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Last Updated: Friday, 19 March, 2004, 03:10 GMT
Storming Denmark's drugs stronghold
By Neil Arun
BBC News Online

Danish police chief Kai Vittrup misses Iraq - he has come home from the "war on terror" to wage the war against drugs.

Danish police in action
Peace, love... and police: A Christiania suspect is arrested

"Mostly very friendly people," he says of the Iraqis he was training to police the town of Basra.

Back in Copenhagen this week, the atmosphere was less welcoming.

Mr Vittrup has just led a spectacular crackdown against the drug dealers of Christiania, the infamous neighbourhood that has functioned as an autonomous "state within a state" for some 30 years.

Previous police expeditions into this hippie enclave were beaten back by crowds pelting officers with Molotov cocktails and stones.

Some 200 officers took part in this week's operation, and were greeted by barricades and booing residents.

Their 10-hour-long incursion into Christiania resulted in 48 arrests - almost all for the possession or sale of cannabis, a drug banned in Denmark.

Mr Vittrup says the suspects will face trial and possible prison sentences of up to six years.

Dawn raid

After decades of defiance, it seems Christiania is finally being brought to heel.

Tractor at work in Christiania
The police targeted dealers in the notorious 'Pusher Street'

Police believe this week's raid has smashed a local cannabis economy with an estimated annual worth of $80 million.

With stakes that high, Mr Vittrup knows the dealers will soon be looking for ways to revive their trade.

But they will not find it easy - police claim their intelligence and surveillance network in Christiania has never been stronger.

Which is why, says Mr Vittrup, there are no plans for a permanent, visible police presence in Christiania.

"We have no wish to be seen as an occupying force," he says, citing recent experiences in Iraq.

It may already be too late for that, however, according to some in Christiania.

For years, there has been a ceasefire between the state and Christiania
Jes Fabricius Moeller, historian

Belinda, a worker at the Café Nemoland, describes this week's police raid in terms more commonly used for urban counter-terrorism operations.

"They came at five in the morning," she told BBC News Online. "They woke people up and took them to the station. They took away TVs, property. Of course, they also made some mistakes."

Property anomaly

Belinda blames Denmark's conservative government for the crackdown - she says they are acting on an old vendetta against the hippies and leftists who created this enclave.

But for Danish historian Jes Fabricius Moeller, the problem with Christiania runs deeper than this government.

Map of Copenhagen

He points to the rising value of land in overcrowded Copenhagen, citing it as a potential factor behind the crackdown. Situated amongst canals and greenery, barely five minutes from the centre of the capital, Christiania is prime real estate.

Official policy, says Mr Moeller, is "to reinstate the logic of private property".

"If you live on expensive land, you have to pay for it."

He says it could be this - as well as the law and order issue - that has driven the recent crackdown.

"The police have always hated Christiania," he says. "It represents a challenge to the state's monopoly over the use of force."

Biker 'muscle'

He told BBC News Online of how left-wing activists in the early 1970s rallied to occupy land vacated by an army base.

I am confident there will be more trouble in Christiania - but no more than we can handle
Kai Vittrup, Copenhagen's chief of uniformed police

There they founded the "free town" of Christiania with two objectives in mind. These, according to Mr Moeller, were "the creation of a society where there was no private property and no instruments of political violence - in other words, no police."

Denmark's government of the time granted the commune a degree of autonomy. A deal was later struck, whereby the squatters could lead lives free from official interference, as long as they paid their taxes and utility bills.

"For years, there has been a ceasefire between the state and Christiania," says Mr Moeller.

Police in Christiania
Police think they will have the last laugh in the war against drugs

The sale of cannabis was tolerated - much of it controlled by Hells Angel-style biker gangs, who, says Mr Moeller, acted as "muscle" for the hippies and political idealists.

Meanwhile, the hippies scrupulously refused to exploit their autonomy by entering the lucrative trade in harder drugs such as cocaine and amphetamines.

The head of Copenhagen's narcotics police, Ole Wagner, confirms this. He told BBC News Online hard drugs have never been a problem in Christiania.

Still troubled

But elsewhere in Denmark, as in Europe at large, cocaine use is rising.

Mr Wagner and his colleagues are confident they can tackle the Danish drug habit, now that Christiania's dealers have been crushed.

"We used to assemble a team of 150 officers just to enter Christiania," says Mr Vittrup.

That manpower, he says, is now free to take on the city's other dealers in 15 teams of 10 officers each.

"I am confident there will be more trouble in Christiania - but no more than we can handle," he says.

Belinda from the Café Nemoland disagrees.

"It is too expensive for the police to keep this up," she says. "I have been coming to Christiania for 23 years. We have time on our side."

Lessons from Danish prisons
02 Jul 03 |  Europe
Country profile: Denmark
15 Feb 04 |  Country profiles


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