One reason why the squatting movement in Holland has endured for so long is that they have paid attention to their own media.
Sam Beale travels to Holland to look at their long-established squat (community) centres and speak with the free radicals. 3rd article in the series.
Squall 10, Summer 1995, pg. 44.
Under Dutch law a building must be empty for 12 months before it can be squatted. Thus, it is essential that squatters are tooled up with information.
SPOK (Speculation Research Kollectiv), in Amsterdam, conducts research into the Chamber of Commerce and property and real estate owners to help tenants and squatters find out about landlords and owners. The collective has published a book on researching owners, procedures against building plans and how to deal with the media.
Oscar from SPOK told me that the Collective recently discovered that an eviction which used an old local antisquatting law was illegal so it was resquatted with the ‘blessing’ of the police. He works 20 hours a week for SPOK and started when he moved into a squat himself and went to SPOK to find out who the owner was. “They told me I had to go to the Chamber of Commerce and I started the trail to find information.”
The organisation has been running for 16 years and now has eight voluntary staff. They are currently investigating Jacob Leuchter, the mortal enemy of Dutch squatters. He is now a tax exile in Spain, but still owns the squat that was married to the Vrankryk last year (see ‘Kraaking the System’). “He has said in interviews that evicting squatters is a main goal in his life,” says Paula at the Vrankryk. He has attempted to evict the building eight times already but has failed every time. According to Paula this is “because he is a total fraud, everyone knows that. Even the judge”.
SPOK have investigated his claims that he has sold the building to a company which demands vacant possession. The company, it would appear, is (allegedly) owned by Mrs Leuchter. SPOK have also discovered some other best-not-mentioned-here dodgy connections concerning Mr Leuchter which lead them to be fairly confident about quashing his latest eviction attempt.
SPOK gets some money from the Amsterdam squatters’ fund. Squatters (not all squatters Paula was quick to point out) miraculously donate fl5 a month to the fund which is used for SPOK, the biweekly squatters’ newspaper, actions, and a police and secret service research group.
Squatters’ information is classified according to area in Amsterdam. “The city is divided into about four parts, each has a group responsible for squatting there. Every week there is an information hour for each area at the Westemarkt”, explains Paula. Sunday is traditionally squatting day in Amsterdam because “there are not so many people on the streets and usually people don’t have anything to do so it’s easier to get lots of people there”.
Tijn runs Kraakspreekuus (a squatters’ information network) in Den Haag. He regularly helps people to squat but feels very strongly about squatters gathering information before they squat: “Personally I will only go along with squatting if they do the research.” He believes that it is even more important to know who owns a building than how long it has been empty simply so that you know who you are dealing with.
“Kraakspreekuus is not for people who already live in squats, it’s more an opening for people to get involved or get information.” He is honest with people: “I tell them that squatting is not a very easy thing and that it brings along a lot of uncertainties; in fact it is all uncertain.”
Tijn is also called upon to find places for street-sleepers: “Homeless people in Den Haag are mostly alcoholics, heroin addicts, or psychiatric patients who’ve been kicked onto the streets.
Some of the institutions that cannot help them send them over to the squatters’ information. Even the council sends them over. They just want to get rid of them that’s all.”
One organisation sends young people who have housing problems to Tijn and if their problems are primarily housing-related then he is happy to help.
Marcel is the author of three black books on police behaviour towards squatters. He started by documenting ten complaints about illegal evictions: “I’ve written down what the police should have done legally and what happened really.” Marcel’s interest in the law came through squatting and he is now studying law in Den Haag: “Some people say forget about the law but I think it doesn’t bite to know about your legal rights.”
When he started squatting Marcel says, “I didn’t want anything to do with the squatting scene. I didn’t have any real political interest; in an ideological way yes, but not practical. I lived with an artist who needed a place to exhibit his sculptures so we squatted a very big building in the centre of Den Haag. We thought it was quite small and we came in and it was so huge we realised we couldn’t keep this for ourselves.”
That was 18 months ago. He is now writing a fourth black book about police behaviour on the January demonstration at the eviction of the Blauwe, which ended in violence and arrests (see ‘Kraaking the System’).
Den Haag has a monthly squatters’ magazine called Schijn Beweging which means selling a dummy (as in football). In Amsterdam a fortnightly paper gives news of squats and actions across the capital.
Both cities also have a number of pirate radio stations. Mart works for Radio Tonka in Den Haag which has been broadcasting seven days a week for over a year. Situated in a former squat, Radio Tonka has had little trouble from either the police or the radio control service.
Tapes for programmes are recorded in a nearby ‘studio’ so that the best gear is safe from raids. Mart broadcasts a one hour jungle music programme on Thursday and also works on a punk and hardcore programme which includes squatting information. The station also broadcasts programmes about theatre, music, philosophy, artists. There are political programmes which give news about the city as well as about housing and squatting. There’s an information show every Sunday: “If there is any news that’s really important we just pop it in,” says Matt.
As for the mainstream media, Meyndert from the Binnenpret in Amsterdam suspects a “gentlemen’s agreement between local and national government), the royal family and the press that they really calm things down and don’t write too much about squatting”. He believes this stems from a fear of repeating blanket press coverage of radical action in the early 80s following the crowning of Queen Beatrix. This ended with full-on battles between squatters, the police and the army, with extensive barricading and tanks on the streets.
Now, he says: “It’s in between the lines that squatting is over and all squatters have become journalists or designers and they’ve lost their wild hair. In part it is true. People who made actions in the ‘80s are 35 or older now.” But the press, he says, ignore new squatters too: “They ignore those who are active, who are squatting or people who are in the environmental movement. They try to kill it before it becomes anything by ignoring it.” He believes that squatters and activists must be on top of the press: “In an eviction [squatters] are very busy and it’s quite emotional because you’re losing your house again and the vision of those being evicted is never clearly given in the press.” So it is important “if you’re doing an action to give a press release then they know your vision as well”.
Younger Dutch squatters are clearly on the media case, producing their own and watching the mainstream. Mart is back at college doing a media studies course: “I want to learn about media and media control. I think the media is the most powerful thing there is right now. It’s what we’ve got to concentrate on as a scene. It’s a fantasy in my head that we’re not running behind the items and the facts but we’re making the facts.”
Read the other articles from Squall's report back on squatting in Holland in Squall 10: KRAAKING THE SYSTEM / WHAT'S THE KRAAK
THEY MUST BE KRAKERS - Battle zone as Kalenderpanden - the large community squat in Amsterdam - is evicted - 18-Nov-2000