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 June 14 after the police had surrounded and enclosed the Hvitfeldtska school 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 June 15 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 Avenyn. 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 June 16, 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 behavior. 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 riots left large areas of central Gothenburg demolished due to the violent protests of the demonstrators, as well as leaving many stores looted.
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 globalization 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 meant 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 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 living 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 June 14, 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 that the negotiations did not come 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.
The events at Hvitfeldtska Gymnasiet on June 14, 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.
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.
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 final was at Götaplatsen were speakers criticized 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 criticized 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.
Heavy rioting broke out and a smaller group of police officers were subjected to a massive attack in which one of them was struck down. While defending their colleague, the other officers fired warning-shots with their sidearms. This halted the bulk of the attack. One attacker continued to throw 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 struck down 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.
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.
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 June 16, similar to that at Hvitfeldtska but now using the heavily armed anti-terrorist unit. A serious claim of police brutality is connected to this event. The police forced a hundred of young protestors to lay down of the concrete floor, or even in the schoolyard mud, for several hours. No German terrorist was found.
According to the police, they acted completely in accordance with the Police Law. However, this claim has been heavily criticised by many jurists.
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.
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.
Nätverket Göteborg ("The Gothenburg Network," in total more than 20 organizations) including: