In Anarchic Corner of Copenhagen,Police and Dealers Play Cat and Mouse
When a phalanx of Danish policemen in bulletproof vests crosses the boundary into Christiania Freetown, the hippie commune in the center of Copenhagen, many things happen at once.
There is urgent shouting. Lumps of hashish and bags of marijuana disappear into black vinyl sacks, which are then rolled up and thrown onto roofs, hidden under floorboards and stuffed into ingeniously camouflaged hidey-holes — inside hollow propane tanks or behind mirrors. The dealers themselves scatter, sneakers pounding.
By the time police officers reach the open-air hash market on Pusher Street, pistols at their hips, the scent of hash has been replaced by the scent of cinnamon rolls, and half the population is missing. Police march through, poking ineffectually at the drug-dealers’ empty stalls.
The officers, burly and heavily armed, survey the marketplace with their legs planted far apart, projecting dominance. But that is not the case. Within seconds of their departure, the bustling drug market reassembles itself and business resumes.
This dance has taken place several times a day this summer between the government of Denmark and Freetown Christiania, one of Europe’s longest-running utopian experiments.
The area was an abandoned military base in 1971 when squatters broke down the barricades and occupied 84 acres of land, declaring “a self-governing society” of artists and freethinkers. Denmark has allowed the commune to exist for nearly half a century, in violation of property laws, planning laws and drug laws.
Christiania is now one of Copenhagen’s biggest tourist attractions, the subject of a vast number of academic studies and a kind of living monument to Danish tolerance.
“If it had happened in Germany or France, the military would have shut it down,” said Jiesper Tristan Pedersen, an anthropologist and occasional resident of Christiania. “Danish policy back then was more gentle. They were irritated, they didn’t know what to do, but they didn’t want to use violence. A lot of people look at it this way, as Danish gentleness and politeness.”
The mood in Denmark has swung to law and order, though, in recent years. Urban housing projects have become the scene of increasing drug offenses and gang activity. And as anxiety rises, so does support for the anti-immigrant far right.
Conservative-leaning politicians have promised to shut down the Pusher Street drug trade, noting a jarring act of violence that occurred two years ago, when a dealer shot and injured two policemen. This summer has been tense.