special to DRCNet by Valerie Vande Panne
The entrance to Christiania reads: "You are now leaving the E.U."
Christiania, the notorious autonomous zone in Copenhagen, Denmark known for its open market of marijuana, hashish and psychedelic mushrooms, recently suffered yet another raid on August 28, the eve of a European Union Informal Meeting of Ministers for Foreign Affairs.
"The EU meeting is completely unrelated to this sweep," said Ulrick Knudsen of the Minister for Foreign Affairs office. "I wasn't even aware there was a sweep."
The meeting covered EU expansion, the international criminal courts and issues in the Middle East. While the Foreign Affairs office denies knowledge of the sweep, residents of Christiania believe differently.
"They swept the day all the government people came to town for the EU meeting," observed a merchant from the part of town known as "Pusher Street."
The Danish Police were unavailable during several attempts to contact them for comment.
"We never know when they're coming," said a man who owns a shop in Christiania selling trinkets from Mexico to Tibet. "They come eight to ten times a year, every year. They don't come here, because they know I don't sell hash."
Marijuana, hash and mushrooms are enjoyed openly in Christiania. It is important to the people there that access and use of these items be open. Sentiment runs strong, however, against heroin and "hard drugs," which Christiania residents do their best to banish from the community. Signs declare "No Hard Drugs." One resident even said the fact they don't allow hard drugs is the most important part of the community. "About ten years ago, we went through and moved everyone out who did hard drugs, or told them they had to quit. Then, we drug tested them to make sure the ones that stayed didn't use hard drugs. We also set up support groups for them and for people who drink heavily. We try to be supportive, and help the alcoholics before they become homeless and jobless."
"Hard drugs" might not be tolerated within the free city of Christiania, but they are readily available in other parts of the city. Cocaine, ecstasy and methamphetamines are quite popular in other neighborhoods. The drug trade as a whole continues to be operated by black market gangs in both Christiania and Copenhagen, and occasionally there is gang related violence.
Christiania is an enclosed community -- there are only a few entrances and exits. The streets are filled with "the biggest dogs in Denmark," as a Copenhagen local observed -- pit bulls and mastiffs lounge in the shade and play fight in the streets. Unmarked guards at the perimeter keep watch 24 hours a day. The residents and guards in Christiania are connected to each other through two-way radios and a closed circuit computer network. The guards keep the entire town abreast of what's going on outside -- including when the police are about to raid.
Even with a bit of warning, people are still arrested and goods confiscated. Twenty-one people were arrested in the August 28 raid. Among the items seized, the people of Christiania seemed most upset by the loss of numerous display tables that were large and in many cases heated.
"There are undercover officers here all the time," said the merchant from Pusher Street. "They are always watching."
Due to the government surveillance, Christiania residents are not willing to give their names for publication. "It would not be good for us," says one resident. They also do not permit photos. Large signs declare "NO PHOTOS" -- and if one is seen taking photos, a resident of the community will smash the camera and escort the violator out of the town.
Sean Bega, of DC Courier in Washington DC, was visiting Christiania the day of the raid. "It seemed civilized compared with what goes on in the US. It was more like they were saying: 'We just want to remind you we're allowing this to happen. No hard drugs, and keep the rest in here.' It's like there is a fine line, and the police want them to remember not to cross it."
Raids in Christiania are quite different then in the US. The police come in with shields. They do not draw their guns. Tourists and young people throw rocks and stones at the police, and the police have no reaction.
Though the police are relatively nonviolent, the experience of being raided, possessions confiscated and people arrested takes its toll. "Even though we are a free city, the continuous raids make it hard for us to relax," said a young man who grew up in Christiania.
The city is filled with some of the most beautiful graffiti artwork in the world. Some of it portrays their view of the police as death. Most of the art breathes life and color into the community.
One day after the August 28 raid, it was business as usual. Merchants had their supply, and tourists and residents of Copenhagen were strolling the quiet streets eagerly demanding their goods. Searching for a sunny spot, to sit, and relax.
Visit http://www.berlingske.dk/artikel:aid=209688/ for video footage of the raid. Visit http://www.christiania.org for information about the community published by its members. Visit http://www.drcnet.org/wol/228.html#christiania for past DRCNet coverage of Christiania.