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Hash-Smokers' Heaven Gets Grounded

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  • Dan Clore
    News & Views for Anarchists & Activists: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/smygo Hash smokers heaven gets grounded Denmark out to corral commune by David King
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 2, 2004
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      News & Views for Anarchists & Activists:

      Hash smokers' heaven gets grounded
      Denmark out to corral commune
      by David King Dunaway
      [SF] Chronicle Foreign Service
      Sunday, October 31, 2004

      Copenhagen, Denmark -- Europe's longest-lasting experiment
      in self-governing anarchy may soon be no more.

      The flag, red with yellow dots, still flies over the Free
      State of Christiania, and its marching band, the Women's
      Guard, totters along the unpaved streets: two steps forward,
      one step sideways.

      But after 33 years as a hash smokers' sanctuary -- with its
      own radio station, newspaper, clinic, bakery, post office
      and open-air hashish market -- this extended commune of
      nearly a thousand people, more commonly known as
      Christiania, finds the normally tolerant Danish government
      breathing down its neck.

      Two months ago, the Moonfisher Cafe, a Christiana landmark,
      was busted by police after the Danish parliament raised the
      fine in June for smoking hash in public to $90 and ordered
      clubs where it was smoked to be shut down. But the barman
      had the presence of mind to call Jacob, the free state's
      disc jockey, who arrived with his music, transforming the
      cafe into an official "cultural event," which by law has to
      be left alone.

      Christiania was bolstered, at least morally, when 10,000
      people marched earlier this month on Denmark's parliament to
      protest Law 205, a much more serious threat to the survival
      of the Free State. Under the legislation, which took effect
      July 1, residents long used to living freely would have to
      register themselves and their homes with the government.

      Christiania, which is divided into 12 neighborhoods where
      residents make decisions by consensus at general meetings,
      arose almost by accident. In 1971, on a small green island
      across the harbor from Copenhagen, dozens of young Danes
      tore a hole in a fence at an abandoned military base and
      decided to stay.

      The counterculture Head magazine published a story about it,
      headlined "Immigrate on the Number 8 Bus Line," and hippies
      from all over Denmark took the hint. They came with their
      communes and families and built houses shaped like bananas,
      butterflies and flying saucers. Their motto: "Say No to Hard

      While they were saying no -- even sending action squads to
      evict those who brought in cocaine, heroin or speed -- they
      emphatically said "yes" to marijuana. An open-air bazaar
      displayed quarter-pound chunks of hash resembling baking
      chocolate, cookie jars full of tiny cannabis buds -- about
      $10 a gram -- and piles of freshly baked "space cake" laced
      with hashish.

      Earlier this year, the hashish market was closed down. Now,
      customers wander down alleys to make their scores and
      patronize underground hash clubs -- which also sell hard drugs.

      "We know there's a market, but we don't know where it has
      gone," a police official told the Copenhagen Post last month.

      Officers could have asked their soccer buddies, because the
      police team plays (and usually beats) the Christiania soccer
      team, whose motto is "You'll never smoke alone." And,
      despite the crackdown, the effect of the law remains murky.
      One cafe has a sign requesting patrons not to smoke hash; a
      few hundred yards away, another has a sign insisting that
      everyone has the right, if not the duty, to smoke it.

      Christiania has a few simple rules, which are displayed
      prominently on walls: no cars, no hard drugs and no
      violence. Banishment and bad publicity are the only
      enforcement tools. As idealistic as Christiania is, however,
      the chief attraction that drew half a million visitors
      annually was the Junk-Free Hash Market.

      Some Christianites were glad to see it go. "It was fine in
      the old days, when we smoked a lot of hash -- too much
      hash," said one member of a Buddhist commune who did not
      want to give his name. "But then the motorcycle gangs got
      involved, and there's violence. The police were right to
      close it down."

      Indeed, Christiania has seen better days. Many of its early
      citizens have moved out. Teenagers who grew up there and
      can't find a decent place of their own are jostling with old
      communards who rattle around 30-foot-wide living rooms.
      Income to run Christiania is limited, because the residence
      fee is just $200 per month, and some of its denizens refuse
      to pay, either on principle or out of stinginess. This year,
      the Free State is running a $300,000 deficit, just like a
      real government.

      The Danish government is now determined to "normalize"
      Christiania, in the words of Prime Minister Anders Fogh
      Rasmussen, who heads the first conservative government in
      Denmark in about 30 years.

      While the rest of the country is minutely mapped and
      managed, little is actually known about the 600-acre
      territory, beyond a few aerial photos of the former naval
      base. No one seems to know how many houses have plumbing,
      how big they are or who lives in them.

      Under Law 205, proposed by Rasmussen's government and agreed
      to by most of the parties in parliament, Christiania's
      denizens would have to register themselves and their
      lodgings, remove buildings from certain historic ramparts
      and eventually run the place along the lines of the Danish
      political system instead of their own.

      Christianites, aware they are living in one of the last
      undeveloped, woodsy areas near old Copenhagen's core, are
      suspicious of the new law. Among the ideas suggested by
      Conservative members of parliament for Christiania is to
      turn it over to real estate developers. As many as 300
      apartments are planned, in part to accommodate those
      displaced when houses are removed from the historic ramparts.

      "The state wants to sell Christiania, which is now worth
      over a billion kroner ($150 million). That's at the root of
      the controversy," said Jeppe Storbech, one of Christiana's
      negotiators with the Danish government.

      "Status quo would be the best, but that's not going to
      happen. Changes are coming. We have our own plan, a fund
      that would allow us to buy Christiania from the government
      and run it ourselves."

      Other plans call for privatizing Christiania to offer
      residents the opportunity to buy property there or allowing
      a public company to collect rent for the government.

      Talks appear to be going well, according to the Christiania
      negotiating team.

      "The parties are not so far apart," says Rikke Ritter, who
      is in charge of the Finance Ministry's task force on
      Christiania. "This is the saltwater injection that woke up
      Christiania after they had been living in their little
      houses and talking one-to-one. They should be thankful."

      While much of its romance and idealism have faded,
      Christiania still has many defenders, and it is not at all
      certain that the government will win the battle to reassert
      some control over this somewhat zany city state. The last
      time the government tried to shut down the enclave, in 1976,
      it ignited a storm of protest by anarchists all over Europe.

      Said longtime neighbor Trine Skovgaard, who lives across the
      street from Christiania: "Shutting that place down would be
      like tearing out the wild, savage heart of Denmark."

      Page A -- 3

      Dan Clore

      Now available: _The Unspeakable and Others_
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      *anti*-political statement. The symbol for *anarchy*!"
      -- Batman, explaining the circle-A graffiti, in
      _Detective Comics_ #608
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