The World Today for April 25, 2024

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Goodbye, Utopia

DENMARK

In 1971, hippies began squatting on an abandoned naval base in Copenhagen, Denmark, creating a community called Freetown Christiania.

Denizens of the 84-acre commune flouted drug laws, refused to pay their electricity bills, and regarded themselves as bohemians living alternative lifestyles. They adopted their own laws and flag. Community meetings decided on questions of governance by consensus. The Danish government even gave the commune legal status, dubbing it a “social experiment,” explained the BBC.

And for decades, locals and tourists alike were drawn to the district, to wander, hang out in shabby-chic bars and galleries, and smoke a little hash.

Over time, however, addiction and lawlessness in Christiania came to eclipse the flower power. A stretch of the district where drug dealers congregated, for example, became known as Pusher Street. Marijuana is illegal in Denmark, but for decades has been sold openly in Christiania.

The Hells Angels and Loyal to Family, an outlawed Danish street gang, ran the markets, the Associated Press reported, citing police. And police over the years would come into the district to crack down on the markets – even as they would quickly reestablish themselves.

Recently, however, the 1,000 residents who live in Christiania have had enough. They ripped up the cobblestones on Pusher Street in a protest against the drug deals and associated criminality that has festered on the thoroughfare in recent years. Children participated in the family-friendly event where organizers played Pink Floyd’s song “Another Brick in the Wall,” wrote Le Monde.

“We don’t want the gangsters anymore,” Hulda Mader, a Christiania resident for 40 years, told Sky News.

Locals are especially sick and tired of organized crime’s role in the neighborhood. In August, for instance, gunmen shot and killed a 30-year-old man and injured four others in shootings linked to drug trafficking and gangs, reported CNN. Such incidents have become too common.

“For us hash is not the problem, it’s the money in it,” said Mette Prag, a representative of the Freetown Christiania Foundation. “But the last years with all the violence and all the fighting, we cannot have it in our society. That’s why now this chapter must come to an end.”

Passerby magazine ran a feature about Prag that included pictures portraying her fashionable Scandinavian life as an architect living and raising children in the anarchist commune. It was illustrative of how the commune, home to hippies and artists, and welcoming of the down-and-out and the addicted, had in more recent years begun to become more respectable, even bourgeois at times.

Christiania residents want to add new water and utility connections that could help people open new shops and art spaces on Pusher Street, reported the Courthouse News Service. Others wondered if these changes would simply push weed and other drugs and their dealers into the shadows elsewhere. Still other residents are organizing to make marijuana legal throughout Denmark to destroy the illegal networks that now control the trade.

Utopia must change with the times, locals say.

“The crime scene we have seen here has been so violent … we cannot have a Christiania that is dying out because people don’t dare to be here and where we see the local Christianites being threatened by greedy pushers and dealers,” Copenhagen’s mayor Sophie Hæstorp Andersen told Reuters. “Pusher Street has to die in order for Christiania to live.”

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

The Director’s Cut

ARGENTINA

Hundreds of thousands of Argentines took to the streets this week in the largest protests since President Javier Milei came to power, criticizing the libertarian leader’s funding cuts to the country’s public universities as part of a string of austerity measures, Reuters reported.

Students and professors gathered with union representatives and left-wing political parties on the streets of the capital, Buenos Aires, and other major cities on Tuesday to express their support for public education. Argentina’s universities have been a symbol of the nation’s social progress over the past decades. Now, they are facing an existential crisis.

President Milei, describing them as bastions of socialism, accused them of “brainwashing” the young and therefore would be subject to drastic budget cuts. In a move to reduce spending and stop deficit spending, Milei has been crusading against cultural centers and state-funded facilities.

Having received less than 10 percent of its total budget since last June, the prestigious University of Buenos Aires (UBA) barely has the money to pay its electricity bills. Last week, lights went off in some of its buildings.

This crisis could mean closure for the UBA, an institution with a rich history that has produced five Nobel Prize winners and 17 presidents. Without a recovery plan, the school said it could shut down in the coming months.

The UBA’s warning has shocked Argentines, who consider free university tuition a civil right.

The rallies were joined by conservative politicians, right-wing personalities, and private university directors, signaling an increasingly broad backlash against Milei’s policies.

Ahead of the protests, the government said it would provide $24.5 million to help universities cover maintenance costs, adding that “the discussion is settled.” University administrators insisted this was still not enough.

Argentina spends 4.6 percent of its gross domestic product on education. The country offers free higher education to locals and internationals alike, drawing students from across the Americas. Critics have said foreign students should start paying tuition fees.

Earlier this week, Milei insisted the sacrifice caused by austerity measures was worth it, announcing the nation’s first quarterly fiscal surplus in more than 15 years.

The Hunt Is On

AUSTRALIA

Australian authorities on Wednesday arrested seven teenagers who are allegedly part of a terror network, a week after a 16-year-old stabbed an Assyrian Orthodox bishop during a live-streamed church sermon in Sydney, Al Jazeera reported.

The arrests were part of a series of anti-terror raids involving more than 400 police officers executing search warrants at a number of Sydney properties overnight.

Police described the suspects, aged 15 to 17, as an immediate threat, with concerns that they were plotting further attacks. They added that the detainees adhered to “a religiously motivated, violent extremist ideology” and posed an “unacceptable risk” to the public.

Authorities said the arrested individuals were linked to a network that also included the teenage attacker who stabbed and injured a bishop and another priest last week.

The attacker was later charged with committing a terrorist act, with police saying his actions were fueled by “religiously motivated extremism.”

Officials said investigators did not find any evidence that the network had any specific targets or timing of any intended “violent acts.” Still, they claimed that Wednesday’s arrests were spurred by concerns that the network could be plotting more attacks.

The detentions came amid a global battle over the dissemination of graphic video footage of the church stabbing on social media platforms, according to the Voice of America.

After the attack, the Australian eSafety commissioner issued orders to tech giants Meta and X – formerly Twitter – to remove the footage, which was classified as depicting gratuitous violence.

While Meta complied, X, owned by billionaire Elon Musk, contested the directive, countering that it exceeded Australian law and posed threats to free speech globally.

The standoff intensified after an Australian court ordered X to temporarily hide the videos.

Musk’s stance sparked strong reactions from Australian politicians, with Prime Minister Anthony Albanese admonishing him as an “arrogant billionaire who thinks he is above the law.”

Reckoning and Reparations

SPAIN

Spain approved a plan to compensate victims of sexual abuse perpetrated by members of the Catholic Church, with officials saying that the church will finance the compensation, the Associated Press reported this week.

On Tuesday, Minister of Presidency and Justice Félix Bolaños said the initiative seeks to “settle a debt with those victims who for decades were forgotten by everyone and now our democracy aims to repair.”

The plan will be a central part of government policy and officials hope to implement it over the next four years, he added.

Even so, officials offered no details about the amount or when the compensation would take place.

Meanwhile, Spain’s Bishops Conference rejected the plan, claiming that it discriminated against victims outside of church circles.

The plan follows a report by the deeply Catholic country’s Ombudsman that said more than 400,000 people, including 200,000 minors, were sexually abused by individuals linked to the church since 1940, and that roughly half of those cases were committed by clergy.

The report also accused the institution of widespread negligence.

Spanish bishops, who for years ignored the issue, issued an apology following the report’s release, but countered that the number of victims was exaggerated. On March 2, church officials said it had counted 1,057 “registered cases” of sexual abuse, of which only 358 had been “proven” or were “plausible” while another 60 were under investigation, the Local Spain reported.

A number of countries have grappled with abuse claims directed at the Catholic Church, with some setting up compensation funds.

“I don’t think anyone would understand if the Spanish Church did not proceed as others did in countries like Ireland, France, Belgium or the United States,” said Bolaños, referring to nations where the Church had compensated victims, according to the Local Spain.

DISCOVERIES

The Jewels Within

On the surface, mangrove forests, the narrow strips of tangled trees and plants in salt or brackish water along tropical and subtropical coastlines, don’t look particularly inviting.

But they hide treasures.

Recently, for example, a major biodiversity survey on a Cambodian mangrove forest revealed the presence of hundreds of different species, including endangered mammals and birds, living in a key – but threatened – habitat, the Guardian reported.

“We found 700 different species in these mangrove forests but we suspect we have not even scratched the surface,” said Stefanie Rog, the leader of the survey team. “If we could look at the area in even greater depth we would find 10 times more, I am sure.”

In their survey, Rog and her team used a variety of tools to identify a myriad of creatures living in the woodlands of the Peam Krasop sanctuary and the adjacent Koh Kapik Ramsar reserve.

Among them was the endangered hairy-nosed otter, Lutra sumatrana, one of the rarest otters in Asia. Researchers also found the fishing cat Prionailurus viverrinus, a feline known to swim and which also packs partially webbed toes to catch fish and rats.

The team also recorded 74 species of fish living in the forests’ waters, as well as 150 species of birds, of which 15 are listed as near-threatened or endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list.

The survey is considered one of the most comprehensive ones, but it also underscores the important roles that mangrove forests fulfill.

Mangrove forests are vital ecosystems adapted to saline environments: They provide habitats for diverse species, act as fish nurseries, protect coastlines from natural disasters like tsunamis, and efficiently trap carbon more than other types of woodland.

Despite their significance, Earth has lost around 40 percent of its mangroves because of deforestation for tourism and agriculture.

“They are so much more than just an ecosystem that provides a carbon-saving service or coastal protection. They are actually beautiful in their own right,” noted Rog.

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