March 07, 2009

Shootings Plague Normally Placid Copenhagen

After the American Century

In Denmark one almost never gets a message from the American Embassy warning that a certain part of the country is dangerous and should be avoided. In fact, I cannot remember getting one before. But I did receive such an email a few days ago.

Denmark generally is regarded as one of the most peaceful nations on earth. The Economist regularly places it among the three or four safest nations. But in Copenhagen for months casual and unmotivated shootings, with a few dead and many wounded bystanders, have become an almost daily byproduct of a gang war. Sometimes the press presents these shootings as matters of mistaken identity, which would suggest that if you don't look like a drug dealer there is no danger. But many of those shot do not fit that profile, and other motives seem behind the shootings.

Indeed, the City of Copenhagen had to suspend delivery of food to elderly shut-ins because those who make the deliveries were being threatened. (No one is suggesting that these city employees were delivering illegal drugs to the elderly!) When city police were then told to protect workers delivering food to the elderly, there were threats against the police.

So how safe is Copenhagen? And for tourists, is it still worth visiting? My own sense is that most of the city remains quite safe compared to American or British cities, for example. But if the city cannot find a way to stop these shootings, it it cannot control the areas where they most frequently occur, notably Nørrebro and parts of Amager, the image of Copenhagen will suffer. And that will undo the millions being spent to attract tourists to the City.

The world press has begun to take note. The Times of India estimated that there have been at least 60 shootings since last August. called Copenhagen "a shooting gallery." Stories have appeared in The China Post, The Hindustani Times, and in The International Herald Tribune. Tourism to Denmark, already suffering due to the weak world economy, can only be hurt further, as people decide where to take their summer vacations.

An Aside: Danger does draw a certain class of visitors,. "Riot tourism" is promoted by at least one website, promoting the excitement and learning potential of disorder. For those looking for confrontations with the state and solidarity with fellow radicals, Copenhagen might become an attractive destination. If the city is really to draw such tourists, however, the current drug war would have to be politicized, so that it seemed like something else, for example class warfare (the long proclaimed collapse of capitalism?) or perhaps official discrimination against immigrants.

But leave speculation aside. Denmark is not really so dangerous that tourists should avoid it, whatever you may read in the press. However, unless you are a "riot tourist," stay out of Nørrebro.