, who shot three protesters with live bullets. This was the first use of live ammunition by police against protesters in Sweden since 1931 and its first use against alter-globalisation activists in the global North.[4]

On Saturday the 16th, about 9,000-20,000 people attended a demonstration organised by Göteborgsaktionen under the slogans "No to the militarization of the EU — No to racism and the development of `fortress europe' — No to the constitutionalization of neoliberal policies in the EU — The environment and the public sector are not for sale". There was no violence. A final demonstration arose spontaneously at about 7:00 PM Saturday, against the police violence of the preceeding days. The police surrounded this demonstration and detained many of its participants. Also on Saturday evening the national SWAT team raided Schillerska high school, another sleeping place of the activists, and forced many to lie on the cold, wet school yard for several hours.[5]

Aftermath

The protests had a highly disturbing effect on normally placid Sweden. According to an article by Tadzio Müller:[6]

Had it been only for the riots, Göteborgshändelserna might not have had this much of an impact. The mainstream of Swedish society might have been able to content itself with the idea that the riots were merely the work of hooligans, drunkards, and foreigners belonging to the `traveling anarchist circus' that parts of the alter-globalization movement were being represented as at the time. However, in the months following the riots, media images began to emerge that proved that the police, who had shot and nearly killed a demonstrator, had not acted in self defense. The High Court then ruled that it was the actions of the police on Thursday that had triggered the riots, and the local police commander was indicted for violations of demonstrators' basic rights. Indeed, in the legal aftermath of the riots, more and more evidence emerged of wrongdoing on the part of the Swedish police, and questions arose about the degree of influence that the US secret service had on the strategy of the Swedish police. With all of that it became clear that Sweden had lost some of its innocence. Sweden, like all other societies, was beset by internal conflicts that at times could turn violent, and the state, so often seen as the benevolent father in the `peolpe's home', was capable of doing wrong.

Other work(s)

  • Tadzio Müller, 2009. "European Union summit protests, Gothenburg, 2001", in Immanuel Ness (editor) The International Encyclopedia of Revolution and Protest
  • E Wijk, 2002, Göteborgskravallerna och Processerna. Stockholm, Sweden; Manifest.

Notes

  1. Tadzio Müller, p 1152
  2. Tadzio Müller, p 1151
  3. Tadzio Müller, p 1152
  4. Tadzio Müller, p 1153
  5. Tadzio Müller, p 1153
  6. P 1154

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