Battle of Ryesgade
For a change, this is a post about the Battle of Ryesgade, a 9 day long street fight in Copenhagen.
The Battle of Ryesgade was a nine-day series of street fights in mid-September 1986, in the Copenhagen street Ryesgade. It was the most violent event in a long-standing conflict between the Copenhagen city council and the city’s community of squatters. Faced with an ultimatum to leave their illegally occupied housing or face eviction, the squatters instead fortified the streets around their building so strongly that it became a cop-free zone.
In 1984 the squatters began negotiating with UNGBO, the owner of the Ryesgade house. The squatters demanded that UNGBO and the city council gave Rysegade 58 the status of autonomous housing. After nearly two years of negotiation, a compromise was reached that would have given the residents full control over the house as an officially recognized social experiment.
The squatters were told that they had until September 14 to leave the house. The squatters said to UNGBO that they and the city council could “stick it up their ass”. The squatters then started to prepare the defense of Ryesgade 58. The stage was now set for what would be the biggest confrontation ever fought between the squatters and the police.
The September 14 demonstration was attended by well over 2000 masked demonstrators. They were very determined and aggressive and the police soon found themselves outmatched.When the demonstrators reached Nørrebro, fireworks were fired into the air, and the demonstration suddenly changed direction and started to move towards Ryesgade.
When the demonstration was within a few hundred yards of Ryesgade, people started to run. The demonstration broke through the remaining police lines, and within a couple of minutes they had entered Ryesgade. While the police had been busy handling the demonstrators, the squatters in Ryesgade 58 had moved into the street and started to set up barbed-wire barricades. At about 1:30 am, the police attacked. A wave of about 150 of them in riot gear charged the western part of the barricades in a solid shield wall. Due to an early warning from the lookout post on top of the squat, the defenders were prepared. They bombarded the police with stones and petrol bombs, forcing them to retreat after about 10 minutes. Of the 150 police officers involved in the charge, only about 14 made it near the barricades, and about 40 police officers were injured in the attack.
Over the next couple of days the situation tensed. Several compromises were suggested from various parts but they were all rejected by the city council. At the same time the police were beginning to prepare for a final assault against the defenders. This plan involved breaking through the barricades with armoured bulldozers acquired from the military. Several units of police were then going to charge the squat, some of them armed withsubmachine guns. About 1500 police had been drafted in for the assault. The police commanders stated that this assault would most likely result in the death of several people. Faced with an unyielding city council and the prospect of an eviction that would end in a bloodbath, the squatters decided to leave the barricades.
The squatters called a second press conference for the morning of September 23, but reporters arrived to find the contested buildings empty. Over night the squatters had filtered out.
The squatters’ final note was:"We have decided to leave the barricades and our home behind. We have been faced with politicians who have proven themselves to be more cynical than we could ever have imagined. We refuse to sit like a trapped bear waiting for the hunters to come. We refuse to be a part of your sick game. You might think that you have won now, but you are mistaken. You have not broken us. You have shown us what we have the strength to do. The experience we have gained and most of all the solidarity and support that the ordinary people of Copenhagen have shown us is something you can never take from us. We chose to live and fight another day. You have not broken us nor have you destroyed us. We are still here! The struggle continues!"