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How do European police forces deal with (violent) disturbances by non-institutionalized protest groups?

16 January 2023

Protesting is a fundamental right of citizens in European democratic constitutional states. However, growing distrust of European governments seems to provide a basis for group formation of people who share strong anti-government sentiments, hold anti-democratic ideas, and believe in the effectiveness and necessity of violence against the government and against persons and organizations representing it.

As a result of this process, European police forces have in recent years increasingly been confronted with (violent) disturbances by non-institutionalized protest groups. These are groups that do not (want to) be part of the political order, in which established interest groups exercise the right to demonstrate in coordination with the authorities.

Laura Keesman and Don Weenink examine for Politie & Wetenschap, a separate research and funding agency linked to the Dutch National Police, how police forces in various European countries deal with such disturbances. They then analyze how the Dutch police can learn from this. How do European police forces try to get a grip on (violent) disturbances, especially by non-institutionalized protest groups? And how do they take into account the effects of their actions controlling these disturbances in terms of legitimacy and citizens' trust in the police?

These questions are pressing given citizens' increasing distrust in governments also expresses itself in hostility toward the police, as representatives of governments. The questions are broken down into two themes: (1) violent disorder, and (2) the organization and mobilization of non-institutionalized protest groups and actions.
We answer these and further research questions based on a document study and fieldwork in Belgium, Germany, England, France and Sweden. The fieldwork consists of semi-structured interviews with (police) experts and scientists supplemented by video elicitations and visits to locations where (violent) disturbances took place.

The scientific innovation manifests itself in an innovative combination of video elicitation and site visits for understanding of interactional dynamics, examining an issue that to date has received little scientific attention namely the cooperation between citizens and police for the prevention and de-escalation of order disturbances, and supplementing the still limited knowledge on 1) the relationship between institutional political possibilities and new forms of protests, 2) the degree of organization of non-institutionalized protest groups, and 3) the possible influence of new technology on protest actions.


Laura D. Keesman Assistant Professor Rijksuniversiteit Groningen

Don Weenink Associate Professor Universiteit van Amsterdam

Last modified:17 January 2023 09.19 a.m.
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