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End is nigh for the commune that kept hippie dream alive

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It's Christmas in Christiania. There are trees outside the meeting house, a
Santa near the commune's archives and above the array of Moroccan, Afghan or
Lebanese cannabis resin, are strings of fairy lights.

But the people of Christiania, a 30-year-old self-governing commune in
central Copenhagen, are far from jolly. There is a sense of unease in the
chill, damp air that drifts in off the Baltic and the North Sea. For the
1,000 strong 'alternative community' knows this Christmas may be its last.

Ever since local hippies, performance artists and homeless people seized a
complex of old military barracks and refused to co-operate with the state 32
years ago, conservative politicians have sought to close Christiania down.
Now, for the first time in Denmark's recent political history, an alliance
of the commune's harshest political opponents has a majority in parliament.
A law will be passed within months in effect ending the commune's de facto
autonomy. Eviction notices will be issued shortly afterwards.

The controversy has split Denmark. Critics of the government say the
right-wingers and their supporters are reacting 'like Pavlov's dogs' against
anything that smacks of traditional Danish leftism. 'From sustainable power
to welfarism to immigration, they are fighting the battles of the Seventies
all over again,' said Ole Lykke, the editor of Christiania's own newspaper.

This is admitted by Adam Moller, a former special forces soldier and
conservative MP, whose party is in alliance with the hard-right Danish
People's Party. 'We have been too tolerant and too liberal for too long in
this country. No one in Denmark should be beyond the law. There is a limit
and Christiania is past that limit,' he said.

The main grievance of Moller and his colleagues is that Christiania, which
is a no-go area for Copenhagen's police, has become a haven for drug
dealers. No one denies drugs are on sale in the 840-acre waterside enclave
in flagrant defiance of strict Danish laws. Last week, 24 hours after a
major police raid, The Observer found a dozen stalls open on 'Pusher Street'
in the centre of Christiania. At each, customers, predominantly young
locals, browsed a range of different resins and pre-rolled joints. Prices
ranged from 20 kroners (=A32.20) for joints containing 'home-grown' hashish=
to
40 kroners for those made with powerful stuff from Afghanistan. Nearby
stalls sold drugs paraphernalia.

Many of the drugs purchased are smoked in Christiana itself. The sprawling
complex is full of cafes and terraces where, all year round, Copenhagen's
young come to smoke. There are restaurants with a city-wide reputation where
local literati sit down to =A350-a-head meals and have a smoke with their
post-prandial coffee. There is a sports club, with the motto, 'You'll never
smoke alone'. Christiana is also a massive tourist attraction, visited by
750,000 people each year. In the summer its cobbled streets are thronged
with visitors from all over Europe, some drawn by the drugs, some by the
thriving music scene, some by both.

More than 66lbs of drugs was seized in last week's raid, bringing the total
haul from there this year to 1,543lbs, said Inspector Lauridson of
Copenhagen police. Yet the dealers keep only a single day's stock in hand.

A self-imposed ban on hard drugs, brought in 20 years ago, has held,
however. All over Christiana are colourful murals and signs making the
commune's opposition to hard drugs clear.

Only residents of Christiania, who have to be admitted by a consensus vote
of its governing council, are allowed by the commune to sell drugs on Pusher
Street. The police claim dealers run multi-million pound businesses, have
links all over Europe and are involved in hard drugs trafficking. Anti-drugs
officers in Norway and Sweden complain the commune acts as a base for people
importing drugs into their countries.

Police say the Christiania sellers buy their drugs from motorbike gangs -
the rival Hell's Angels and Bandidos - who dominate much of Denmark's
organised crime. Recently gangs from Copenhagen's new ethnic minorities,
have tried to muscle in. 'Turkish, Arab and Balkan figures have joined
forces and given the motorbike gangs an ultimatum. That's why the Pusher
Street dealers are well armed,' said Lauridson.

He said police raids often provoked a rash of robberies. 'We take their
stock. They are left with debts to the biker gangs. If they don't pay there
is serious violence.'

Even within Christiania, where around 700 adults and 300 children live,
there is controversy over Pusher Street. Many Christianites say they would
be happy for Christiania's role as a haven for soft drugs consumption to
end.

'Let's face it, it would be a far more interesting place if half the people
here weren't centred on drugs,' said Lykke, who has lived in Christiania for
24 years. Lykke wants a compromise - maybe the creation of licensed coffee
shops, as in Amsterdam. He points out that hundreds of thousands of Danes
smoke cannabis, despite it being illegal, and describes Pusher Street as a
'bad solution to a stupid situation'. Others say that the drugs distract
attention from the true focus of Christiana - community, democracy, shared
property, sustainable development and recycling, social welfarism and
'peace'.

Such opinions are not welcomed by those who profit from drugs. One seller on
Pusher Street, who was born in Christiania, said he and his fellow tradesmen
would battle to save their livelihoods. 'We will fight peacefully at first,'
he said, standing beneath a board covered in photographs of plainclothes
policemen sent to infiltrate the commune. 'We offend politicians just by
existing.'

Like almost everyone in Christiana, the 31-year-old, who refused to give his
name, said that the state was using the drugs issue as an excuse to grab one
of the capital's most valuable tracts of land. 'They just want more luxury
flats for the rich,' he said. 'I built my own house here. I have two young
children who are third generation Christianites. I am not going to give all
that up without a struggle.'

So the battle lines are drawn. The Christianites say they have rights to the
land they took 30 years ago and legal status as a 'social experiment'. They
point to the social work they do with alcoholics and former junkies.
Preparations are in train for the annual Christmas dinner - free food for
thousands of down-and-outs.

Voters are divided. Polls show only 45 per cent back the government's plan
to 'normalise' Christiania.

Eva Schmidt, a law professor at Copenhagen University, says the row reveals
a Danish swing to the right and individualism. 'The traditional Danish
emphasis on the social side of society is being replaced by a stress on
individual opportunity. There is less of a sense of solidarity with one's
countrymen, that supporting the weak benefits everyone.'

Despite the lights, the trees and the tourists buying home-made plum
chutney, Buddha chill-out CDs and quantities of hash, there is little
seasonal cheer in Christiania this Christmas.

Pubdate: Sunday, December 21, 2003
Source: Observer, The (UK)
Contact: letters@observer.co.uk
Website: Observer | The Guardian
Author: Jason Burke