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.
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.
By Dan Bilefsky - The NY Times/Sept. 2, 2016
Photo: Jens Norrgaard Larsen, eu press photo
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