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Denmark Wins Its Battle Against Its Free Living Commune

Zapatista mural in Christiania
Zapatista mural in Christiania
Kethevane Gorjestani
Luis Lema

COPENHAGEN - It's party time in Christiania, a neighborhood of the Danish capital, Copenhagen. Hundreds have gathered to listen to Sussie & Leo, a crazy duet that plays old rock and roll hits with a certain touch of self-mockery. "I'm an absolute fan," says Inge, a fifty-something-year-old woman with blue hair. "This group is part of our youth. And yes, they're playing for free, as friends. When I think that they signed a one-million-Danish-krone contract (130,000 euros) to sing for the bourgeois of Skagen, it makes me love them even more."

Despite Inge's sarcasm, Christiania has just become more like Skagen, an upscale seaside town 500km north of Copenhagen where the upper class gather. For the past several weeks, the world's most famous "free city" has been in turmoil. After 40 years of conflict and threats, resistance and talks, the Danish state has finally won the battle. Christianites were forced to pay up and buy most of the buildings that they had been occupying since the beginning of the "70s: a real revolution.

"No one will say it, but for us it is a huge defeat. Imagine: We've become owners overnight. We own houses!" says a young man who calls himself Asterix. He is actually wrong. Everyone in Christiania, at least those from 45 to 65-years-old, who are the majority, will actually admit to their failure. They might even use harsher words like "treason" or "capitulation."

Sixties ideals

Christiania was born in September 1971, on the beautiful grounds of an old military barracks, almost in the heart of Copenhagen. Hippies, the unemployed and squatters moved in pledging allegiance to a charter proclaiming the goal (at the time) of this "free" city: to create a self-governing society whereby each and every individual holds themselves responsible for the well-being of the entire community.

For decades, Christianites stayed true to the ideals of the sixties. There are now almost a thousand people living here in self-sufficiency. Christiania has its own flag and money and even its own stamps. Residents pick up the trash (and they recycle, this is Scandinavia after all) with their own garbage trucks. They repair the city's sewage system and although there are no schools, they manage childcare centers. Cars aren't allowed except for emergencies, it's forbidden to run (a way to spot robbers) and the beer is brewed locally.

Ralf, a German man with long grey hair, was just passing through Copenhagen in the "70s. "I went to see this Christiania that everyone was raving about and I never left," he says. When he celebrated his 60th birthday a few days ago, everyone was talking about "it."

"The community turned to donations to pay the first million-euro slice to the state. But now we have to find a way to pay back the remaining millions that we owe to the bank."

The community makes decisions by consensus. It took three years of talks for the 17 neighborhoods of Christiania to take up Denmark's offer. But discussions continued: Will residents have to pay depending on the size of their home? Will they have to introduce the heretic idea of a monthly rent?

A younger, less idealistic generation

"Us oldies just gave in," says Ralf, sipping from his beer. The younger, less idealistic residents were convinced by the incredibly low prices offered compared to the housing market. They were the ones who tipped the balance. "We didn't really have a choice. Children and grand-children grow up, people divorce and live separately, we are facing a housing shortage." The deal with the Danish government allows Christiania residents to build new housing if they first pay for the renovation of the old military buildings, many of which are falling apart.

Pilot projects are in the works to try and deal with the commune's population. "One of the projects is to spread out older residents like me in buildings where younger neighbors can take care of us," says Ralf.

Christiania is one of Copenhagen's major tourist attractions and it's also very famous for its Pusher Street market, where residents openly sell marijuana. But behind this "tourist" attraction that largely "subsidizes" Christiania, there are 32 hectares of land and lakes with cute little wooden houses spread among the plants.

After 20 years away from Christiania, Beatrix, another 50-year-old, has come back to one of those houses. She left to raise her kids on a farm, away from the "temptations" of Christiania's streets. "I had to come back," she says. When asked what she does for a living she says: "In Christiania, you don't make a living. You just live."

Read more from Le Temps.

Photo: Kethevane Gorjestani

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

How Vulnerable Are The Russians In Crimea?

Ukraine has stepped up attacks on the occupied Crimean peninsula, and Russia is doing all within its power to deny how vulnerable it has become.

Photograph of the Russian Black Sea Fleet headquarters with smoke rising above it after a Ukrainian missile strike.

September 22, 2023, Sevastopol, Crimea, Russia: Smoke rises over the Russian Black Sea Fleet headquarters after a Ukrainian missile strike.

Kyrylo Danylchenko

This article was updated Sept. 26, 2023 at 6:00 p.m.

Russian authorities are making a concerted effort to downplay and even deny the recent missile strikes in Russia-occupied Crimea.

Stay up-to-date with the latest on the Russia-Ukraine war, with our exclusive international coverage.

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Media coverage in Russia of these events has been intentionally subdued, with top military spokesperson Igor Konashenkov offering no response to an attack on Russian Black Sea Fleet headquarters in the Crimean city of Sevastopol, or the alleged downing last week of Russian Su-24 aircraft by Ukrainian Air Defense.

The response from this and other strikes on the Crimean peninsula and surrounding waters of the Black Sea has alternated between complete silence and propagating falsehoods. One notable example of the latter was the claim that the Russian headquarters building of the Black Sea fleet that was hit Friday was empty and that the multiple explosions were mere routine training exercises.

Ukraine claimed on Monday that the attack killed Admiral Viktor Sokolov, the commander of Russia's Black Sea Fleet. "After the strike on the headquarters of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, 34 officers died, including the commander of the Russian Black Sea Fleet. Another 105 occupiers were wounded. The headquarters building cannot be restored," the Ukrainian special forces said via Telegram.

But Sokolov was seen on state television on Tuesday, just one day after Ukraine claimed he'd been killed. The Russian Defense Ministry released footage of the admiral partaking in a video conference with top admirals and chiefs, including Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, though there was no verification of the date of the event.

Moscow has been similarly obtuse following other reports of missiles strikes this month on Crimea. Russian authorities have declared that all missiles have been intercepted by a submarine and a structure called "VDK Minsk", which itself was severely damaged following a Ukrainian airstrike on Sept. 13. The Russians likewise dismissed reports of a fire at the headquarters of the Black Sea Fleet, attributing it to a mundane explosion caused by swamp gas.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has refrained from commenting on the military situation in Crimea and elsewhere, continuing to repeat that everything is “proceeding as planned.”

Why is Crimea such a touchy topic? And why is it proving to be so hard to defend?

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