Court: Copenhagen hippie haven belongs to Danish state

28th May 2009, Comments 0 comments

The ruling ends a legal challenge brought in November by squatters, who claim the enclave founded by hippies in 1971 is legally theirs and who want to protect its unique character.

Copenhagen -- The future of Copenhagen's "free city" of Christiania, a refuge for hippies and artists, looked bleak Tuesday after a court ruled the site belongs to the state and not to squatters.

The ruling ends a legal challenge brought in November by squatters, who claim the enclave founded by hippies in 1971 is legally theirs and who want to protect its unique character.

Christiania is home to some 1,000 hippies, artists, activists and misfits. There are restaurants, cafes, shops and some psychedelic-looking homes designed by residents and the area attracts more than a million visitors annually.

Residents insist they were given the exclusive right to use the area as they wish, but the Danish centre-right government has rejected that claim.

It wants to clean up the area, build housing and open it up to the general public, a move Christiania dwellers have resisted amid fears those changes would bring an end to the special atmosphere.

While the government has never sought to have the residents evicted or their homes removed, the court's decision means the "Christianites" must now to return to the negotiating table with Danish authorities to reach an agreement on opening up the enclave.

The court found "in favour of the state property board, the site belongs to the state," recalling that a 1978 Supreme Court ruling had declared that the Christiania dwellers had no special rights over the enclave.

Christiania was founded on September 26, 1971 when a band of guitar-laden hippies made an abandoned army barracks in central Copenhagen their home. They raised their "freedom flag" and named their new abode "Christiania, free city."

Its existence has been threatened since the arrival in power in 2001 of the Danish centre-right government, and it has been the scene of regular police raids and violent clashes, and even bloody settlings of scores between dealers.

In March 2004 police officially dismantled the hash market on Pusher Street, the site's most famed thoroughfare, estimating the soft drug market controlled by criminal biker gangs at one billion kroner (134 million euros, 174 million dollars) a year.

The same year, the Danish state terminated the enclave's user rights after residents refused to "normalise" Christiania and open it up to outsiders.

That decision infuriated Christiania residents and led to the legal challenge rejected by the Copenhagen court on Tuesday.

The ruling was met by shouts of protest and dismay among residents present in the courtroom and outside the court building, where they waved the Christiania red flag with three yellow dots and shouted "Long Live Christiania."

Their lawyer, Knud Foldschack, said he would advise them to lodge an appeal.

But, he added, that decision would be left to an extraordinary general assembly due to be held at Christiania on Tuesday evening.

Even if the residents were to lose their fight in a higher court, they would not be chased off the grounds.

"It is unthinkable that Christiania would cease to exist," he said.

"I don't think anyone thinks that the Christianites will be evicted from their homes," he said.

Finance Minister Claus Hjort Frederiksen, whose portfolio includes the management of Christiania, meanwhile issued a statement hailing the "clear ruling, which confirms the judicial foundations" of the enclave.

He urged the residents to "resume negotiations" with authorities on the future of the site.


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