Pubdate: Sun, 31 Oct 2004
Source: San Francisco Chronicle (CA)
Page: A - 3
Copyright: 2004 Hearst Communications Inc.
Author: David King Dunaway, Chronicle Foreign Service


Denmark Out to Corral Commune

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 Drugs."

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 with hashish.

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

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 real

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

"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
negotiating team.

"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

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

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."
- ---
MAP posted-by: Richard Lake