News & Views for Anarchists & Activists:
Storming Denmark's drugs stronghold
By Neil Arun
BBC News Online
Danish police chief Kai Vittrup misses Iraq -- he has come
home from the "war on terror" to wage the war against drugs.
"Mostly very friendly people," he says of the Iraqis he was
training to police the town of Basra.
Back in Copenhagen this week, the atmosphere was less welcoming.
Mr Vittrup has just led a spectacular crackdown against the
drug dealers of Christiania, the infamous neighbourhood that
has functioned as an autonomous "state within a state" for
some 30 years.
Previous police expeditions into this hippie enclave were
beaten back by crowds pelting officers with Molotov
cocktails and stones.
Some 200 officers took part in this week's operation, and
were greeted by barricades and booing residents.
Their 10-hour-long incursion into Christiania resulted in 48
arrests -- almost all for the possession or sale of
cannabis, a drug banned in Denmark.
Mr Vittrup says the suspects will face trial and possible
prison sentences of up to six years.
After decades of defiance, it seems Christiania is finally
being brought to heel.
Police believe this week's raid has smashed a local cannabis
economy with an estimated annual worth of $80 million.
With stakes that high, Mr Vittrup knows the dealers will
soon be looking for ways to revive their trade.
But they will not find it easy -- police claim their
intelligence and surveillance network in Christiania has
never been stronger.
Which is why, says Mr Vittrup, there are no plans for a
permanent, visible police presence in Christiania.
"We have no wish to be seen as an occupying force," he says,
citing recent experiences in Iraq.
It may already be too late for that, however, according to
some in Christiania.
For years, there has been a ceasefire between the state and
Jes Fabricius Moeller, historian
Belinda, a worker at the Café Nemoland, describes this
week's police raid in terms more commonly used for urban
"They came at five in the morning," she told BBC News
Online. "They woke people up and took them to the station.
They took away TVs, property. Of course, they also made some
Belinda blames Denmark's conservative government for the
crackdown -- she says they are acting on an old vendetta
against the hippies and leftists who created this enclave.
But for Danish historian Jes Fabricius Moeller, the problem
with Christiania runs deeper than this government.
He points to the rising value of land in overcrowded
Copenhagen, citing it as a potential factor behind the
crackdown. Situated amongst canals and greenery, barely five
minutes from the centre of the capital, Christiania is prime
Official policy, says Mr Moeller, is "to reinstate the logic
of private property".
"If you live on expensive land, you have to pay for it."
He says it could be this -- as well as the law and order
issue -- that has driven the recent crackdown.
"The police have always hated Christiania," he says. "It
represents a challenge to the state's monopoly over the use
He told BBC News Online of how left-wing activists in the
early 1970s rallied to occupy land vacated by an army base.
I am confident there will be more trouble in Christiania --
but no more than we can handle
Kai Vittrup, Copenhagen's chief of uniformed police
There they founded the "free town" of Christiania with two
objectives in mind. These, according to Mr Moeller, were
"the creation of a society where there was no private
property and no instruments of political violence -- in
other words, no police."
Denmark's government of the time granted the commune a
degree of autonomy. A deal was later struck, whereby the
squatters could lead lives free from official interference,
as long as they paid their taxes and utility bills.
"For years, there has been a ceasefire between the state and
Christiania," says Mr Moeller.
The sale of cannabis was tolerated -- much of it controlled
by Hells Angel-style biker gangs, who, says Mr Moeller,
acted as "muscle" for the hippies and political idealists.
Meanwhile, the hippies scrupulously refused to exploit their
autonomy by entering the lucrative trade in harder drugs
such as cocaine and amphetamines.
The head of Copenhagen's narcotics police, Ole Wagner,
confirms this. He told BBC News Online hard drugs have never
been a problem in Christiania.
But elsewhere in Denmark, as in Europe at large, cocaine use
Mr Wagner and his colleagues are confident they can tackle
the Danish drug habit, now that Christiania's dealers have
"We used to assemble a team of 150 officers just to enter
Christiania," says Mr Vittrup.
That manpower, he says, is now free to take on the city's
other dealers in 15 teams of 10 officers each.
"I am confident there will be more trouble in Christiania --
but no more than we can handle," he says.
Belinda from the Café Nemoland disagrees.
"It is too expensive for the police to keep this up," she
says. "I have been coming to Christiania for 23 years. We
have time on our side."
Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2004/03/19 03:10:00 GMT
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