22 September 2005 Edition

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Danish social experiment under threat

Christiania is an autonomous Danish community established 33 years ago following the civil occupation of an unused area and is seen by many an unparalleled example of entrepreneurship and innovation.

The way that Christiania organises itself is essentially at the heart of this socio-political experiment. People's lives there are based on common sense rather than on laws. There are a few prohibitions, however, no hard drugs; no weapons; no violence and no trading with buildings or residential areas. Its strong social network has led to an improved quality of life and a safety-net for inhabitants. The elderly and infirm are taken care of by neighbours and the Citizens Council, the ultimate ruling body of Christiania. The name indicates the fact that this is the forum where all Christianites discuss common problems.

Christianites have the opportunity to live a socially active and responsible existence with control of their own lives. It is a community that has functioned with complete independence from the Danish Government. However, it seems that the new right-wing Danish administration is set to destroy this example of active democracy and citizenship.

On Wednesday 7 September about 200 riot police raided part of the self-administered municipality of Christiania in Copenhagen. In a huge operation, police made over 100 arrests ad there are reports of injuries. Most have been charged with not following police orders.

If the Danish Government has its way, everybody in Christiania will have to register their personal right of property concerning the residency. Individual Christianites will be given the right to buy their own apartment or house, establishing the concept of private property — a fundamental clash with the collective right of property that exists in Christiania.

The latest developments are also seen as an attempt to 'bribe' Christianite to accept closure through presenting the possibility of making quick money as property speculators. After privatisation will come the demolition of buildings and the construction of new, 'normal' housing — later to be sold to the highest bidder. However, trade unions representing 20,000 construction workers have already announced they will not participate in the destruction of Christiania.

If the property speculators get their way, Christianites can buy their own property from the state and all empty buildings will be be sold at market prices.

All of this will mean the end of collective leadership in Christiania, the best functioning local democracy in Denmark and one of the country's greatest tourist attractions. It will also mark an end to the special social function Christiania has performed in relation to many of the 'offbeat' characters who live in and around this part of the city.


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