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Home for everyone,
Short Summary on Dutch squatting history
The book, ARCHITECTURE OF APPROPRIATION On squatting as spatial practice writes; “The principal of the squatters’ spatial activity is to defend people’s right for a home over the right for property ownership.” Squatting activities have been challenging on and changing the neoliberal capitalist paradigm, that doesn’t serve for people’s interests for having a home, rather their motive is only to boost housing market by serving only for the interests of real-estate developers and investors.
The right for squatters in the Netherlands was at first protected in 1914, when Dutch Supreme Court justified that the act of squatting itself was not punishable. This way, the right to use an unused property as a home was protected. To prove their “home”, the squatters needed to show a chair, a table and a bed inside of the property they occupied. (At that time, the action was not considered as “squatting”.)
The modern Dutch squatting movement has rise with the youth movement in 1960s, when the country was facing to the massive housing shortage as a result of the urban renewal project, as it led the country to a large scale housing speculation.
The famous squatting movement in this period is Provo’s “Happenings” and their protests, which was led by a performance artist Robert Jasper Grootveld, an anarchist Roel van Duyn together the youth of Amsterdam. For example, in ‘The White House Plan’ they painted the doors of empty buildings white as a way to list vacant properties for growing numbers of foreign youth or campers. They made vacant space available both to use and to question on the speculations of the housing market. Their actions became very popular and attracted thousands of regular participants.
Late 1960s, the University of Amsterdam acquired the archive of Provos movement. The money earned from the sales were contributed to the future movement of squatting. This helped to establish “the squatter’s housing office”– Woningburo de Kraker - WdK –. Wdk helped the networks between squatters. They also published the first DIY handbook to squat buildings, so that the squatters can help each others’ actions and encourage “do it yourself”. Around this time, the term “kraken” (“to crak" in English) and kraker (squatter in English) was born. This phenomenon defined the movement as a new type of political activism. The activists manifested “politics would be decided on the streets through direct action (Mamadouh 1992).”
In 1971 some squatters in the city Nijmegen were prosecuted by a property owner. The owner’s claim point was over the term of “use”. The owner claimed in the court that, his property was still “in use” as it was “for sale”. The lower court convicted the squatters for a crime but the group appealed to the Supreme Court by adapting a decision established by the Supreme Court in 1914. The group also appealed the notion of “house peace” (huisvrede in Dutch). This notion protected occupants in occupied properties from any unwanted enters. The Supreme Court accepted the squatters’ appeal and decreed that “on the basis of normal language ‘use’ ‘a house in use’ can only mean ‘a house in use as a house’’’ . This decree proved that the property owners couldn’t just evict squatters without juridical interventions. Court process for eviction can normally take a lengthy process, as the owners need to proof a proper planning for re-usage of the property. Therefore, this judgement in 1971 at the Supreme Court became historical mark as it created the legislative back-up to accelerate the squatting movement.
Mid 70s, initially triggered by Amsterdam Nieuwmark’s squatting, the squatters leant the value of having a space for a longer term in order to build an autonomous free communities.
But the turn came in 80s, as squatting movement started taking more anarchistic and radicalised tone. The trigger was the worst violent crash between the squatters and riot police in 1980. It was called Vondelstraat riots, in which the state deployed military tanks on the street to evict squatters of Amsterdam. Around this time, the squatting movement had become more about the entire political activism rather than about only securing personal space or personal political statement. Although the movement were still growing, the more it becomes radicalised, the more violent evictions took places, which unfortunately created anti-squatting dominancy in the public. The squatters movement in 80s are publicly labelled as radial and violent vandalism.
In this public narrative of making the squatters movement as dangerous to the rest of society, one of the first “Antikraak" housing agency was established in 1990. “Antikraak” is a “vacant property managers”.“Antikraak” was a good tool to protect property owner’s right while preventing squatters to squat unused buildings. Although introduction of Antikraak was motivated to make a solution for the growing numbers of youth and students in Dutch urban cities, Antikraak can be seen that they only serve the properties owners’ interests after all. Antikraak ’s exploited system played a large role in housing speculation thus it created gentrification in the urban area.
In this decline of squatting activities, one positive development was that the numbers of the squatted buildings took legalisation process, which made possible for squatters either to own the buildings or to rent them e.g. through municipalities. Many of the buildings that host cultural or communal activities in today’s Netherland or that accommodate large collective livings are formally squatted buildings. “Broedplaats” is the concept directly born out of the squatting movement.
By 1990s, the squatters' movements began to loose the debate and the interests in the public discourse. In 2006 criminalisation of the squatting was proposed by the 2 centre-right parties; The People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) - a conservative neoliberal party - and The Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA) - a Christian conservative party. Although the bill wasn’t favoured by several mayors of the largest cities in this year, the Netherlands finally passed the bill to criminalise the squatting on 1. June 2010 backed by the rapid rise of neo-nationalism - the Party for Freedom PVV. The new law was enforcement on 1. October 2010.
Until then, the Netherlands was one of the few rare countries not prohibiting the squatting conducted under certain conditions, e.g. if the property was vacant more than a year. The illegal aspect was more about if there was “vandalism” in the occupied property, but the act of occupation itself was legally protected. Thus this enforcement of criminalising the squatting was very much about political symbolism of “right for the ownership (or property investment) is above the people’s right for home”.
However as the new law was violating European convention of human right, it was edited in the next year, thanks you to the group of squatters who sued the sate of the Netherlands. This editing made the property owners still need to take legal procedures to evict occupants. The owners must have proper plan of re-usage of the building and the court must intervene for the eviction process.
Today, although the numbers of the activity is incomparable before the criminalisation, squatting activities are still going on as it is important for subcultures, alternative lives, radical politics and important as shelters for undocumented asylums.
In 2012, a collective ‘We Are Here’ was formed. A group of asylums seekers, whose applications were rejected and who couldn’t go back home, came together in a garden of Diakonie centre in Amsterdam. They had no access to housing and had no works, therefore had no choice other than living on the street. They decided to fight for the inhumane situation by making themselves visible and being heard. In 2013, the group demonstrated having big wooden letters saying ‘We Are Hear’ and started camping with tents in the neighbourhood called Osdorp in Amsterdam. They also squatted an empty church in the west of Amsterdam. These activities drew large media attentions, which grew the collective’s members and the supporters for further protests. The group has squatted more than 50 buildings and still in active. (link: http://wijzijnhier.org/).
Lynn Owens ‘Cracking Under Pressure, Narrating the Decline of the Amsterdam Squatters’ Movement’ Amsterdam University Press2009
René Boer, Marina Otero Verzier, Katía Truijen ‘ARCHITECTURE OF APPROPRIATION On squatting as spatial practice’, Het Nieuwe Instituut, 2019
1. Cracking Under Pressure p50
2. Cracking Under Pressure p49
3. Cracking Under Pressure p50
Antikraak works in the way that property owners pay Antikraak agencies a certain amount of cost and Antikraak appoints “guardian(s)” to the property who can only temporary live in. “Guardian(s)” pay monthly administration cost typically 100-150 euro p/m. ex. utility cost. This itself sounds attractive for students especially for growing numbers of foreign students. However, as an urban and architectural geographer, Mark Minkjan points out, Antikraak became “the precarit’s house arrest” similar to 0 hours working contract in the neo-liberal private cooperations. The guardians of the properties are contracted with a kind of lend-lease, but not with a rental contract. The Antikraak doesn’t call the guardians as tenant or residents deliberately to avoid tenant right that will follow. The guardians don’t even have right to reject frequent visits by the Antikraak agency, property owners or buyers. When the visits occur the guardians must be absent from their home. They have even no choice to reject an unannounced visits by the Antikraak agency, even they are sleeping or even they are making love. The guardians are typically not even allowed to lock the door and sometime, they can’t even leave their home for more than 2 nights. The guardians have to move the property typically with in a month, worst case within 2 weeks notice, if the property is sold.
Abuse of human right in Antikraak is not the only wrong doings by them, Antikraak often lend the lease to only few guardians e.g. within a large cooperative buildings which actually have thousand of square meters of liveable space. If the purpose of Antikraak was initiated to solve the housing shortage, why not to lease out to more people? Because the more people gather, the more chance of solidarity would be born. The longer they live, the more “home” feeling can arise.
The squatting movement has contributed to create affordable housing with the basic right for “house peace” and it has encouraged proudness and sense of dignity in the people. The squatting also creates a debate about neighbourhood. Contrary Antikraak after all contributes only to speculation and dehumanisation of people in precariousness. Antikraak has seemed to succeeded in maintaining the paradigm of capitalism by adapting the method of “invisible”, “detaching” and “disassembling”. However although knowing this horrible condition, Antikraak was after all the only affordable housing for many people who want live in urban cities. Many of my fellow art students were also living in the Antikraak housing with precarious and unforeseeable situations and so do I.
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