Squatting in Belgium

De Nar (de_nar@kick.knooppunt.be)
Tue, 4 Jun 1996 22:36:21 +0000 ()


SQUATTING IN BELGIUM

Introduction

In recent history, squatting in Belgium seemed to be only
happening in the city of Ghent in the flemish part of Belgium.
Lately there have also been attemps to build up a squatters movement
in the city of Antwerps and Leuven. This article is
about squatting in Ghent, because there's sort of a history connected
to it, and it is still the main city for squatting in Belgium.
Let's hope it doesn't stay that way.

De Ketelvest: the first step

The first time the people in Ghent squatted a house
was around may '91. Before that time there were a couple of
rental strikes that had a political background, but these were
not real squattings.

Although in the beginning it didn't seem that political. The group
squatted the house in 'silence', and didn't allow a lot of publicity
around the squat. there was running water but no electricity. But
when time went by, the group started working more and more as a political
collective and a first generation of squatters started to form. They
planned not to give up that fast.
Meanwhile the owner sued the squatters, a trial that
he of course won in the spring of '92. The squatters decided to
move out. Part of the group splitted, but the others
squatted a new building, owned by Welfare (O.C.M.W.). In Belgium
it is no ecxeption that government welfare agencies speculate on
houses they own, while people are living on the streets. This house
was violently evicted after a week of occupation.

Het Krakend Gewricht

In the summer of '92 seven small houses were squatted in a
working claas neigbourhood. The following year became a very active
year for the squatters and anarchist movement. Every Week there were
info-activities, and there was a cheap vegetarian restaurant.
Seven people living in the houses tried to organise it all. The press
discovered the squat, and started writing about the squatting.
The city-council wasn't very happy with the bad publicity and was made
ridiculous. The tension became higher.
After the 'one year'- party someone threw a molotov coctail at one of the
houses, and a fight started. Cops moved in and put the squat under siege
for a night. There was no eviction - yet.
The council wanted the squatters out, and wanted to put an end on
squatting.
On the 27th of october '93 raids took place in about seven places were
anarchists lived, or people who were suspected of anarchistic sympathies.
The squat was evicted brutaly by cops. The reason they raided the houses
was because of suspicion that rested upon anarchists because of
an attack with a molotov-coctail on the Danish Consulate in Ghent. The attack
took place because of a shooting in Danmark after a riot where
eleven people were severely wounded by he police. The riots took
place after a referendum that was set up to approve further developments of
the European Community, an entity mainly set up to serve capitalists
and big companies.
The Belgian press and police
talked about tree attacks on the Danish consulate. There were windows
thrown in, buteric acid was poured in, and a molotov was thrown. It is
never proved that anarchists were 'guilty' of these 'crimes'. There has
never been any material evidence for this. Anarchists in Belgium
focus on the fact that the anti-Europe movement is larger than the
anarchist movement and that a lot of people are not willing to follow
their great European leaders.
A couple of months later an activist was arrested and put in jail for
a month for the same reasons. All charges were dropped when it was no longer
possible for the autorities to hold up this fraud. Anarchist were
not planning to let them been put down by political repression.
Although it seemed for a couple of months that the squatting was over, when
two new squats we're evicted after only a couple of weeks of occupation
and the repression seem to intensify.

'De kreabouters': a new generation?

In spring '95 there was a new squat, by an enterely new group
who called themselves 'De Kreabouters' (translated this is something like
'Creative Cobolts', I can't come up with something better). They
squatted a house in the center nearby a big new shopping maul, that was
put up to give a 'new image' to the city. They left the
building voluntary after negotiations with the owner.

This group was also responsible for the biggest squat in Ghent
ever: The former unemployment office, was squatted after they left
their former squat. But mistakes were made. Although activist groups
started working in the squat, and a lot of people visited the
cafe, the antifa pub and the vegetarian restaurant it didn't last very
long. Their were no people living in the squat!

People stayed overnight to keep and eye on things, but there was never
a group that actually lived in the house. About the most stupid
thing you can do: squatting a house and not living in it.

When the court started making trouble...everybody moved their stuff out.

Het KAF: fascists attack squatters

After the summer of '95 a house in the center of Ghent was squatted
to create a living space for a couple of people. This house was
located in the center of the city in the middle of the quarter were
the university students live and go to their lessons. The house
was owned by the university. The owner took a positive aproach
towards the squatters and the two parties started negotiating. The
squatters were allowed to stay in the houses (who were in a very
bad condition, and have been empty for as long as anyone could remember),
and the university offered to deliver water and electricity to the
squatters.

Unfortunately, the area where the squatters lived was also a breeding
ground for fascist organisations, consisting out of right wing students
and boneheads. As soon as they discovered the squat they started attacking
it. This has led to some live threathening situations, when groups
of fascists (somethimes up to one hundred of these idiots) tried to
enter the building.

One night after a gig with a couple of bands from the U.S., about
seven people and some band members were inside the house. At four o'
clock in the night the fascists started another attack. The people inside
the house threw bottles and other stuff to keep the nazi's
away. But they kept on coming. Of course this drew the attenion of
the cops, who drove the fascists away,... and took advantage of the
situation to evict the squat and to arrest everyone inside... This
is how justice works in Belgium.

De Hogepontstraat: back to basics

In may '95 some people squatted a couple of houses at the border of the
city of Ghent. The main purpose of the squatting was to create a
living space for people. A couple of months ago the squatters occupied
an industrial complex next to their houses. New space became available
for new inhabitants and for new activities. Every thursday the
squatters organise a 'Volxkeuken' - this is a cheap restaurant were
people can eat cheap vegetarian food or can come together for a drink
and chat. Every once an a while there are gigs.

The buildings are owned by the city who is planning to tear down
the whole complex in order to build a 'social housing project'. Mostly
in Belgium these houses are not given to those who need cheap housing
the most but to those who have the best 'political contact'. A typical
example of Belgian corruption. The eviction is expected for september '96.
The squatters gave the intention not to leave on a voluntary basis.

Problems of Belgian Squatters

People who move to a new house mostly have the intention of
staying in their new home for a long time, and plan not to worry
about shelter. For squatters this is different. Squatters have
to take two things in account: first of all they have to make
their house livable, and secondly there is the constant threat
of eviction. Water, Gas and Electricity is not evident in
Belgian squats. The company's who provide these services ask large
sums of money as undertaking.

Meanwhile squatters have to find out the plans of the
owner(s) with their house. And cops don't seem to bother the laws they
protect. But this will probably be the same everywere: cops stay cops...

Squatting in Belgium is still not an evidence as in some other
countries (Holland for example). The situation is still completely
illegal, though some positive steps have been taken. Autorities
became reluctant to evict squatted houses, because everytime a squat
gets evicted, there's a media backlash on their housing policy... and they
do not like that. But tolerating the squats is not the same as
regulating the situation of squatters. In Belgian courts, property is
seen as holly, an not one judge in Belgium will prevail
the rights of squatters above those of the owners. So we can only count
on some legal angles, which are very few.

The only thing that remains, is to keep on fighting and to take back what
is ours, no matter what the law says.

You can contact the Belgian squatters on the following address:

Postbus 395
9000 Gent
Belgium, Europe
(only write the address on the enveloppe!)

DE NAR VZW (Anarchistisch Maandblad)
http://www.knooppunt.be/~de_nar
Abonnement 400 Bef/ jaar rek. nr. 068-205 0689-39