Defining Political Dissidence: The Swiss Debate on the Riots of 1980–81

  • Jan Hansen
Part of the Palgrave Studies in the History of Social Movements book series (PSHSM)


During the nights of 30 and 31 May 1980, as citizens of Zurich protested against the cultural policy of the municipal government, the city’s tranquil atmosphere was shattered to the core.1 Starting from a fundamental disagreement over recent decisions and ending in profound discomfort with the state of Swiss society, the so-called Opernhauskrawall (Opera House Riots) became the focal point of what troubled many people in the early 1980s.2 The concrete problem at issue was disappointment among the population of Zurich. In 1977, the city council had decided to establish an independent cultural centre at the Rote Fabrik in Wollishofen, where concerts, exhibitions and performances could take place.3 This centre was supposed to be run by youth, themselves. In 1980, the Zurich public became aware that the local opera house, one of the principal cultural institutions in Europe, had rented the Rote Fabrik as a space for its storage needs. At the same time, the council approved a 60-million CHF funding scheme for the renovation of the opera house, which is located in the city’s central district. Together, these two episodes caused anger among those who had hoped for an independent sphere of activity at the Rote Fabrik.4 On the eve of a public referendum on funding, the protests escalated into prolonged violent confrontations with the police.5


Young People Commission Report Cultural Policy Swiss Society Public Service Broadcaster 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 3.
    T. Stenzl (2005) ‘Rote Fabrik, Zürich ZH’, in A. Kotte and S. Gojan (eds) Theaterlexikon der Schweiz (Zurich: Chronos).Google Scholar
  2. 4.
    H. Willems (1997) Jugendunruhen und Protestbewegungen. Eine Studie zur Dynamik innergesellschaftlicher Konflikte in vier europäischen Ländern (Opladen: Leske + Budrich), pp. 219–35.Google Scholar
  3. 7.
    Like other West European countries, Switzerland was deeply shattered by terrorist attacks in the 1970s; see D. Grisard (2011) Gendering Terror. Eine Geschlechtergeschichte des Linksterrorismus in der Schweiz (Frankfurt and New York: Campus).Google Scholar
  4. 8.
    K. Tozzer (1980) Krawalle im Paradies. Eine Reportage über die Jugendunruhen in der Schweiz. Aired by Austrian public service broadcaster (ORF 1) on 16 October 1980 (Transcript: unpublished).Google Scholar
  5. 11.
    N. Ferguson et al. (eds) (2010) The Shock of the Global. The 1970s in Perspective (Cambridge and London: Harvard University Press).Google Scholar
  6. 12.
    The concept of ‘establishment’ was coined by the student movement of the 1960s. Today, however, it is broadly accepted in the Anglo-American scientific community, see for example K. Fahlenbrach et al. (eds) (2012) The Establishment Responds. Power, Politics, and Protest since 1945 (Basingstoke: Palgrave).Google Scholar
  7. 14.
    H. Kriesi and A. Trechsel (2008) The Politics of Switzerland. Continuity and Change in a Consensus Democracy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 18.
    Eidgenössische Kommission für Jugendfragen (1981) Thesen zu den Jugendunruhen 1980 (Berlin: Landeszentrale für politische Bildungsarbeit Berlin), p. 1.Google Scholar
  9. 28.
    Deutscher Bundestag (1981) Minutes of Plenary Proceedings, 19th Session (30 January 1981) (Bonn: Bundesdruckerei), p. 832.Google Scholar
  10. 30.
    At the same time, these concepts were widely used within the movement; see R. Hänny (1981) Zürich, Anfang September (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp).Google Scholar
  11. 37.
    P. Ariès (1960) L’Enfant et la vie familiale sous l’Ancien Régime (Paris: Plon).Google Scholar
  12. 59.
    J. Hersch (1982) Antithesen. Der Feind heißt Nihilismus, p. 53.Google Scholar
  13. 67.
    Deutscher Bundestag (1983) Bericht der Enquete-Kommission ‘Jugendprotest im demokratischen Staat’ gemäß Beschluß des Deutschen Bundestages vom 26. Mai 1981. Drucksache 9/2390 (Bonn: Bundesdruckerei), p. 5.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Jan Hansen 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jan Hansen

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations