While contemporary anarchists have for the past decade dreamt of establishing "temporary autonomous zones" free of outside authority, the residents of the Copenhagen neighborhood of Christiania have constructed a permanent autonomous zone that has flourished for the past three decades on what was once a Danish barracks and army base. The residents of Christiania have organized communally to provide for basic services and have long campaigned to keep hard drugs and violence out of the area, but Christiania is most well-known for its open hashish and marijuana markets, particularly along the aptly-named Pusher Street. But now, in the latest of a series of occasional attacks on the hippy haven over the years, conservative Danish politicians are vowing to end the commune's famously tolerant attitudes toward soft drugs -- and if they can't do that, to end the commune itself.
The move highlights a contradiction between Danish social reality and its cannabis laws. Denmark, along with Britain, has the highest levels of cannabis consumption on the continent. According to the latest survey by the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction, 34% of young adult Danes and 25% of all adult Danes have smoked cannabis. And while cannabis possession is a crime under Danish law, possession for personal use is rarely prosecuted. But parts of Danish society have a problem with smokers having someplace to obtain the weed.
"We can no longer tolerate the illegal and open cannabis trade that has become a part of everyday life out there," Conservative Party spokesman Helge Adam Moller told the Copenhagen Post on March 8. "If Christiania is allowed to survive, then it has to become as law-abiding as every other community in Denmark -- and if it doesn't, we'll close it down," he threatened.
And the Danish government is moving to do so. Last year, the center-left government led by the Social Democrats passed legislation that gave police the authority to close down what the Post called "hundreds of small 'hash clubs,'" and while Christiania has so far escaped unscathed, the political landscape has shifted. In elections last fall, the Social Democrat-led coalition lost control to a center-right coalition led by the Liberal Party, in alliance with the Conservatives. Now Moller and the Conservatives are calling for a reworking of the political framework that governs relations between the commune and the Danish state. Under Moller's plan, Christiana would have three weeks to remove all drugs and drug dealers or the law allowing the community to exist in peace from the authorities would be annulled.
A spokesperson for Christiania, a radically democratic "Free City" of about one thousand people on 60 acres in Copenhagen, blasted the Conservatives. "Instead of trying to criminalize the many thousands of customers who enjoy hash every day, why don't they consider legalizing it instead," Britta Lillesoe told the Post. It was a "knee-jerk reaction" from right-wing politicians, she said.
The conflict is not new. Founded by squatters and hippies who crawled through a fence onto an abandoned military base and set up shop in the early 1971, Christiania has alternately been tolerated by authorities and targeted by them. While conflicts have flared over taxation, the provision of services, and "slummification," much of the tension between the commune and the state has centered on drugs. In 1979, with hard drug use spiraling out of control and the state threatening to assert control, residents formed the Junk Blockade to evict all hard drug sellers and users.
Since then, the Christiania drug scene has largely centered on cannabis, but open sales of the drug have led to repeated clashes with police throughout the 1990s. The Danish government has repeatedly threatened to end the "Free City," and now another offensive is underway. Parliament will be discussing the future of Christiania next month, the Post reported.
But Christianites are well-schooled in defending their prerogatives no matter what the government does. A bit of history from the Free City's Moonfisher Coffeehouse provides some Christiania flavor: "The Moonfisher like all the other bars in Christiania had a really hard period in the end of the 80's beginning 90's, the government pressured Christiania to get the bars and restaurants registrated and to pay their taxes. We refused to agree having the good reason of not being government supported in our institutions like for example kindergartens or the garbage team. The battle raged back and forth for a little while and in the end the Moonfisher lost all stock and inventory and was forced to get registrated," the coffeehouse wrote on its web site. "From 1990 to 1993 Moonfisher had a liquor licence, but still problems with the police because of too much weed-smoking in the place. 1993 the government threatened to take our liquor licence if we didn't stop all the smokers in the cafe, but how can we run a coffeeshop in Christiania and not smoke, impossible. So we decided that they can take the licence and put it somewhere where the sun don't shine, we'd rather smoke than drink, and we have been a coffeeshop ever since."
(Visit http://www.christiania.org for much more information on the "Free City" and its history, inhabitants, politics, business and social life.)