Protests during the EU summit in Gothenburg 2001
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The protests during the EU summit in Gothenburg 2001, parts of which are often called the Gothenburg Riots (Göteborgskravallerna in Swedish), took place in the Swedish city of Gothenburg during the three days of the EU summit (the European Council) and EU–US Summit, 14–16 June 2001. The EU Summit focused upon EU enlargement, sustainable development, economic growth and structural reform issues. The EU–US summit included a visit by U.S. president George W. Bush on 14 June. It was the first U.S. presidential visit to Sweden, and was intended as an opportunity to discuss differences on climate negotiations, WTO and Middle East issues with the EU leaders.
- 1 Introduction
- 2 Background
- 3 Chronology
- 3.1 14 June
- 3.2 15 June
- 3.3 16 June
- 4 Aftermath
- 5 Participating organisations
- 6 References
- 7 Sources
- 8 See also
The main protests were organised by three broad coalitions, a local coalition Bush Go home that opposed U.S. foreign policy, a Sweden-based coalition Network Gothenburg 2001 which opposed Swedish membership in the EU and EMU and an international coalition Gothenburg Action 2001, a proponent of "another Europe", opponent of EU militarisation, the Schengen Agreement, and defending the public sector and the environment from becoming trade commodites and EMU. There was also a broad Iranian and a smaller Anti-capitalist coalition as well as non-violent networks and Reclaim the Streets organising demonstrations and a street party.
According to the police, more than 50,000 demonstrators gathered in Gothenburg during the three days of the summit, among them a smaller amount with foreign nationality. The demonstrating organisations arranged many conferences, the biggest conference (besides, of course, the EU summit itself) being Fritt forum (Free Forum) which hosted 50 lectures and seminars and was funded by the city of Gothenburg, the Swedish justice department and Sweden's foreign ministry department among others. The summit was guarded by approximately 2500 police officers.
Besides a number of encounters and skirmishes there were a number of riots. The first one occurred on 14 June after the police had surrounded and enclosed the Hvitfeldtska gymnasiet where demonstrators had been invited by the city to stay during the summit. The second and perhaps most reputed riot occurred in the morning of 15 June in conjunction with a demonstration of 2000 participants organised by the anti-capitalist organisation, and it resulted in violent clashes with the police and damage of Gothenburg's main street Kungsportsavenyn. Later in the evening during the Reclaim the City demonstration, the violence reached its peak when a police unit came under attack by demonstrators throwing projectiles such as cobblestones. The police subsequently fired shots at the demonstrators. Three persons were injured by gunshots, one of whom was seriously injured. This was the first use of firearms against Swedish demonstrators since the Ådalen shootings in 1931.
On 16 June, the police escalated the proactive tactic ordering interventions against all demonstrations and storming the demonstrators' convention center at Schillerska Grammar School with an anti-terrorist squad due to reports of weapons and plans for violent demonstrations. But demonstrations guards from Gothenburg action and Attac were able to intervene against attempts by the demonstrators to provoke violent acts and riots did not occur. They were also helped by lower-rank officers.
The riots were followed by prison sentences for 64 persons convicted of criminal behaviour. In total demonstrators were sent to prison for almost 50 years. As of 2006, no police officer has been convicted of wrongdoing during the summit. One officer was tried and convicted for committing perjury during a trial against a Gothenburg demonstrator.
The summit meeting of the European Union was notable because heads of states from the EU gathered in Gothenburg, and also because the American President George W. Bush visited Sweden for the first time on the day before the summit meeting. As a reaction to this, protesters from all over the world planned to gather in Gothenburg to demonstrate under different banners. The City of Gothenburg assisted the out-of-town protesters by providing living quarters in different schools around Gothenburg and a convergence center, first at Hvitfeldtska gymnasiet and later moved to Schillerska Grammar School.
The political background to the protests was a conjuncture of three forces. EU-criticism and opposition to membership in the EU was stronger in Sweden than anywhere else in the union. Secondly a wave of globalisation protests against neoliberalism had gained momentum after the protests during the EU Summit in Amsterdam 1997 and the WTO meeting in Seattle 1999. Anti-war and environmental concerns against the U.S. was a third factor.
The police planned and gathered their forces in anticipation of the meeting. Never before had this many heads of state met in Sweden, and thousands of police were to stand guard in Gothenburg to keep order during these three days of June 2001. The police had long prepared for disturbances and also had many different intelligence services directed at the groups participating in the planning of demonstrations. There were differing opinions amongst the police forces involved. The security police did not want the Hvitfeldtska gymnasiet to be used as they felt it was too close to the EU Summit while the Gothenburg police insisted on having the demonstrators there. American police tactics against protesters were in use such as a psycho-tactic unit that was supposed to have a dialogue with demonstrating organisations.
The police, the local authority and the different demonstration coalitions had arranged a dialogue group where they planned and discussed the demonstrations to ensure they would be as peaceful as possible.
The events at Hvitfeldtska
The school of Hvitfeldtska Gymnasiet had been lent out by the municipality of Gothenburg to Gothenburg Action and Attac to be used as a convergence center and for housing for the out-of-town protesters. More than 650 people were staying at Hvitfeldtska and some also came to the information center and to attend conferences, meetings and seminars. At the school there was also a workshop for preparing white overalls activists planning to oppose the Schengen Agreement by dressing up in ice hockey pads and other similar defensive material and then by non-violent means try to enter the EU Summit the following day. On the morning of 14 June, the police decided to surround and close off Hvitfeldtska at 11 am. This occurred at the same time as U.S. president George W. Bush’s plane, the Air Force One, landed outside the city.
Hundreds of policemen surrounded the school. No one was allowed to leave or enter, and the people inside were given no information of what was going on. Journalists were not allowed to come near the area. At noon, the police chief Håkan Jaldung spoke at a press conference and declared that almost all of the people inside Hvitfeldtska were suspected of preparing different crimes. However, at this time, no criminal activity had taken place at the school according to both the security police units that had infiltrated the school and the organisations renting the school.
After a while, the police constructed a wall consisting of more than 100 containers around the school. Inside the school, and in the schoolyard, the demonstrators held meetings and discussed how best to handle the situation. Negotiations started with the police with mediators in collaboration with the psycho-tactic police unit. Around 3 pm, a few of the demonstrators were allowed to leave the school area during a period of uncertainty amongst the policemen. Approximately 100 people left the school at this point after agreeing to being searched by the police, but without promise of what they could keep with them. However, most of the people inside the school didn’t know this was happening and missed the opportunity to leave Hvitfeldtska and many stayed in solidarity with the white overalls who tried to negotiate their terms to get out. The police chief took away the mandate for the psychotactic unit and the negotiations ended in confusion. According to the police chief this was due to the negotiations not coming to a conclusion, according to the mediators a conclusion on the last issue of white overall material was at hand and the problems could be solved.
200 people lined up to demand their right to go to the ongoing demonstration against Bush. In total some 200 people with some 30 white overalls in the front followed by some 50 syndicalist trade unionists, a black bloc and a mixed group of pacifists and others at the rear. The attempt to get through the police cordon through white overall tactics failed when the front white overalls were severely beaten while they themselves did not hit the police. When, at half past four, the demonstrations peacefully backed in a narrow alley towards the school the police charged violently on horses, with batons and with dogs provoking a violent reaction by the use of throwing cobblestones from some demonstrators.
Some demonstrators were able to block themselves in the school. Finally, at 10 pm the battle was over and police invaded the school, detaining approximately 500 people and removing them by bus.
Outside Hvitfeldtska the closing of the convergence center and the trapping of more than 500 persons inside caused immediate reactions. In the streets nearby and in the Vasa park clashes between police and protesters occurred that turned into riots. The police charged on horses against protesters and the demonstrators used cobblestones against the police. The protests reached their climax in the evening when some 2,000 people gathered outside the container wall to show their support. No violence occurred whatsoever but having the policemen focused on the crowd, some 30 people that had been trapped inside Hvitfeldtska were able to flee across the container wall and come outside the police cordon.
At noon a broad coalition of Iranian exile groups organised a demonstration at Götaplatsen to protest against the Iranian government. It was according to the police peaceful and had 10,000 participants.
Bush not welcome
A broad coalition from the locally strong Marxist-Leninist revolutionary party to Attac started their demonstration at 5.30 in the afternoon from the city center. The ongoing police operation at Hvitfeldtska caused severe tensions among the demonstrators. Some left to protest directly outside the school and others joined after the closing of the demonstration at Götaplatsen. Speeches were held by Friends of the Earth U.S. against the Bush administration's climate policy and by others against U.S. imperialism. The number of participants was 15,000 according to the police.
The events at Hvitfeldtska Gymnasiet on 14 June 2001 are considered to have been the start of the Gothenburg Riots, which would continue during the next day. The claims by the police that there were weapons inside the school was never confirmed as no such weapons, molotov cocktails or other, were found after the police took control over the buildings.
The Anti Capitalist March
The Anti-capitalist March against the EU summit started at Götaplatsen at 10.30 am 15 June. It was organised by Socialist Justice Party, International Socialists and the Nonviolent Network. Approximately 2,000 people had gathered, among a minority of members of the white overalls and black bloc who cancelled their own actions after the police operation against Hvitfeldtska. The organisers did not receive a permit but had ongoing dialogue with the police and had the right according to the freedom of meeting act to demonstrate.
On their way down a street some blocks away from the EU Summit the police ordered an intervention against a group of demonstrators before violence occurred and without contacting the organisers of the demonstration. Some moments later this was carried out by policemen with dogs who attacked demonstrators and bystanders causing bloodshed from biting dogs and batons. No order to disperse was issued. Mounted police surrounded the demonstration. Panic erupted. A group of black bloc demonstrators countercharged the police which had to flee. A large amount of cobblestones were thrown at the police causing severe wounds.
The riots on Kungsportsavenyn
Some 150–200 demonstrators, 50–70 of them being active according to the police, started after 11 am vandalising the nearby Kungsportsavenyn, the main high street of Gothenburg. Rioters were smashing windows and burning outdoor furniture. The damage was the most severe during the whole Gothenburg riots with an estimated cost of 5 million Swedish kronor (Approximately $770 000). The protesters were at first left alone by the police but then clashes between police and protesters continued. After a while some policemen also started to throw cobblestones back at the protesters.
Political and media intervention
Simultaneously a regular dialogue meeting between the police, local authority and demonstration coalitions was held at 12 o’clock. Here the social democrat Göran Johansson, chair of Gothenburg city council and member of the national party board, proposed that a common statement should be made denouncing all demonstrating assailants. This was not accepted as it would state that the violence only was caused by one part. Instead the meeting unanimously denounced all violence. It was also decided to carry out the planned demonstrations as planned.
Also mass media started to change their position from questioning both sides to claim that it was the protesters that provoked the riots. The lead took Public Service television SVT. In the 12 o’clock news the order of the video clippings from the start of the riots and the story was reversed. The first violence when police dogs were biting demonstrators was shown after the first reaction on the police intervention when a person started to throw things at the police. From now on mass media was predominantly telling the story that violence was started unprovoked by protesters and the police reacted in self-defence.
The Free Forum and Viktoria bridge
The police continued to chase persons close to the city center. Finally they encircled a group of people at the Viktoria bridge and without being provoked attacked people inside the nearby Free Forum outdoor entrance area. The chair of the Green Youth, Zaida Catalan, was beaten from behind to the ground by the police and panic started to emerge among some thousand people present. Attac was able to mediate and the police avoided further intrusion in the Free Forum area. After a while 124 persons on the bridge that peacefully was sitting down singing pacifist songs were arrested at 2 o’clock. Witnesses claimed that the people on the bridge had nothing to do with the riots. Police admitted later that they did not know if it had been 100 or only 25 out of the arrested who were suspects in the earlier riot.
No to EU
While assembling to start at 6 o’clock the No to EU demonstration organised by Network Gothenburg 2001 the Norwegian delegation was attacked by 30 right wing extremists armed with large pieces of metal causing bloodshed. The well-organised delegation that had secured good contacts with the police in advance called for help from the police but had to sort the situation out themselves. The rest of the demonstration went without disturbances. The number of participants was, according to the police and the organisers, 20,000.
The final was at Götaplatsen were speakers criticised EU from democratic, trade union, peace and other perspectives. Most attention did the Green European MP Per Garhrton and the leader of the Left Party Gudrun Schyman get. Gahrton criticised both police and demonstrators using violence. Schyman strongly denounced hooligans that had destroyed Avenyn in front of her earlier that day and did not mention the role of the police.
The shootings at Vasaplatsen
Heavy rioting broke out and a smaller group of police officers were subjected to a massive attack in which one of them was hurt. While defending their colleague, the other officers fired warning-shots with their sidearms. This halted the bulk of the attack. One lone attacker continued to throw smaller rocks in the direction of the fallen policeman. Two officers fired at the rioter who was critically injured. Two other people received light injuries by ricochets.
A criminal investigation against the police officers was opened but later closed as it found that they had acted in defence of the injured officer. When more evidence became available in the form of video recordings, the investigation was re-opened twice and both times closed again as the ruling remained the same.
Political interventions and negotiations
The night between 15 and 16 June, the situation was tense with one shot demonstrator at hospital who might not survive.
The minister of Justice Thomas Bodström, who at the beginning of the confrontations was out-of-town changed his mind. At first he had commented upon the events that it was necessary to find out more information, at midnight he, together with prime minister Göran Persson, claimed that the confrontations were the result of criminals coming to Gothenburg with the only purpose of starting violence.
The ministers had already been supported by the biggest parliamentary party related to the demonstrators when Left Party leader Gudrun Schyman falsely in the television news claimed that demonstration coalitions had unanimously denounced assailants as if the violent acts of the police were not included. Later the Green party took milder positions in the same direction. The demonstrators had lost all parliamentarian support in Sweden.
During the night 600 people gathered at Schillerska Grammar School which by the municipality had been given as a new convergence center. It was decided to demand that the police chief Jaldung be dismissed. Gothenburg Action decided that it was better to carry on the plans to hold an international demonstration but propose to the police another route not going into the city that was now filled with containers. Rather than having tens of thousands of demonstrators dispersed in the city it was felt that it was more safe to gather them and demonstrate. It was also decided to give one person the right to change the order of the black bloc in the demonstration not following the preplanned structure. In the negotiations with police and local authority the police also proposed a changed route and it was decided to carry out the demonstration in the manner previously decided.
At 11 o’clock in the morning Gothenburg Action started the demonstration at Slottsskogen towards Järntorget. No incidents occurred until police at 12:30 charged the demonstration at Järntorget ordered by the police chief in conflict with the agreement between organisers and the police. Due to the change of order the black bloc had partly passed and demonstration guards could stop the police provocation peacefully helped by lower ranked officers who did not want to carry out orders, disagreeing with the order. The demonstration continued without further incidents back again to Slottsskogen. According to the organisers there were 20,000 participants, according to the police 15,000.
The events at Järntorget
Later at 6 o’clock in the afternoon people massed at Järntorget square, protesting police brutality. Before long the riot police showed up and encircled some 500 peaceful demonstrators with 800 officers. At the time everything was calm and several citizens were walking about. The police started a siege which lasted for four hours and involved hundreds of people. Some were arrested. Finally the police chief in charge asked his superiors for information regarding under what law the operation could continue. As he received no immediate answer he dispersed the participants. When Håkan Jaldung heard of this he immediately demanded the continuity of the siege, but was too late as the people had already been released.
The events at Schillerska Grammar School
The police claimed to have information that an armed blond German terrorist was located at Schillerska Grammar School were the convergence center was located. This caused the police to launch an attack on the eve of 16 June, similar to that at Hvitfeldtska but now using the heavily armed anti-terrorist unit.
A program from Mediemagasinet claimed that the media reported biased about the shooting. SVT's show Uppdrag Granskning later showed a couple of programs where they criticised how the police handled the situation. Swedish indie sensation Jens Lekman wrote an outstanding tribute to this event in his 2004 album 'When I said I wanted to be your dog' entitled 'Do you remember the riots?'
Perspectives of the Police
The officers in command of the action stated that they were very pleased with how the police had served during the summit (an opinion which at the time was shared by the government). It was claimed that the police successfully had used advance information about demonstrators and undercover police officers among the demonstrators to among other things find out about the "secret" information central.
According to the police, they acted completely in accordance with the Police Law.
The Swedish Police Union strongly criticised the way the police actions had been led and managed. In its report "Chaos" – regarding the Command in Gothenburg in June 2001 it is stated that a majority of the police who were on duty during the time felt they did not have enough resources to carry out their duties in a proper manner and that orders were confusing.
- Crimes reported: 3143 (as of February 2002)
- Detained (gripna) for criminal actions: 554
- Detained (omhändertagna) by the police (including following two listings): 575
- Arrested (anhållna): 107
- Detained while pending trial (häktade): 59
- Number of verdicts: 38
- Number of "EU-related" (i.e. related to events during the EU-summit) persons injured (treated by hospitals in the region of Västra Götaland): 143
The Gothenburg trials
The total sum of the sentences following the riots during the EU summit were roughly 50 years in prison, which according to the journalist Erik Wijk is 12 times more than earlier riots. No policemen were convicted despite a large amount of complaints.
One of the most noticed cases is the so-called information central, which was stormed by Nationella insatsstyrkan during the first day of the summit. A total of eight persons (five men, three women) were sentenced to long prison sentences after having sent out SMS texts urging people to go to Hvitfeldtska gymnasiet in connection with the police shutdown of the school. The case attracted much attention among other things because the prosecutor used circular arguments: activists in other trials were accused for having contact with the criminal information central, while the people of the information central were accused of having contacts with criminals on the outside.
The responsible police boss for the EU summit Håkan Jaldung, was accused in a trial for preventing about 100 people at the Schillerska to leave the place for several hours, but he was found innocent.
Göteborgsaktionen ("The Gothenburg Action," in total 87 organisations out of whom 33 were Swedish, 22 Danish, 9 Finnish, 5 Norwegian, 4 European and some other mainly from different Eastern European countries) including:
- Anti-Fascistisk Aktion, an antifa network
- Centernej till EU, an EU-sceptic organisation from the Swedish Centre Party
- Elevkampanjen, youth wing of Socialist Justice Party
- Fältbiologerna, a nature preservation youth organisation
- Globalisering underifrån, a Swedish branch of Peoples Global Action
- The Green Party
- Green Youth, the youth organisation of the Green Party
- International Socialists, Norway and Denmark, a Trotskyist party
- Socialist Justice Party, a Trotskyist party
- The Left Party
- Friends of the Earth (Swedish branch)
- Nei til EU ("No to the EU"), a Norwegian organisation
- Nätverket Ingen Människa är Illegal, an immigrants rights network
- Nätverket mot rasism, an anti-racist network
- Central Organisation of the Workers of Sweden, an anarcho-syndicalist trade union
- Socialistiska Partiet, a Trotskyist party
- Young Left, the youth organisation of the Left Party
- Ya Basta, a Finnish organisation
Nätverket Göteborg ("The Gothenburg Network," in total more than 20 organisations) including:
- Emmaus Björkå, an international solidarity organisation
- Folkrörelsen Nej Till EU ("The Popular Movement No to the EU")
- The Green Party
- Green Youth
- The Left Party
- The Communist Party
- Revolutionary Communist Youth, the youth organisation of the Communist Party
- EU-sceptics from the Swedish Social Democratic Party
- Some regional clubs from SSU, the youth organisation of the Social Democratic Party
- Socialistiska Partiet, a Trotskyist party
- Young Left
- (Swedish) Gothenburg 2001 – Report from the Gothenburg Committee (SOU_2002:122) . Retrieved 20 November 2006.
- National Police Board's evaluation of the EU command in Gothenburg in 2001  (Swedish) Retrieved 20 November 2006.
- SOU_2002:122 Retrieved 20 November 2006.
- Göteborgs-Posten: Många oskyldiga drabbades
- "Chaos" – Regarding the Command in Gothenburg in June 2001 ("Kaos" – om kommenderingen i Göteborg juni 2001) (Retrieved 20 November 2006) is an investigation conducted by The Swedish Police Union (Polisförbundet) which is compiled from a questionnaire sent to 1800 police officers who were on duty during the events of the 2001 EU summit in Gothenburg. Its summary reads: "The picture of the command during the EU summit can be summarized in one word: Chaos. Lack of education, lack of materiel and communication, as well as confusing orders and an inner chaos within the police."
- Please note some problems translating Swedish judicial terms such as gripa, omhänderta and anhålla into English. While the terms gripna, omhändertagna and anhållna all translate to arrested or detained, in Swedish judicial language they have different value, anhållna being the gravest form of arrest, in fact the only form where the detainee is under the suspicion of committing (a) criminal act(s). Also note the difference between only being detained (gripen, as under §11 and §13 of the Swedish police law) and being detained while pending trial.
A lot has been written about the Gothenburg riots in Swedish. Notably:
- Terrorists: The Kids They Sentenced, 2003 Documentary film by Lukas Moodysson about the demonstrators who were arrested
- EU 2001-kommenderingen, Utvärdering 2002-03-19, Polismyndigheten i Västra Götaland 
- Göteborg 2001, Betänkande av Göteborgskommittén, SOU 2002:122 
- Göteborgskravallerna och processerna, Erik Wijk, Manifest, 2002 ISBN 91-89291-19-0
- On earlier riots: Svensk arbetarrörelse under hundra år, Ture Nerman, Tiden, 1938
- Many English text links including an English summary of the official Gothenburg Committee report, analysis of the trials and other material, mainly English but also some Dutch and Swedish: http://www.steunmaarten.org/information.htm
- Anders Svensson page with reports in Swedish on the events much used in the trials: http://www.zaramis.nu/goteborg/
- More than 500 links to different articles on the subject, Mainly in Swedish: http://www.folkrorelser.nu/gbg2001/gbgindex.html
- Official EU Summit web site: http://www.eu2001.se/static/eng/eusummit/goteborg_1.asp
- Tadzio Mueller, "What's really under those cobblestones? Riots as political tools, and the case of Gothenburg 2001", Ephemera 4:2 (2004): http://www.ephemeraweb.org/journal/4-2/4-2mueller.pdf
- Song by Jens Lekman "Do You Remember The Riots". Happy Birthday Sarah!
- Terrorists: The Kids They Sentenced – 2003 documentary by Lukas Moodysson about the Gothenburg protests
- Genoa Riots
- Seattle Riots
- Police riot
- Ådalen shootings and Ådalen 31.