Zurich reopens youth center

An unconventional band of Swiss youths with shaved heads, painted faces, and dressed in studded black leather jackets are hard at work patching Zurich's rundown youth center back together.

This is the result of an uneasy compromise hammered out between city officials and the burgeoning youth movement here after a year of riots, building occupations, and violent window-smashing sprees through Zurich's fashionable downtown area. The riots were in protest at the city's closing of a youth center last fall. The center has since become a symbol for the loosely formed Swiss youth movement to rally round.

Calm has prevailed since april 1, when the Zurich city council voted to let the youth center reopen and even fund it with a half million dollars.

A coalition of Protestant and Roman Catholic churches is chipping in a quarter of a million dollars and has agreed to take responsibility for leasing the controversial youth center to movement members.

Christian Casparis, director of Pro Juventute, the city-funded youth organization that helped negotiate the deal, says he realized that a solution to the problem would be impossible without first agreeing to reopen the youth center.

But Zurich city council member Franziska Frey says that with the youth center back in place, the movement's focus may shift to "squatting" in unoccupied buildings to protest the lack of inexpensive housing.

That shift may only serve to bring the Zurich youth movement more into line with similar squatting and youth unrest in other Western European countries such as West Germany, Austria, and the Netherlands.

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