Pubdate: Sat, 26 Jul 2003
Source: Guardian, The (UK)
Copyright: 2003 Guardian Newspapers Limited
Author: Sophie Arie


Denmark's new centre-right government has decided to clean up Christiania,
for 30 years a hippy haven

Walking through the totem pole-style gateway into Christiania, a familiar
smell hangs in the air. The pungent, earthy, unmistakable scent of marijuana
thickens along the leafy path to Pusher Street, where everyone, including
the local dog flat out in the middle of the road, seems to be affected by
the fumes.

Pusher Street, in the heart of this Copenhagen suburb, is Scandinavia's
largest open soft-drug market, a cobbled lane lined with about 15 stands
where dealers display lumps of top quality Moroccan hashish, bags of skunk
and masterfully rolled "super joints", all neatly labelled with handwritten
price tags like cakes at a summer fair.

"We have some of the best stuff you can get in Europe here. People come from
all over to buy here," said one.

Tourists and locals make special trips to this part of the Danish capital to
admire the goods, compare prices and generally breath in the "mellow"
atmosphere of an alternative community, staked out by flower-power hippies
more than 30 years ago and still going strong.

But all is not quite as chilled out as it seems. By a fence near the
entrance a young Christianite stands guard, walkie-talkie in one hand,
spliff in the other, watching for approaching police. The sale of drugs,
however soft, is illegal in Denmark and the new centre-right government has
a mission to shut down the hash market and clean up the area.

Narcotics police, backed by riot forces, have raided Pusher Street several
times in recent months, arresting any of the dealers who do not pack up and
run fast enough when the walkie-talkie alert goes out. They say they are
afraid there would be riots if they tried to close down the whole street.

But the hash market - thought to turn over at least UK UKP  100,000 a day -
is not the government's only gripe.

About 800 adults and several hundred children live in Christiania, many of
them running thriving arts and crafts businesses and dwelling in fairytale
wooden houses which they have built for themselves on the 34 hectares (85
acres) of green open land belonging to the ministry of defence a stone's
throw from the historic government buildings and modern office blocks of
central Copenhagen.

The Christianites describe themselves as "anarchists with rules". Since
their founders began squatting here in 1971 they have been tolerated as a
continuing "social experiment". The residents had a modus vivendi with
previous governments, paying for their electricity and water supplies and UK
UKP  625,000 rent to the ministry.

Each resident contributes to the communal running costs of Christiania's own
postal service, rubbish collection and children's nurseries. The community
has its own newspaper and radio station, cinema, rock bands, cafes and bars.

The Copenhagen police are not welcome, and in their absence, criminals are
tried by the community and punished by eviction.

But the new government says Christiania is an eyesore, a security hazard and
an unruly community which must be made to step into line with the rest of
the country. That has become one of its priorities.

It plans to close down the hash market, destroy 98 illegal buildings and
build or upgrade hundreds of others, to "give the area a lift".

"Christiania's days as a hotbed for hashish are numbered," the Conservative
party law and order spokesman, Helge Adam Moeller, said.

Ulrik Kragh, a deputy in the centre-right party Venstre, said: "Graffiti is
destroying everything there. We cannot turn a blind eye any more to this
dirty and dangerous area. It's like hanging out your dirty laundry for all
to see."

Half Christiania's economy was supported by the hashish trade, without which
it would collapse, he said. And illegal building in recent years was ruining
a national heritage area.


But the Christianites, many of whom have lived in the area formany years,
are not prepared to be "normalised" without a fight.

"They hate us because we like to be different," said Peter Post, a former
postman and the community's elected representative. "They say we are
naughty. But we have a right to live this way. Our houses are not illegal,
they are like flowers: where one grows, others sprout.

"They want to put state-of-the-art flats here, like in neighbouring
bourgeois areas. But they know we won't be able to afford that. How can we
old hippies afford to buy our own houses?

"I am afraid this is going to end in a confrontation. I'm not looking
forward to it. There are people here who are ready to barricade themselves
in and fight like the Red Indians in America to defend their homes."

Other residents say the new government does not know what it is taking on in
threatening to force Christiania to change.

"They are out of touch with reality," said Consolata Blanco, an Italian who
has been selling handmade leather shoes, at £600 a pair, in Christiania
for the past 28 years.

"They are likely to end up with 800 court cases. We are going to have fun."

Gitte Christensen, a blacksmith who makes metal ornaments and tools for
clients all over Denmark, said: "What this is all really about is the price
of land. This area has become too valuable - they cannot bear to let us poor
people live here any more."

Oscar Meldgaard of Nybolig Erhverv, one of Denmark's biggest estate agents,
said: "Christiania is on one of the most attractive areas of Copenhagen. It
is three kilometres from the centre of town, it's a green area on the
waterfront. Land there has more than doubled in value in the past five

Rumours abound that if Christiania convinced its dealers to abandon Pusher
Street, its staring match with the government might suddenly end. But the
dealers, who enjoy safety in numbers, show no sign of planning to retreat
from their thriving business.

And even residents who have nothing to do with the hash market argue that it
is part of their identity.

"The Danish people like us being here," said an ex-pusher and tour guide
calling himself "Joker".

"Everybody has a hippy inside them somewhere. We have never asked the
politicians to go barefoot, smoke hash and grow beards. But we have a right
to be different. We will not let them change us."
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