Symbol of Swiss youth revolt falls

Dozens of young faces stared with resignation as the heavily guarded demolition crew tore down the old factory near Zurich's main railway.

As the factory, which had served as an autonomous youth center since June l 980, came crashing down, a belief in a Swiss society built on compromise, prosperity, and somehow free from the problems plaguing other countries, seemed to disappear as well.

A sign held by one youth at the site of the demolition read: ''The final solution of Zurich's youth problem?''

A festive air of hope had filled the factory when the youth first settled in.

The opening followed four weeks of street fighting between youthful demonstrators and a police force faced with smashed windows, burning barricades, and flying stones. What had begun as a protest for more financial support for young people's cultural activities had grown into a mass movement with up to 10, 000 peaceful demonstrators taking to the streets in a sort of ''forum of the discontented.''

Apprentices called for easier labor conditions, school children for more say at school, young women for an end to the male-dominated society, youth for a place where it could be on its own away from establishment norms.

Finally the city gave in. It was that or submit to regular weekend rioting.

From the start, however, the experiment was faced with social problems that eventually killed it.

Drug addicts and dealers came in increasing numbers. Alcoholics settled in. Social misfits and petty criminals appeared. A dedicated band of church workers , politicians, and psychologists tried to help - but the problems mounted. Funds largely dried up. And finally young people lost interest.

So there was not much protest over the closing of the center this week. A few windows were smashed, but there were no riots. The land where the youth center stood will now be turned into an apartment complex with small shops.

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