1968 in Denmark
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Introduction to 1968
The why of the events happening in 1968 has been debated over the past years. Several individual building blocks came together that year. One is that Europe had to do with an unusual surge in births after WW2, creating a large age demographic that were teenagers by the time 1960 came knocking. Second was the new awareness that for the parents the happiness of their children was important to others. Also the lowering of the threshold for a higher (public) education (Universities became accesable for much larger group) played a part. Technical innovations also were of influence. TV formed a window to the World previous generations did not have. TV also brought events like the Vietnam War and public events like the Civil Rights March to the living room. Cheap recordplayers offered the opportunity for musical artists to reach out to an enormous audience. Add that to growing unemployment and economical difficulties and you’ll have the ingredients for revolution

What was it all about in Denmark

Denmark, not particularly known for its fierce protests, showed a sudden resolute steadfastness when America started intervening in Indochina. It was a combination of anti-American sentiments, the new left movement and solidarity with struggles in the Third World. Already in 1964 Danes entered the streets to protest against the Vietnam War and the liberation of Algeria. On May 4, 1967, Jens Holger Jensen threw a burning bottle at the Greek Embassy during a demonstration against the Junta but accidentally hit the apartment below. The Greek regime responds by recalling its ambassador. By 1968 hippie ideals mixed with these sentiments and Ove Buntzen Larsen established the Group 31 which main goal was to change the Danish general conscription law which obliged youngsters to serve in the army. But this was all still in a rather social polite tone. But by January 1968 things Got edgy. On Greenland (which is a part of the Danish kingdom) an American B-52 bomb plane carrying hydrogen nuclear bombs crashes in the ice at Thule. What was it doing there? With nuclear bombs?? Especially since the government had always denied the Americans to have a base on Danish territory and Denmark officially weelded a nuclear free zone policy since 1957. American and Danish officials immediately launched "Project Crested Ice" (informally known as "Dr Freeze love"), a clean-up operation to remove the debris and contain environmental damage, which only partly succeeded. Although the incident was officially dismissed as a one off accident since the plane got off course it would turn in the Nineties that the Americans did use Greenland as a nuclear fly zone and that the Danish government was aware of that at the time. In 2009 the Thule accident was labeled by Time one of the world's "worst nuclear disasters”. Although unaware of this at the time the incident did cost the Social Democratic party a huge defeat in the General Election raising Hilmar Baunsgaard, leader of the Radical Liberal party, to power. The SDP had been in power for 15 years. The anger towards the government also translated itself in a disconcern about class differences in Danish society.

In March several student demonstrations in Copenhagen used slogans like:”Break the power of the professors!” and ”Participation now!” The students demanded participation in their own education, and a 50/50 percent participation of students and teachers in all university study committees. The Parliament is hit by 3000 schoolchildren that throw tomatoes, apple core and toilet paper against the walls in protest of removing youths’ free railroad tickets and 5.000 university students protest for a salary during studies. In April 150 students at the Faculty of Psychology at the university in Copenhagen occupy the Faculty laboratory at “Studiegården”. The occupation lasts until April 26 when the university gave in to the students’ demands. These actions laid the basis to pick up a more global idealism. The Danske Vietnamkomiteers (DSKV) organizes a demonstration to the American Embassy in protest against the American War in Vietnam which attracts 25.000 people. The protestors shouted slogans as: “Denmark out of NATO!”, “Break with Saigon!”, “Fight the American imperialism!”. Most of the march is peaceful, but resulted in violent clashes with 6 – 700 police officers. Several, both demonstrators and police officers, are injured in the fights and 50 are arrested. This does not keep the committee to organize more demonstrations in the following months. Eventually The Danish Vietnam Committees splits in two different organizations in December due to idealistic conflicts. The majority is organized in the anti-imperialist oriented organization of The Danish Vietnam Committees (DDV) and the minority in the organization Vietnam 69. Vietnam 69 is dominated by the Danish Communist Party and several people from the Labor Union. 

Student protests have one more trick up their sleeves on 21 November during the annual celebration at the university in Copenhagen. The guests are the Danish establishment, with the King and Queen, and the Successor in front. The students are not included on the guest list. By forging admission passes, some students manage to enter the assembly rooms and Finn Ejnar Madsen interrupts rector Mogens Fog from the pulpit and delivers a speech with harsh attacks on the class society and such an event as the annual celebration reserved for the establishment. After the speech the activists leave the assembly rooms without any further disturbance. Due to the fact that there were many journalists present, the action received large media coverage in newspapers, radio and television. Madsen was a prominent member of the left wing Aktionkommittee which also counted journalist and editor of the magazine ‘Superlove’ Jan Michaelsen. The group had a violent idea about forcing change unto the society. Michaelsen wrote in 1968: “In the longer term, the use of revolutionary violence is to deliver results and promote tension in society that are the objective conditions for a revolution”. The group organised a demonstration on May 1969 in front of the Saga cinema in Copenhagen where the movie "Green Devils" was shown. In the movie John Wayne starred as the noble American warrior who protects the Vietnamese against the Communist terrorists. The protest is violently broken by bikergang ‘De Vilde Engle’. The police does nothing to intervene. This sets the tables for the future with the committee issuing the statement: “As revolutionaries we have a right and duty to demonstrate and we must learn to defend ourselves against attack. Next time we take weapons and they will be used to defend against all attacks. We are not pacifists. If it is necessary to use violence, so we use violence”

The impact in music

Mid-sixties Denmark had a flowering beat scene inspired by English bands with a slide hang towards the more powerful blues-rock variety like The Who, Jimi Hendrix and Cream. Bands copied the musicians' lifestyles as well as the aesthetics. A fascination with the ‘East’ and inner soul searching got a grip on the Danish music scene. A fascination that did not compute with the American violent actions in Asia. In 1967 Singer Eik Skaløe and his band Steppeulvene translated this feeling in music for an album with the all saying title ‘Hip’. It was the first Danish rockalbum. It’s hippie romantic lyrics about drugs and Eastern mysticism was an expression of youth rebellion, which was about to experiment and break with norms and authorities. In 1968 Cream-influenced powertrio Young Flowers had a hit in the album charts with Blomsterpistolen (Flower Gun) and the single ‘Oppe I Traet’ (Up in the Tree). Folky troubadour Povl Dissing took Danish folk songs and gave them a bluesrock makeover with the sixties beatgroup The Beefeaters adopting performance that resembled that of Joe Cocker (waving arms and all). The pacifistic side of the movement subdued halfway that year with the disappearance of Skaløe whilst travelling through the Indian city of Ferozepore, aged only twenty-five. The tone of the scene moved from an inner mental nature to a more violent social upheaval.
The symbolism of armed struggle in the Third World, in the shape of the machine gun, the clenched fist, the heroic, preferably female, Vietnamese guerrilla soldier, was to be found not only in the posters by  the Danish Vietnam Committee but popped up in much broader circles of rebellious youth culture. In 1968 the beat magazine “Superlove” advertised on the same plane posters of Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin and Bob Dylan and of Mao, Che Guevara and Ho Chi Minh. The violent outburst of smashing guitars and drum kits like The Who and Hendrix displayed at performances in the Tivoli Gardens found a welcome ear with a group that already saw violence to help their cause as a plausible method. Superlove (and in a lesser way the magazines Wheel and Rotten) turned out to be the mouthpieces for a whole underground movement that went much wider then just music. Like they printed themselves: “It’s things like beat music - that which makes us do something that helps, it is the political consciousness”. The magazine organized events called "SHIT" (Superloves Happenings and Information Service) mixing music with (left-wing) political messages.

These anti-American sentiments also returned with the young bluesrock band Savage Rose. Bandleader Thomas Koppel was actually a classical trained musician but still in his music student guise at the Royal Conservatory stunned the audience (of which Denmark’s Queen Ingrid) to play Beethoven with such fury that, on the last note his right foot stamped the great piano’s foot pedal clean off its mooring. Koppel’s stepped of stage shouting ‘So long, Ludwig, I love you, but I need to move on now and join the living.’ The ‘living’ was a group of talented musicians that quickly made name for themselves, also in the USA. They were offered a tour there and used the opportunity to play for free for the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Black Panthers, addressing one of their albums to Malcolm X, refusing to play in Vietnam for the US troops, and returning to their homeland after a positive Rolling Stone review of their album. In short commiting commercial suïcide big time. Back home the scene did change however in their absence. The incident at the Saga cinema made the movement more resilient in getting their ideals across. They had found other heroes that mouthed their political ideas much better. The Jomfru Ane Band and Røde Mor sang their own politicized songs entirely in Danish. The latter band around vocalist/poet Troels Trier even had their own manifest stating: “In our society seems to be only one art - the bourgeois - it is because the bourgeoisie has taken even a monopoly on art and culture holding the workers down with entertainment and advertising. Thus work culture monopoly as a means to consolidate power of the bourgeoisie and spread the bourgeois ideology of the working class. The bourgeois artist involved - whether he likes it or not and whether he is conscious of it or not - in this repression. We will however make our art available to the working class and help to create a political, proletarian art”. Any involvement with the establishment was considered treason. When The Who performed ‘Tommy’ at the Royal Theatre on 24 January 1970 it was considered a commercial sell out. Even worse, when folkrockband Ache performed their music for ballet ‘De Homine Urbano’ and Savage Rose wrote and performed their ballet-score "Dødens triumf" in the same venue this did not go down well with the protestmovement. They’d rather listen to Røde Mor’s debut in 1969 which was the anti-Vietnam War E.P. ‘Johnny gennem ild og vand’ (‘Johnny through Fire & Water’) about a dead American G.I. returning from the war unaware that he is a ghost.

What happened next?

The commitee’s promise after the Saga cinema incident came true in September 1970. The World Bank held a summit in Copenhagen, and no one less than Robert McNamara, the American minister of defence from 1961-1968, was now the president of this organization which was considered a neo-imperialist tool, serving the capitalist world, by many left wing activists. The World Bank summit occasioned the most violent confrontations between activists and the police of that period, leading to many wounded and arrested. Among them Madsen who was sentenced to imprisonment. The incident also meant the end of Superlove and much reflection in the solidarity milieus. The Danish Vietnam Committees gave up their violent confrontations with the explanation that violence was maybe too harsh in the struggle against American imperialism and its lackeys and not serving any political purpose. This did not let to a stop on the violence however. A splintergroup called The League Against Imperialism or more commonly the Blekingegadebanden (after the street where they housed) started an underground terrorist group led by Gottfred Appel, Ulla Hauton and Jens Holger Jensen.

A more public protest event happened on 26 September 1971 when a group of squatters invaded the military terrain of Christianshavn to establish Freetown Christiania led by Jacob Ludvigsen, a well-known provo and journalist who published a magazine called Hovedbladet. It was a free state with the objective to create a self-governing society whereby each and every individual holds themselves responsible over the wellbeing of the entire community. This all in the spirit of communal thinking that can also be found in other parts of Europe. The Freetown still exists today and is one of mayor tourist attractions of Copenhagen. It also had an influence on the local music scene opening the music club Musikloppen ("The Music Flea"). Upcoming seventies acts like Gasolin’ performed here. This band was also present at the first music festival held in Roskilde on 28/29 August 1971 together with the Strawbs, Povl Dissing, Bruning red Ivanhoe and a young Danish singer called Sebastian. The Roskilde festival would develop as one of the six major festivals in Europe and Sebastian would, together with Anne Linnet (Tears / Shit & Chanel) and Kim Larsen (Gasolin’), become a keyfigure in Danish pop.

In creating this chapter the following essays delivered very valuable backgroundinformation:

The Meaning of Armed Struggle - Solidarity with the Third World in Denmark in the 1960s and 1970s by Karen S. Bjerregaard

Ungdomsoprør og beatmusik - En analyse af relationen mellem ungdomsoprør og beatmusik i Danmark 1967 – 1972 by Lars Gottschau Malm

Danskrocksampler – blogpost by Julian Cope