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(en) Holland, Leiden, Alt. Media, Interview with Eurodusnie - Reason to believe, DIY Hardcore Punk Zine #5

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Mon, 13 Sep 2004 18:19:17 +0200 (CEST)


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· How long has koppenhinksteeg been a squat?
· The Koppenhinksteeg story is a long one. The buildings in the
street have been used by left-wing and idealistic organisations for
around 32 years now. All of the buildings are now squatted, but some
have been rented (from the council - the official owner of the
buildings) at various stages.
Maybe to make it easier to understand the situation in the
Koppenhinksteeg I should give an oversight of all the organisations
which are housed there at present:
· De Fabel van de Illegaal: (an organisation which helps people
without residency papers, and also fights against racism, facism and
patriarchy. They regularly produce their own magazine and have a
unique archive which contains info on racism, sexism, animal rights,
environment etc.) 'De Fabel' occupied their offices 12 years ago.
People live above their offices (also squatters).
· - Bar & Boos: (a social/cultural centre which regularly organises
concerts etc.) Bar & Boos has been squatted for around nine years
now. The ground floor houses the gigs etc., and the first floor used to
be home to a veggie/organic restaurant. The restaurant has since
closed and a low-budget martial arts school has come in its place.
· - EuroDusnie projects: EuroDusnie is a collective which was born
in April 1997. A group of people got together to organise an
alternative to the European Union financial summits which were
taking place in the Netherlands at the time. First of all a hotel was
squatted in the town where the EU meetings were taking place, but it
was evicted. Plan B (an empty school in Leiden) came into action.
The plan was just to organise a weekend of action, workshops and
parties, but people loved the building so much that they decided to
stay there and we've been there ever since! There are plans to
demolish the building, but nothing has come of them yet as it's still
not clear who's the technical owner. Basically the situation is a mess
and they keep going back to the drawing board, so to speak. But I
digress... The school building is a littleout of the centre however, and
we wanted to bring our ideas to the rest ofthe city. We had a vegan
restaurant (McDusnie's), a 'Give-Away-Shop', aninfo shop and food
co-op as well as our office. We thought however that peoplewould be
more interested in our projects if we were more central. Around3 and
a half years ago, a building was squatted by EuroDusnie in the
Koppenhinksteeg,which became the Give-Away-Shop's new home.
A number of months later anotherbuilding was squatted in the street
which became the new restaurant. McDusnie'sstayed at the school,
but instead of being open every week, only opens nowadays during
gigs and other events. The new restaurant got the name 'Las
Vegas'.After a while the building which separated the
Give-Away-Shop from the restaurantbecame empty as well, so the
momentus decision was taken to squat that too and knock the
wholelot into one. The restaurant expanded and an infoshop/food
co-op came alongas well. The school building is now used as a
meeting place (for international as well as national/local meetings),
concert hall,office and home to our beloved newspaper 'Dusnieuws'.
EuroDusnie projects in the Koppenhinksteeg:
·
· *The Give-Away-Shop: A shop where everything is free. Not a
swop-shop, just a free shop.
· *Las Vegas: Organic/vegan restaurant opened twice a week. Space
also used for info nights, concerts, meetings, courses etc.
· *Tegengif: ('the antidote'): Info-shop and organic/vegan food
co-op.
·
· What was it used for beforehand?
The space where the Give-Away-Shop is used to be a left-wing book
store called Manifest. The shop was rented from the council, but the
rent went through the roof and the shop went under. Where the
restaurant and info shop are now used to be an arts workshop. The
council told the occupiers that they had to go as there were building
plans. It's a shame for the former occupiers that they left, because the
council still haven't done any building work, but we've done our best
to make it a useful space.
·
· How long had the building been vacant?
The shop had been empty for ten months before it was squatted.
Mostly a building has to be empty for a year before it can be squatted,
but in this case the rule didn't apply. If the coucil is the owner and
they have demolition/rebuilding plans, then the one year rule doesn't
apply. Leiden council has had rebuilding plans for the
Koppenhinksteeg for around 10 years now. The space which is now
the restaurant and info shop
was empty for a week before we moved in.
·
·
· How much renovation work did you have to do?
A lot! It never stops actually! The council has neglegted these
buildings for more than 30 years and they're in a bad way. They have
got plans to renovate the buildings but they don't include us. They
wantto get rid of us and build yuppy appartments and shop spaces.
We just do allthe building work ourselves and fight like hell for our
right to stay in the street.We are able to get money in from different
solidarity funds who support social and culturalprojects, and from
donations from supporters. Last year we were able to builda new
kitchen in the restaurant, and repaint the whole place. The
renovationwork never stops though cos the spaces are fairly big. As
soon as you fix a hole in the roof, a new one emerges elsewhere! We
want the council to enterinto what's known as a 'casco' agreement -
they would be responsible for all the maintenance work onthe outside
including the roof and foundations, and we would take care ofthe
inside. We've had specialised people draw up a financial plan for us
detailing how we can meet the maintenance costs if the council
enters into the 'casco' plan. As yet they haven't shown anyinterest.
What a surprise. (We're non-commercial you see...no money can be
made from us.) In the meantime we just keep writing to various
fundsfor financial help with the building and decorating. Any money
we earn from the projects goes right back into the projects again.
·
· What is the squat used for?
Already answered I think!
·
· How is the squat managed?
Does this mean financially managed? In that case this question is
more or less already answered too. Obviously the free shop doesn't
make any money, but the reastaurant and info shop have modest
incomes.
·
· How many people are involved?
· The numbers varied a lot in the past, but for the past year or so
there's been around 20 'core' people involved in organising and
running the various EuroDusnie projects,and there are another 25 or
so people who help out when they can. There are between
seventy-five and one hundred people active in the Koppenhinksteeg
altogether.

· What problems have you encountered?
The threat of eviction is obviously a major problem. A building permit
was issued in October 2001, so building work could start any time
soon. Another problem has been the almost total lack of response
from the council. We've written to them many times offering to go
into negotiations about keeping the street in the hands of the
organisations which are housed there now. Apart from computer
generated letters of acknowledgement of receipt of our letters, we
hear nothing from them (apart from when one of the council
members goes on telly to say how the projects can't possibly stay in
the Koppenhinksteeg because they won't be able to make any money,
or when we read something in the paper like "well, if the
organisations slap a few million Euros on the table we might be able
to come to an arrangement" or words to that effect. Starting to see the
pattern emerging?...) This has been pretty frustrating. They came up
with an alternative building a while back which was around 100m2 in
total and was meant for De Fabel van de Illegaal and the
Give-Away-Shop - together! (De Fabel's present floor space is around
120m2, and the Give-Away-Shop presently has 60m2. Bit of a
difference, huh?) There was a catch as well to getting this alternative
building. Only the two projects mentioned would be re-housed, and
the buildings used by the other organisations must be empty before
the new building can be handed over. Ridiculous! Oh yeah, and the
'new' building would only be given temporarily as it is also due for
renovation at some point in the future. This plan was rejected by all
Koppenhinksteeg organisations, so as far as the council is concerned,
the whole matter is a closed book. Ideally we don't want to leave the
street. The projects are in an accessible location in the city centre,
and we're known there now and have a history there. The different
organisations compliment eachother, and inspire and support one
another. This doesn't mean however, that we won't consider
alternatives if it becomes clear that we REALLY have to go. But we
do want something equal to (if not better than!) what we have now.
We play a huge role in Leiden when it comes to social and cultural
projects, solidarity and showing that there is an alternative to this
current situation of market dominance of just about everything. There
is another way and we're living proof.
·
· How did you overcome these problems?
First of all by staying positive! We are determined to see our projects
continuing. This is true of all the Koppenhinksteeg organisations, not
just EuroDusnie projects. An association of friends of Freeplace
Koppenhinksteeg (VVK or Vrienden Vrijplaats Koppenhinksteeg) has
been set up, and so far it has more than 500 members. Some of the
members actively campaign to keep the Koppenhinksteeg. They
appeal to local politicians (who of course have a say in what happens
to us), organise open days and generally try to bring the
Koppenhinksteeg and all that goes on there more into the public eye.
The association have also started procedures against the council.
Many things in the building plan are not correc for example, so
therefore the building permit should never really have been issued.
They try to keep the pressure up on the council with the help of legal
experts and friendly journalists who ensure that we are constantly in
the local papers.
When the building permit was issued, the organisations in the
Koppenhinksteeg appealed to their supporters to write letters of
objection to the council. A total of 652 letters were handed in. This is
a record in Leiden. Never have so many objections been handed in
against a building permit! The council then has a duty to invite all of
the objectors to come and verbally explain and elaborate on their
objection in front of an appeals commission. This has happened in
two sittings. The first one ended in chaos and embarassment for the
council when the chairperson stormed off in a flap. The sitting had
been badly organised and he couldn't deal with the way it was going.
The second one went much better, and the members of the
commission will come and visit the Koppenhinksteeg before they
make their decision. This decision (which is actually only advice) will
be passed on to the big chiefs in the council. More often than not, the
big-wigs take notice of the advice of the appeals commission. The
members will be coming to visit us in the coming month, so
hopefully after they see all the great work we do there, thay will be on
our side. We also set up our own foundation which represents the
interests of the majority of the Koppenhinksteeg organisations. This
foundation has drawn up the financial plans which I've already
mentioned, and also tries to keep up the pressure on the council. It's
also important to keep gaining new supporters. Obviously the more
people who are for us, the better!
But possibly more important than any of that, we keep our projects
going. Oh yeah, and we organise demos. The last one was on the 9th
of February and there were around 300 people. We finished the
afternoon off with an open day and then partied till deep in the night!
You have to relax too sometimes!

· How do you feel you fit in with the local community?
When EuroDusnie first started up in the squatted school, I think we
came accross as a little bit strange. The school is in a pretty swanky
part of town and local people seemed hesitant to make contact with
us. We kept them up to date on all of our activities when possible by
delivering flyers for example, but still we seemed to attract more
people from others cities and especially from the acitivist world.
When we moved some projects into the Koppenhinksteeg in the
centre of town, attitudes seemed to change. We were in the middle of
things then, and in the centre of town you come across all sorts of
course. People realised that the projects were good initiatives (a free
shop - how can you not like that? Well, if you're a big project
developer, maybe you have another idea...) and we seemed to attract
more and more visitors. We reckon that an average of two thousand
people in total visit the Koppenhinksteeg every week - people from all
walks of life. We have good contacts with people living in the street
and close by, partly because they're also being messed around by the
council regarding the plans for their homes. (One day they get a letter
saying this, and the next day they a letter saying the opposite - that
sort of stuff.) On the whole I reckon we fit in pretty well. We've been
there for a few years now and it feels like we've always been there.
·
· What are their perceptions of what you are doing/ trying to
achieve?
I'm sure there are some who think we're stupid and naive - the types
who say stuff like "get a real job" and "we're going to McDonald's
now for a big mac". They think that all the EuroDusnie volunteers are
on the dole. Some of the volunteers are students, others are single
mums/dads, some work, some have made the decision to remain
jobless and some are even pensioners! It takes alls sorts you know!
On the whole though the reactions we get from the community are
great. Really positive and genuinely interested in what we do, what
we stand for and why. You don't know how often we hear "I wish I
had your attitude towards things", then before you know it that
person is coming to meetings and is also getting involved!

· What motivated you to start squatting?
Some of the people who started up EuroDusnie had been involved in
Bar & Boos on the Koppenhinksteeg and other squats beforehand.
They had seen first hand how much can be achieved by occupying a
building which is empty to set up social and cultural initiatives. When
the idea of the alternative EU summit came up, a place was needed to
house it. Other occupied buildings in Leiden were not big enough,
and renting somewhere was too expensive. That's why the decision
was taken to squat something. You put an empty building to good use
which would probably otherwise be left to rot, and it's cheap. Any
money which comes in can then be made available for the project
which you're busy with.

· What are the positive/ negative aspects of squatting?
Positive I've already mentioned. Negative: threat of eviction of
course! Sometimes you can have difficulties getting gas, water and
electricity supplies switched on for example, but that usually gets
worked out. You also get people who have a negative image of
squatters. Some people reckon that squats are drug dens! Those
squats do exist in other places, but in our case nothing can be further
from the truth!


· Where do you see things heading in the future for your squat?
The council will either grant our wishes and renovate the building
and let us stay, and we will then pay regular internal maintenance
costs and our projects will continue. In other words we will become
legalised. It has happened before in Leiden so it can happen again!
Otherwise, the council will just have to give us an equally good
alternative and legalise that too. Any other alternative is
unnacceptable and we and our supporters will fight to defend
everything we've built up here.

· What advice would you give to people thinking of starting a squat?
Be organised! Have a clear view of what you want to do, and why you
want to do it. Think of ways in which you can fund any initiatives you
get going. Also know your rights. If we hadn't started procedures
against the council we might very well be out on our ear by now. Find
out what the rules are on squatting in your area, and all the info you
can on the building and it's owner. It's important to know exactly
who and what you're dealing with.

· How are you coping with the plans for eviction?
Staying postive! See above.

Reason to believe, DIY Hardcore Punk Zine #5
===========================================
* Editor note: Eurodusnie collective is an
anticapitalist antiauthoritarian organization.
They were convenors of the European PGA and hosted
in Leiden the European PGA conference Summer 2002.


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