(en) Amsterdam Adventures

radio de Vrije Keyser (keyser@xs4all.nl)
Wed, 12 Mar 1997 22:43:00 GMT

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Amsterdam Adventures.

It's already dark when a group of young people, most of them dressed in black, gathers at the main entrance of the Vondel-park. Some brought banners, others ski-hats and helmets. When the group starts=20 to walk, there's about a hundred of them, fireworks echo in the street. They walk around the corner, spray slogans on the rolling-shutters of closed shops. On a nearby square a large number of riotpolice is waiting in their vans. When after a few minutes the protesters approach the door of the house at number 163, they start shouting: "Re-squat, re-squat!" With crowbars they start breaking the door open. The police-trucks move in before the door is open. "Move away, or violence will be used!" Fifty policemen in full riot gear leave the vans, and form a line. For a few moments some squatters throw bricks and stones, flares are fired at the policemen. Then the squatters go into a side-entrance of the park. For a few hundred meters they are chased by the policemen, but the squatters disperse in the dark.

The house at P.C. Hooftstr. 163 had been evicted by a large police-force that morning (Tuesday, March 11th), as were two other squatted houses, Hobbemakade 66 and Westermarkt 7. The squat at P.C.=20 Hooftstr. 163 has been evicted 3 times since 1991, and was re-squatted and re-squatted and re-squatted because it remained unused. The reason why the judge issued yet another eviction-order escapes the squatters, there is no reason to believe the owners, who say they will change it into expensive, luxurious appartments, will really start using the house this time. The house at Hobbemakade 66 changed owners=20 several times since it was squatted in November 1990. The price has gone up by 7 times the original price in this period. It will be changed into expensive, luxurious appartments. Westermarkt 7 was a=20 soupkitchen, a peoples' kitchen for years. The cheap and, on Sundays, free meals made it a popular hangout for squatters, anarcho-tourists and many of the people who sleep rough on the streets of Amsterdam. The owner will change it into expensive, luxurious appartments.

The City of Amsterdam doesn't take any risks when executing an eviction-order. A massive police-force is sent in. When they show up and sympathizers in the street are pushed away there's not much else=20 squatters can do than sling some paintbombs to the police-officers' heads and then retreat behind the barricaded doors and windows of their squat untill a special police-unit works its way through the barricades and the squatters are arrested for "not following police-orders". This time there was a total of 39 arrests. They were all held at a police station for 6 hours and released again, although 3 runaway kids were handed over to their parents.

A month earlier, on Feb. 5th, 25 were arrested after the same ritual happened at the eviction of the Omval-squat, which was 'home' for 20 squatters and had a concerthall in the basement. The monumental=20 house on the bank of the Amstel-river was demolished that same night: insurance company Delta Lloyd (head office in London) will build an expensive office tower in its place. The squatters of Sarphatistr. 77, that was evicted on Feb. 5th as well, managed to escape arrest by leaving their house at the back while the special unit was working its way through the barricades. This eviction was preceeded by some actions: 500 squatters disturbed the regular Saturday shopping happiness in the centre of Amsterdam on Jan. 8th, when they marched to protest against the upcoming evictions. The demonstration got grim when the police wanted to intrude, but there were no fights. Days before the eviction a group of squatters blocked morning rush hour for a while by starting a burning barricade on one of the main roads leading into Amsterdam.=20

In Berlin a group of 40 sympathizers managed to enter the branch office of the Dutch Embassy in their city on Jan. 23th and keep it occupied for a while. They had a conversation with the deputy-ambassador, who promised to send their pamphlet against the upcoming evictions in Amsterdam to Holland, and then they left the building, but had to have their ID's checked by the police first.=20

Three days before the newest evictions the Amsterdam squatters staged a theatrical dress rehearsal for the eviction of Hobbemakade 66. Squatters dressed as riot police tried to 'evict' the house, while squatters dressed as squatters (hmmmm) tried to stop them by throwing stones (spunges) at them. The house was 'seized' by the 'pigs', but was 'liberated' by the squatters shortly after. The fun, that was visited by a crowd of real journalists, ended dramatically: the man who's always there, the number 1 on all squatters' hitlists, police-spokesperson Klaas Wilting (or his look-a-like) was taken hostage by some extremely radical squatters.

In general, the press pays a lot of attention to what happens to squatters. There's disappointment when evictions don't turn into violence, like they did in the early 80's, but the show of force by the police and the colourfulness of the squatters make good TV images. The attention has widened to the daily life of squatters, their unconventional way of doing things and their wonderful political insights after a documentary about internal fights in the squatters' movement of the 80's had it's premiere last December. "It Was Our City" tells the story of the squatters' movement of the late 70's, that gained immense support in the city, but was then confronted by extreme police brutality. A core of squatters decided to react violently, and even started training for streetfights. This evolved into a circle of violence, that found it's peak on Coronation Day in 1980. A lot of public support was lost that day, although some may have thought a revolution was happening. After that, there was more and more violence around squatting and quite a lot of squatters decided to quit. The core-group made itself hated when they decided to "pull the squatters' movement to pieces and build a new one on the remains of the old". In 1987 they started to physically do this. A very sickening period of more than 6 weeks was marked by taking over power in squatters' bars and institutions by the hardliners, people being followed on the streets, squatters being beat up in dark corners of the streets by hardliners, etcetera. Eventually there was a stand-off between the hardliners and the rest: in an outburst of violence the hardliners were 'removed' from the squatters' movement. Afterwards a lot of squatters took the opportunity the City of Amsterdam offered to legalize their squats. What followed was a deafening silence, that lasted for years.

Now the City of Amsterdam is worried by the growing anger of today's, mostly young, squatters. Amsterdam has to host the next European Topsummit of government leaders, the Eurotop, on June 16th and 17th. One third of the total Dutch police force will visit Amsterdam for this occasion, as will thousands and thousands of protesters. Although City Hall stresses the evictions have nothing to do with the Eurotop, an official of the Major's Office tries to get on speaking terms with the squatters over and over again, just to get to know what's going to happen, just to trie to calm things down. Her attempts are courageous, but fruitless. She knows the squatters try to find ways to keep their 40 large squats and 200 squatted small appartments and every new house that is squatted on the collective Sunday excursions.

Vrije Keyser Radio keyser@xs4all.nl http://www.xs4all.nl/~keyser


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