Editor's note: During a study trip of the Danish School of Journalism to Copenhagen, OneEurope author Maria Karnaukhova was asked to find three interesting stories to cover. The second largest tourist attraction of the Danish capital is Christiania, a self-proclaimed autonomous neighbourhood founded in 1971 by a group of hippies. When Maria visited the neighbourhood she was surprised to see lots of people smoking marijuana very openly, despite Christiania being situated in the vicinity of some of Copenhagen's main public authorities. That's when she knew she'd found the first topic for her investigation.What is Christiania?
Christiania was founded in 1971 when a group of hippies squatted abandoned military barracks. After 19 years of war with the police they were allowed to use the area and follow common rights. However, at the turn of a new millennium a new conservative government was formed. They wanted to bring Christiania in line with other districts within Copenhagen: as a matter of fact, to deprive them of their common rights. Now Christiania’s citizens possess half of all the buildings in the area and rent the other half as it’s under the government’s protection due to its historical value. They might have lost the battle for common rights but have won a big war for being accepted as a free commune.
The main attraction in Christiania
Christiania has its own set of rules: no cars, no violence, no weapons and in some places it is prohibited to take photos. This is because of another crucial fact – the possibility to buy cannabis openly.
As soon as you overstep the boarder stones, Christiania meets you with a strong smell of marijuana. You can find it in the Pusher Street – a drug market with about 20 stalls. The stalls are all appealingly named (for example, Hakuna Matata) and organised in such a way that you cannot actually see the seller. The bright lights shining give the sellers an opportunity to escape. As a symbol of Christiania, alongside three yellow circles on the red field, it surrounds you everywhere.
Task force Pusher Street
Indeed, drugs trade is illegal in Denmark. This contradiction creates
conflicts between Christiania and Copenhagen's police.
A targeted effort against the drug trade called Task force Pusher Street started on September 12th 2012.
However, Christiania does not seem to very much suffer from the police raids.
“This is more a matter of politics”, says Kirsten Larsen, the Head of Christiania press group. “The police controls Christiania like all other parts of Copenhagen but are more eager here because of the conservative government's position. On the other hand, they prevent the drug market from growing too much”.
According to her, in 2004 there were more than 35 stalls with marijuana.
“In our turn, as long as we have an open market of hash here you can be sure that hard drugs don't enter. The sellers respect our laws they take it seriously and are proud of the fact that there is a free hash market in Christiania. If you come to Pusher Street and ask for coke they will huff and kick you out. So, this is a kind of symbiosis between us and the police”.
Under the heel of the police
What is more, Christiania's drug market exists because the police allow it do so, considers Claus Aaen, project manager at Misbrugsportalen, an NGO caring for drug addicts.
According to him, several years ago the police blocked Christiania for a while and closed the drug market. Then lots of small shops and single traders started to sell marijuana very openly. “Those days the police were not able to shut them all down because when you close one stall another comes out. For them it's easier to control one place like Christiania than lots of little shops”.
“I wouldn't be surprised if one will sell you hash here on the corner”
From his point of view, the police efforts are not efficient against drug traffic in general due to the great demand of drugs and a huge profit from selling them. “You can buy them everywhere. I would not be surprised if one will sell you hash here on the corner”.
It is estimated that powerful gangs control the majority of drug traffic in Denmark. Christiania is not an exception, believes the police. According to them, Pusher Street is under influence of the biker gang Hells Angels (HA). They suspect the HA to be responsible for the drugs delivery and collecting money – no band members are visibly engaged in selling. Each day 300 people sell 1.5 kg of hash under the HA protection.
How Danes treat drugs
A last study conducuted in 2010 by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug use shows that 33,000 Danes suffer from drug addiction with 11,000 of them consuming cannabis. In comparison with the year 2006 there was an increase of 6,000 people.
According to Claus Aaen, it is believed that taking drugs in techno areas is normal but the common attitude towards them is negative and Christiania does not change anything. “Danes do not think that the fact that you can go to Christiania and buy drugs openly makes it more acceptable. But if someone who is not usually smoking hash wants to try he won't go anywhere but to Christiania because it's easy. At the same time if there were no Christiania anymore there would be another way to buy drugs easily”.
Aaen also adds that young people are now more sensible. This is because drug education in schools has become more relevant and appropriate: now children are told about the different side effects of different drugs and they trust this information. “When I went to school we were told that all drug killed us. And then we saw people smoking hash who were still alive and OK and didn't believe what we had been told at school”.
Christiania, on the contrary, believes that smoking marijuana has become a very ordinary thing. “People now are tolerant about this issue because lots of them smoke and then get more relaxed about it”.
Legalization of drugs
Concerns about biker gangs, the trend of marijuana getting more common and increased knowledge about this issue has caused hot discussion about the legalization of drugs. It was the Social Democrats who had suggested doing it. However they didn't find the support from other parties and the question remained unanswered.
Christiania's cultural standard
Danes also believe Christiania is more than a free marijuana market.
There are several art galleries, 4 concert halls, lots of bars and restaurants. All that with the picturesque scenery attracts between 1 and 2 million tourists annually. “It's very good for us. In old times we had no jobs and were very dependent on the government. Now it's much better and we have no criminals and all that stuff which always follow drug trading. That's our cultural standard. Only people from far away are against us because they've never seen the real Christiania”.