End Is Nigh for Christiania
- News for Anarchists & Activists:
End is nigh for the commune that kept hippie dream alive
The laid-back life of the enclave of Christiania is under
threat from a resurgent Danish Right, reports Jason Burke in
Sunday December 21, 2003
The Observer [UK]
It's Christmas in Christiania. There are trees outside the
meeting house, a Santa near the commune's archives and above
the array of Moroccan, Afghan or Lebanese cannabis resin,
are strings of fairy lights.
But the people of Christiania, a 30-year-old self-governing
commune in central Copenhagen, are far from jolly. There is
a sense of unease in the chill, damp air that drifts in off
the Baltic and the North Sea. For the 1,000 strong
'alternative community' knows this Christmas may be its last.
Ever since local hippies, performance artists and homeless
people seized a complex of old military barracks and refused
to co-operate with the state 32 years ago, conservative
politicians have sought to close Christiania down. Now, for
the first time in Denmark's recent political history, an
alliance of the commune's harshest political opponents has a
majority in parliament. A law will be passed within months
in effect ending the commune's de facto autonomy. Eviction
notices will be issued shortly afterwards.
The controversy has split Denmark. Critics of the government
say the right-wingers and their supporters are reacting
'like Pavlov's dogs' against anything that smacks of
traditional Danish leftism. 'From sustainable power to
welfarism to immigration, they are fighting the battles of
the Seventies all over again,' said Ole Lykke, the editor of
Christiania's own newspaper.
This is admitted by Adam Moller, a former special forces
soldier and conservative MP, whose party is in alliance with
the hard-right Danish People's Party. 'We have been too
tolerant and too liberal for too long in this country. No
one in Denmark should be beyond the law. There is a limit
and Christiania is past that limit,' he said.
The main grievance of Moller and his colleagues is that
Christiania, which is a no-go area for Copenhagen's police,
has become a haven for drug dealers. No one denies drugs are
on sale in the 840-acre waterside enclave in flagrant
defiance of strict Danish laws. Last week, 24 hours after a
major police raid, The Observer found a dozen stalls open on
'Pusher Street' in the centre of Christiania. At each,
customers, predominantly young locals, browsed a range of
different resins and pre-rolled joints. Prices ranged from
20 kroners (£2.20) for joints containing 'home-grown'
hashish to 40 kroners for those made with powerful stuff
from Afghanistan. Nearby stalls sold drugs paraphernalia.
Many of the drugs purchased are smoked in Christiana itself.
The sprawling complex is full of cafes and terraces where,
all year round, Copenhagen's young come to smoke. There are
restaurants with a city-wide reputation where local literati
sit down to £50-a-head meals and have a smoke with their
post-prandial coffee. There is a sports club, with the
motto, 'You'll never smoke alone'. Christiana is also a
massive tourist attraction, visited by 750,000 people each
year. In the summer its cobbled streets are thronged with
visitors from all over Europe, some drawn by the drugs, some
by the thriving music scene, some by both.
More than 66lbs of drugs was seized in last week's raid,
bringing the total haul from there this year to 1,543lbs,
said Inspector Lauridson of Copenhagen police. Yet the
dealers keep only a single day's stock in hand.
A self-imposed ban on hard drugs, brought in 20 years ago,
has held, however. All over Christiana are colourful murals
and signs making the commune's opposition to hard drugs clear.
Only residents of Christiania, who have to be admitted by a
consensus vote of its governing council, are allowed by the
commune to sell drugs on Pusher Street. The police claim
dealers run multi-million pound businesses, have links all
over Europe and are involved in hard drugs trafficking.
Anti-drugs officers in Norway and Sweden complain the
commune acts as a base for people importing drugs into their
Police say the Christiania sellers buy their drugs from
motorbike gangs -- the rival Hell's Angels and Bandidos --
who dominate much of Denmark's organised crime. Recently
gangs from Copenhagen's new ethnic minorities, have tried to
muscle in. 'Turkish, Arab and Balkan figures have joined
forces and given the motorbike gangs an ultimatum. That's
why the Pusher Street dealers are well armed,' said Lauridson.
He said police raids often provoked a rash of robberies. 'We
take their stock. They are left with debts to the biker
gangs. If they don't pay there is serious violence.'
Even within Christiania, where around 700 adults and 300
children live, there is controversy over Pusher Street. Many
Christianites say they would be happy for Christiania's role
as a haven for soft drugs consumption to end.
'Let's face it, it would be a far more interesting place if
half the people here weren't centred on drugs,' said Lykke,
who has lived in Christiania for 24 years. Lykke wants a
compromise -- maybe the creation of licensed coffee shops,
as in Amsterdam. He points out that hundreds of thousands of
Danes smoke cannabis, despite it being illegal, and
describes Pusher Street as a 'bad solution to a stupid
situation'. Others say that the drugs distract attention
from the true focus of Christiana -- community, democracy,
shared property, sustainable development and recycling,
social welfarism and 'peace'.
Such opinions are not welcomed by those who profit from
drugs. One seller on Pusher Street, who was born in
Christiania, said he and his fellow tradesmen would battle
to save their livelihoods. 'We will fight peacefully at
first,' he said, standing beneath a board covered in
photographs of plainclothes policemen sent to infiltrate the
commune. 'We offend politicians just by existing.'
Like almost everyone in Christiana, the 31-year-old, who
refused to give his name, said that the state was using the
drugs issue as an excuse to grab one of the capital's most
valuable tracts of land. 'They just want more luxury flats
for the rich,' he said. 'I built my own house here. I have
two young children who are third generation Christianites. I
am not going to give all that up without a struggle.'
So the battle lines are drawn. The Christianites say they
have rights to the land they took 30 years ago and legal
status as a 'social experiment'. They point to the social
work they do with alcoholics and former junkies.
Preparations are in train for the annual Christmas dinner --
free food for thousands of down-and-outs.
Voters are divided. Polls show only 45 per cent back the
government's plan to 'normalise' Christiania.
Eva Schmidt, a law professor at Copenhagen University, says
the row reveals a Danish swing to the right and
individualism. 'The traditional Danish emphasis on the
social side of society is being replaced by a stress on
individual opportunity. There is less of a sense of
solidarity with one's countrymen, that supporting the weak
Despite the lights, the trees and the tourists buying
home-made plum chutney, Buddha chill-out CDs and quantities
of hash, there is little seasonal cheer in Christiania this
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