The hash sellers of Denmark's famed Christiania Freetown dramatically burned their own stands on the community's Pusher Street Sunday afternoon. The self-immolating move came in response to increasing pressure from the Danish government to crack down on soft drug sales in the enclave, which has been an autonomous, self-governing community since hippies swarmed into an abandoned military base in downtown Copenhagen in 1971.
"The stalls with open hash-trade, which have caused one of the main conflicts between the free-state Christiania and the Danish government, have now been removed by the pushers themselves," said Christiania spokesperson Pernille Hansen in a statement Sunday. "The trade is now as visible, as anywhere else in the world, in street, parks and apartments where hash-trade is taking place. The only point where there will be no normalization is the continuing successful ban on hard drugs."
"What's happening in Christiania is that the people working in the open air market for cannabis in the middle of Christiania voluntarily demolished their improvised shops and redrew to the cafés and other places where they are expected to continue selling," said Hansen. "This is a strategic reply to the threat of the Danish government (a coalition of liberal and conservatives heavily influenced by the extreme right-wing) to use the drug issue as a justification to eradicate Christiania in order to build luxury apartments in the area. In spite of the fact that Christiania is Copenhagen's third most important tourist attraction, the government claims that the area could serve better as an object for property development. Recently, it has won a court case in the dispute, and since then, police raids against the cannabis market have been increasing."
"In Christiania, in the middle of a modern Western city, an alternative economy, society and life style has been created, which involves much more than only an alternative drug policy. It has survived several attacks from both illegal and legal interest groups, and although it has been forced to give up some of its ideals, it has also become an integrated part of the city and the region," the statement continued. "The cannabis market in Christiania is not the only provider in Denmark. As all over Europe, there are local providers everywhere. The percentage of regular cannabis consumption among the Danish population is one of the highest in Europe. What the Danish government is doing is fighting a war on drugs in the interests of big time capitalists."
Since its establishment three decades ago, Christiania has become a global counterculture icon, with its open cannabis sales, its psychedelic spirit, its radical democracy, and also for what it lacks: cars, police and government. Christiania residents banned hard drugs in 1979, and the Danish government regularized the 84-acre, 1000 strong community's status a decade later. While tensions between Christiania and the Danish state have risen and fallen over the years -- a 1976 effort to shut it down was countered by tens of thousands of anarchists from all over Europe -- the current Danish government announced last month that it could legally evict Christiania's residents, and that has raised alarms in the enclave and among its supporters worldwide.
"We don't want Pusher Street to be a lever for the government's illegal and amoral plans to close our Christiania," said the community in a statement. Police raids have been increasing in recent months, making a dent in Christiania's estimated $1.3 million in annual hash revenues and otherwise disrupting the Danish cannabis market.
But Danish police and the Liberal-Conservative government headed by Prime Minister Anders Rasmussen see no reason to let up the pressure just because the hash stands are gone. "The open sale of hashish continues and that means that we will continue as we always have done," Copenhagen police spokesman Flemming Steen told reporters Monday, promising to press the crackdown.
The latest crackdown is fully in line with the government's expressed policy since it took office in 2001, the first conservative government in Denmark in some 30 years. Prime Minister Rasmussen has promised to stop the open sales of hashish and to "normalize" the area by redeveloping it. "Any step toward legalizing Christiania is a good step," Rasmussen said in a televised interview last month.
"This is the first time the right wing has found its way to power since the 1960s," said Gert Nope of Fri Hampe (Free Hemp), a pro-cannabis Danish organization, "and they think they can make big money on redevelopment. There is also definitely a cultural element involved," he told DRCNet. "I also suspect, though I can't prove it yet, that the US government and Swedish prohibitionists are exerting some influence here now."
"All the millionaires want fine fancy apartments here, they want to park their fancy cars in front, they want to make Christiania a fashionable neighborhood," said Klaus Truxen of the Danish Hemp Party. "They don't talk about that; they talk about the drugs, but we know it will go step by step. First it's no pushers, then it's no illegal houses, then it's no Christiania. We don't trust the government," he told DRCNet.
"The Hemp Party supports Pusher Street because it is a protest against a stupid cannabis law," said Truxen. "We have members in Christiania. I use Pusher Street myself. It's a nice place to buy hash, and it is also free of hard drugs since they threw out the junkies all those years ago. The government is fucking conservative; it is run by a party of farmers," he fumed. "Christiania has always been a free town. I spent my youth here, it is a symbol of freedom, and there is much more to it than hash culture. There is theatre, culture, craftsmanship, there is free-thinking."
Christianians are plotting a survival strategy, said "mother of Christiania" Britte Lillesøe. "I've only been sleeping about three hours a night," Lillesøe told DRCNet. "We are having meetings, we will fight further, we are meeting with politicians, we will meet with the Lord Mayor of Copenhagen Friday," she said. None of the people who spoke with DRCNet expect an imminent confrontation. "The government doesn't want a confrontation," said Lillesøe. "They are a law and order government; they don't want to create disorder. We are in dialogue even with the rightists. The pushers were happy to tear down their stands, because it removed this excuse."
"What I expect is the government will let the police harass the pushers every now and then, usually once or twice a month until a government deadline passes in four months," augured Nope, "then they will occupy Pusher Street with hundreds of police until the pushers surrender -- they hope -- and while they're there they can start evicting some of the inhabitants as well. There could be some Pan-European planning for this going on right now, but it will probably be some months until the shit really hits the fan."
"It may get worse," conceded Lillesøe, "but we will stay. This is so strange. We banned hard drugs here in 1979 because prohibition made the crime come in. Our solution was to throw out the dealers, but we said cannabis was okay. It's a soft drug, so you can push it if you keep the hard drugs out. And we said you can sell it only on Pusher Street. It got bigger and bigger because nothing happened elsewhere. Now the right-wing government has closed hash clubs in Copenhagen, and the customers come here. I'm just an old hippie and we're just a little tiny place that tried to set the best example for ending prohibition," she said.
"The people love that we are here," Lillesøe continued. "Black sheep of all classes unite!" she laughed. "In this old barracks ground, this former ground for war, we create a more caring, more spiritual way of thinking. We keep the good of the hippie days. We are not hard-core left-wingers, we are not reds, we are hippies. There are many old hippie pushers here," she said. "They must be crazy to try to get rid of the pushers. I don't like my friends to be criminalized."
Visit http://www.christiania.org to learn more about Christiania. Visit http://www.hampepartiet.dk for information (in Danish) about the Danish Hemp Party.