Thursday, March 8, 2007

Riots, Marijuana, Love and Hate

Many of you may have heard about the riots that happened last week in Copenhagen. Although I was to travel there soon, I paid little attention to them. However, when I arrived, I started asking questions about it.

The desk attendant at the hostel I was staying at suggested that I visit Christiania. Maybe you have heard of it, but I never had. As it turns out, Copenhagen has its own little Freetown. And it has a colorful history.

The 85 acres or so used to be a military installation. After it was closed down then fence that was erected was torn down many times over so the citizens could enjoy the open space that was there. Eventually, the people took over the area and created their own 'independent' space to live.

It is very much a communal place. There are a few shops, more bars, a central meeting place, lots of dogs, and very colorful people. One person described it to me as a modern day hippy paradise. They might not be far off.

As I ventured into Christiana, I walked down a street that had been the site of some of the riots of the past week. As it turns out, there was a youth center that had been shut down by Copenhagen. The center was a place where young people hung out, partied, played music, and sometimes slept. The City had given the building to be used as such years ago. Then a couple of years ago, the City sold the building to a right wing group, which immediately began efforts to remove the youth from the building.

Of course they resisted. Things came to a head last week when they were forcibly removed and responded by throwing rocks at the police. The police responded with force and things elevated out of control. It is questionable if it was the young people at the Center that started the violence or some of their sympathizers.

I learned this after attempting to get many people in Christiania to talk to me. Apparently, they are always being asked questions. Finally, as I stopped into a small trailer to buy a guide, the two ladies there finally talked to me. And we had one heck of a conversation.

The people of Christiania have no trust for anyone, really. Their history is one of conflict with police and government. They have strong opinions about pretty much everything.

About four years ago, the government ended the sell of marijuana that provided much of the money to run the Freetown. Before that, Christiania was the biggest tourist attraction in Copenhagen. More people visited there than the Queen's Palace. Since then, the tourist trade has slowed significantly, likely causing financial hardship for them.

Although they live pretty much in seclusion, they are very aware of the outside world and have many opinions on such. I could never catalogue our entire conversation, but the most interesting part of the conversation was about US influence on Denmark.

They use the word 'hate' often. But, they don't mean it the way we do when we talk about politics and politicians. They mean it more like how we 'hate' to stub our big toe. It took me a few minutes to realize this. At first, I wondered what kind of snake pit I had walked into!

Needless to say, they are not big fans of George W. Bush. They accuse their conservative government of kissing Bush's ass far too often. They assert that is why they sent soldiers to Iraq.

Their biggest problem with Bush is that they believe his Administration interferes far too much in their politics. I am not entirely sure what they mean by that because I personally believe that his Administration has NO foreign policy besides war.

When I asked them about Bill Clinton, they said they 'hated him less.' All I could do is smile. They hated him less because he was a much more loving person and let the Danes be Danes.

Interesting, huh? I wish my words could capture the full experience. It was really neat. These people just wanted everyone to be happy and get along. While we talked, they smoke a big fat doobey. And they didn't skip a beat.

I would write more, but this is a long post already and I have to catch the train to Stockholm. I already missed the first one because I confused the departure time and the date. Oops.


Medora said...

I, too, never heard of Christiania before. Your description about the youth there gives me the impression that they have not received much attention from their government.

It can be that the two ladies whom you talked with have the same opinion as that of other Danes, or even all of them. It can also be the other way around.
But if people from other countries see that sending their troops to Iraq is not right, then what stops our president (Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo) from seeing the same.

Our president (Philippines) has been one of those who staunchly defended the US-led war on terror, affiliating her government with the so-called coalition of the willing. Worse, her government, just like Denmark's, has been a figurehead for too long now. Bush also meddles with both foreign and national policies in the Philippines. Arroyo's government even has her own version of the War on Terror. It is her All Out War against Terrorism--but sadly, her government persecutes even legitimate organizations and human rights activists.

Your straightforward narrative is interesting to read and more importantly, it makes me rethink a lot of things.

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