Hash-Smokers' Heaven Gets Grounded
- 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
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
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
"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."
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