Pubdate: Sat, 03 Sep 2016
Source: New York Times (NY)
Copyright: 2016 The New York Times Company
Author: Dan Bilefsky


With its open-air marijuana stalls festooned in psychedelic colors 
and its freewheeling, self-governing structure, the Christiania 
neighborhood in Copenhagen has been for decades emblematic of Danish 
liberalism and tolerance.

On Friday morning, however, a symbol of hippie hedonism came crashing 
down - at least temporarily.

At about 9 a.m., hundreds of residents began dismantling the drug 
market on Pusher Street in the heart of the city, where men in masks 
usually peddle marijuana and hashish from stalls. Video footage 
showed residents hauling away plants and using saws, drills and 
bulldozers to demolish the stands. Signs saying "no photography 
allowed" were ripped down.

The decision to tear down the market, which for decades has been a 
popular spot for curious tourists and Copenhagen residents alike, 
came after Mesa Hodzic, 25, a Danish citizen born in Bosnia who was a 
suspected drug dealer, shot two police officers and a bystander this 
week, according to the authorities. Both officers and the bystander survived.

The shootings occurred when officers tried to arrest him, the police 
said. Mr. Hodzic fled, and the police eventually confronted him on 
Thursday in a suburb of Copenhagen. Officers shot him when, they 
said, he resisted arrest. He died of his wounds on Friday.

Danish media outlets reported that Mr. Hodzic, who was not a 
Christiania resident, had links to an Islamic extremist group, 
according to the police.

The shutdown of Pusher Street was the culmination of simmering 
tensions between the Christiana commune and law enforcement 
authorities. Founded in 1971 by hippies who began squatting in 
abandoned military barracks, Christiana sprouted into a largely 
self-regulating community, where the police generally turned a blind 
eye to the sale of soft drugs like marijuana and hashish.

But criminal gangs and other drug dealers infiltrated the 
neighborhood in recent years, testing the patience of the police, 
Copenhagen residents from outside Christiania and some conservative 
politicians, who said the "anything goes" counterculture in 
Christiania had spiraled out of control. The drug trade in 
Christiania generates about $150 million in sales annually, according 
to the police.

The police first began to crack down on the Pusher Street market in 
2004, raiding the neighborhood. But organized criminal gangs and 
other drug dealers soon proliferated. In 2012, police once again 
ratcheted up their patrols in the area, culminating in six separate 
court cases against a total of 25 marijuana sellers.

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Politicians from across the political spectrum have long argued that 
Christiania should be better regulated, and on Friday many of them 
welcomed the demolition of the Pusher Street market. The country's 
center-right prime minister, Lars Lokke Rasmussen, wrote on Twitter: 
"Great Christiania. Hold on tight."

In a sign of solidarity with Christiania, a hashish stall was erected 
Friday in front of the Christiansborg Palace, where Parliament meets. 
Under Danish law, selling and buying soft drugs like marijuana and 
hashish is prohibited.

The justice minister, Soren Pind, said the shootings were a "wake-up 
call" for the inhabitants of Christiania. "This is an attack on all 
of us," he said, Politiken, a leading center-left Danish newspaper, reported.

While many politicians applauded the market's shutdown as a sign that 
illegal activities would no longer be tolerated, some Christiania 
leaders said they were determined that the ethos of self-regulation 
that has governed the neighborhood for so long should not be sacrificed.

"We have asked the police not to come," Hulda Mader, a spokeswoman 
for the commune told Politiken. "We will do this ourselves. This is 
about our honor."

"What has happened is unacceptable," she said, "therefore, we are 
cleaning up." Ms. Mader encouraged drug consumers to stay away from 
Pusher Street and to buy elsewhere.

Jakob Nielsen, an editor of Politiken, which has closely chronicled 
Christiania's ups and downs, said the demolition was both a seminal 
moment for the commune and a barometer of Danish tolerance.

"Even open-minded liberals like myself have become skeptical of 
Christiania, because what started as an experiment in a new form of 
living has become a closed society that excluded the outside world," 
he said in a telephone interview. "The shooting is a defining moment 
for Christiania. They need to decide if they can reinvent themselves 
- - or it can be shut down and the dream will be over."

He added, "Yuppies would only be too happy to turn the place into 
upmarket condominiums."

Some Copenhagen residents have complained that Christiania, despite 
its reputation as a self-declared center of tolerance, had itself 
become intolerant of modernity, including the need for public order. 
Tempers flared last year when Christiania's leaders refused to allow 
a new bike path to cut through the neighborhood.

Some local residents also said the area's lawlessness had made them 
feel uncomfortable in their own city, while young people eager to 
play Go Pokemon in Christiania have been told by drug dealers to put 
their phones away.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom