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2009 Copenhagen Climate Summit Fears Green Christiania Squat Nearby

2009 Copenhagen Climate Summit Fears Green Christiania Squat NearbyStefanie Marsh

The Danish government will be cracking down on the Christiania squatter camp despite its green credentials

Less than two weeks before the start of the UN’s climate summit in Copenhagen, a counter-cultural enclave in the heart of the capital has again been attracting the attention of the Danish authorities.

Christiania, the sprawling commune that clings limpet-like to 32 hectares of prime property in the centre of Copenhagen, has been an anarchist stronghold and municipal headache ever since a group of squatters seized a former military barracks there in the late 1960s.

Since the squat is technically illegal, by rights this part of Christianshavn should long ago have been converted into apartments. Instead this is where a population of more than 700 bikers, hippies, skaters, drug dealers, artists, anarchists, punks, activists, strays and vagrants live in a kind of organised chaos, pariahs to the Danish People’s Party, an increasingly popular and influential far-Right group that says Christiania is dangerous and want to see it demolished. It is feared that the dilapidated “state within a state” will form a mecca for the thousands of anti-globalisation protesters who are expected to descend on Denmark in the second week of December.

Already nervous about unrest, the Danish Government is rushing new laws through parliament to extend police powers and impose tougher penalties for civil disobedience. Brian Mikkelsen, the Justice Minister, has stated that anybody found to be “inhibiting police work” will be jailed for 40 days rather than fined. The new laws would also allow police the power to detain people for 12 hours even when no crime had been committed, and raise fines for failing to disperse from a demonstration to more than £350.

“I fear it’s a slippery slope,” the historian Jes Fabricius Møller told The Times. “We don’t have a strong awareness of citizens’ rights in this country.”

Mr Møller added that the Liberal-Conservative Government had for a long time been engaged in an ideological crusade against Christiania.

It is an irony that seems to be lost on the Danish police and politicians alike, considering the subject matter of the forthcoming conference: that Christiania has always been at the vanguard of Denmark’s environmental movement.

Its inhabitants use composting toilets connected to individual organic water-treatment systems, run their homes on solar power and aim to reuse 100 per cent of the community’s waste. The area is also a car-free zone that boasts a relatively lucrative cottage industry in bicycles.

Christiania has attracted mostly negative press attention in recent years because of drugs raids by police in “Pusher Street” — an area of the commune where cannabis is still sold openly from market stalls — and riots that have resulted from repeated attempts by the authorities to demolish the buildings within the commune; but it is a second irony that Christiania has become the second most visited spot in Copenhagen after the Tivoli gardens. A million tourists come here every year, school groups among them.

It is not impossible, given the proximity of the summit venue to the squatter centre, that delegates at climate change conference will find themselve strolling along Christiania’s dirt roads, inhaling the heavy scent of marijuana.

“We consider Christiania as way ahead of what is being discussed at COP15,” Thomas Ertman, the commune’s press co-ordinator, told The Times, “We’re looking forward to showing what we have to offer.”

Naomi Klein, the left-wing writer, caused shudders recently by saying that environmental activists were planning to be “very disobedient” at the summit. Closer to the truth, in Christiania at least, is that they are likely to be very disorganised.

In Christiania plans for the summit are still in their infancy. Spearheading the plans is Britta Lillasoee, a friendly and dynamic long-term resident of Christiania who intends to run an alternative From Bottom To Top conference for “ordinary people”.

Her two-week programme will run alongside the official summit. Topics under discussion will include sustainable building, waste and design, social ecology and conflict resolution.

When The Times visited, a stonemason outside her house was carving gravestones that will be erected to represent, she said, the “burying of egoism, or the burying of coal reserves back in the ground”.

Though Ms Lillasoee’s aims may seem modest and eccentric, she said that her alternative summit was more likely to initiate real change.

“We have been living environmentally for years. We can teach by example,” she said.

Like most of the inhabitants of Christiania, she retains her belief that the politicians who will be fleshing out deals at the climate-change conference have only their countries’ commercial interests at heart.