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A brief history of Freetown Christiania, the self-governing society in Denmark

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Since 1971 Copenhagen has played host to Freetown Christiania, a self-proclaimed autonomous neighbourhood where a culture of 'hippie' commune-living prevails and cannabis is bought and sold nearly uninterrupted by the Danish police, who are unwilling to enter the district.

Army barracks have stood on the land now occupied by the commune since 1617. After over three hundred years of service they fell out of use in the wake of the Second World War and were eventually abandoned in the late 1960s.

In 1971, with the free love movement in full swing a group led by journalist Jacob Ludvigsen became the first generation of Christianites, aiming to build a society from scratch while making use of pre-existing infrastructure.

Image by: Локомотив, check it out here.

Ludvigsen co-wrote the Christiania mission statement, which reads:

“The objective of Christiania is to create a self-governing society whereby each and every individual holds themselves responsible over the wellbeing of the entire community. Our society is to be economically self-sustaining and, as such, our aspiration is to be steadfast in our conviction that psychological and physical destitution can be averted.”

Due to the relaxed attitudes to drugs upon which the commune was built, problems began to occur in its initial years. Use of hard drugs in the area led to ten deaths in a year from 1978 to 1979 and many residents came to the conclusion that things could not continue as they were.

An attempt to co-operate with the police was attempted and failed, when the officers intended to target serious narcotics instead focussed their efforts on cannabis sales alone. A group of Christianites then undertook what is now considered one of the greatest achievements of the community´s history: the ´Junk Blockade´ of 1979.

Image by Franklin Heijnen, check it out here.

In 1979 for 40 days and nights residents patrolled ´The Arc of Peace´, the dishevelled building where most of the hard drugs were sold and consumed, and gave an ultimatum to anyone they found doing just that – to give it up entirely or to leave Christiania for good. In the end they were successful in forcing the 'pushers' out of the district, and many users were successfully admitted to rehabilitation.

From this time the community has, understandably, had an uneasy relationship with the Danish authorities. Police and government alike in Copenhagen have made multiple attempts to do away with the settlement, through drugs raids, “normalization” laws and political spin campaigns.

In spite of it all, the commune lives on. It would seem that the spirit of Christiania is capable of withstanding anything that may come its way, and so even in light of a recent shooting, which highlighted the issues still facing the district, if one thing is certain it is that its days are not yet done.

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