Christiania is 40 years old today. It is a community of 850 anarchists living in the heart of Copenhagen and living proof that there is an important distinction between anarchy and chaos. The residents claim self-governance from the rest of Denmark. The flag of Christiania was chosen because when the land was first squatted, there was a lot of red and yellow paint left behind by the military. Denmark has regulated the commune under a special law: the Christiania Law of 1989. It began when increasing numbers of young people faced homelessness. They took over the land, which had just been vacated by the military. The commune governs itself by consensus, rather than a formal democracy, and consequently has very few rules. The publicly stated rules include bans on cars, stealing, violence, guns, knives, bulletproof vests, hard drugs and bikers’ colors. There was a problem with biker gangs at one point but the spirit of the Christianites saw them off, despite the fact that the former were armed with AK47s and the latter relied on non violent persuasion. This precious community is a beacon of hope for us all.
They’ve had their problems, sure. There has been violence. What human society is entirely free of it? I visited the place myself in 1998. I didn’t learn much because I took all my prejudices with me. Although I wandered far beyond Pusher Street (where cannabis was openly traded) and along delightful lanes, I was too shy to knock on anyone’s door, as my guide book recommended, to ask what I should learn about the place. That sort of behaviour is taboo in our society but positively welcomed in Christiania. Since the jurisdiction of the Danish state did not run to the island, I bought some cannabis and adjourned to the pub to smoke it. The barman came over and told me off. “This is a pub“, he said, “you can smoke tobacco in here but not drugs.” I apologised profusely. I didn’t know the rules. “You can smoke it outside”, he said, “and I’ll look after your pint.”
We’re on the brink of a massive housing crisis in the UK. The recession is making lots of people homeless. There are lots of empty properties. Will our young people, who are most affected by the recession, take a leaf out of Christiania’s book? Meanwhile, over there, a ten day birthday party is beginning. Promises to be quite a bash.