What's The Kraak?
As in the UK, squatting in Holland entails knowing the law and exploring the loopholes.
Sam Beale travels to Holland to look at their long-established squat (community) centres and speak with the free radicals. 2nd article in the series.
Squall 10, Summer 1995, pp. 42-43.
Dutch squatting law has developed from before 1987 when an owner could not take you to court unless he knew your name.
“They changed that law in ‘87 and made it possible to get you in court anonymously and everybody thought that would be the end of squatting,” explains Tijn, who has squatted in Den Haag for seven years. In Dutch law, “you are protected in the privacy of your own home. As soon as you go into a house that is empty, you don’t get caught breaking and entering, you put your own lock on the door and make it lived in; at least a table, a bed and a chair, at that moment you are protected by the law. No-one can enter your home. Even if you’re out it’s still your home,” says Tijn.
Since last year a new piece of legislation, Article 429, means that if an owner can prove that a building has not been empty for 12 months, squatters can be evicted immediately. In this instance the police decide whether to evict on the basis of the information they get from the owner and the squatter, if s/he can get the information to them. Whenever they find enough grounds they will evict. It has made it more difficult to squat as you have to find out how long a house has been empty before squatting it. The new law is causing problems but people are still squatting. Evictions happen quickly.
“Most of the time if you’re in there for three weeks the letters start coming in,” says Tijn.
Aleis, has been trying to find a big squat in Amsterdam to run with 15 others for over a year: “Now we just have this small house because we were so tired. You can’t just jump around going from big house to big house, squat and evict, squat and evict. We have to live as well.”
When the police show up to evict under 429, Tijn says, “they show you a paper and say they have the right to enter and ask you three times to leave of your own accord. If you don’t they can evict you using any necessary means”. No warning. No court case.
How the law will work is still very vague. Tijn noted that in current test cases people are appealing against evictions in order to ascertain how the law should be interpreted: “Can it be applied when the owner comes to get his mail once every eleven months? Is that enough for them to say this house has not been empty for a year? Do you as a squatter have to prove that the house has been empty for a year or is it up to the owner to prove that it hasn’t?” It seems that each city is enforcing the law differently.
In Den Haag, Constantijn spends most of his time squatting buildings for other people or carrying out building work on places he has already squatted: “That’s the whole point. People are homeless or they have to get out of their house and I have the tools and the knowledge.” He had been working on sound-proofing a new squatted venue: “There’s a little less time to squat. But if people are desperate to get a home and they know a place I’ll go and squat”.
A squatted petrol station in Den Haag was the 1am meeting point for a squat-breaking mission. Jeroen was facing rent arrears and extortionate eviction costs if he was not out by the end of the week. Constantijn took us all to the prospective building: “It’s been empty for about three years so it’s ideal to squat.” About ten people had gathered to help. Constantijn kept nipping out to see if the upstairs neighbours had gone to sleep. Every time he came back he said we had to wait a bit longer, they had friends round, the front windows were open and it was too risky.
Marije lives in the petrol station and has been squatting for three years. The place is a squat-punk’s dream. “Take as many pictures as you like,” she announced as she sat proudly in an armchair in a room too much the cult- punk-movie set to be true. Fur-lined walls, Sex Pistols memorabilia and a car parked up as her bed.
After a couple of hours the neighbours were still up and Constantijn asked should they play it safe and wait till another night or risk it tonight? They decided to wait. Calling for chips and beer, Constantijn put his customised car jack back in his bag.
This ingenious implement could well knock the crow bar off its long established spot as top squatter’s tool. Tijn explains: “Crowbars can wake the neighbours up but this is really subtle. You use the hydraulic power of the jack to force the door. Basically you can open any door. You take off the part that goes on the car and make a scoop. The scoop goes around the doorpost. The other part pushes in the door and as soon as enough tension has built up, the door opens without too much damage.”
Constantijn has been squatting all over Holland for 13 years. He says that despite the Den Haag police force’s reputation as the “heaviest police in the country” (because the royals live there), the squatting scene in Den Haag is much more relaxed than in other Dutch cities, “just go in and do it right and the police are very relaxed”.
Attitudes to the police were generally surprising. At the Vrankryk it became clear that here, and perhaps elsewhere in Holland, there was no violence-non-violence debate, certainly not to the degree that it has dominated demonstrations in this country.
Paula gave me the feeling that in Holland it is accepted, perhaps prompted by a history of heavy policing and militant solidarity, that life is very complicated and that every situation demands what it demands.
He relates a survival story: “One time, after a demo, we had scaffolding outside for the house to be painted. The police tried to climb the scaffolding and there was nothing else handy so the fire extinguishers had to go. They were sort of impressed by that. It’s a basic rule in the house. The police don’t come in whatever. Sometimes it is smarter not to use violence, but they don’t come in.”
These are not nutters out for a kicking, they are thoughtful, dedicated squatters who believe that being willing to hold your ground allows a stand-off long enough for you to prove that you have something to offer as a community, that you don’t merely want to take. If the fire extinguishers hadn’t gone out of the window there would, very possibly, be no Vrankryk.
When a building is so large, so apparently ‘hard-core’ and strong that poses a serious threat to the establishment then state force will be brought to bear. In a different time and place perhaps passive resistance would have worked for them, gained them support in the community and in the media and led to negotiation that violence could have negated. But, sitting in the Vrankryk bar listening to old friends remembering the strength they had shared in defending their squat, it was evident they had merely done what each situation demanded.
Apparently in opposition to this is the common practice in Holland of contacting police when you squat a building.
Tijn: “We call the police ourselves. Otherwise you’re just waiting for them. You say we have taken this empty space as our living space and make a note of who you spoke to so they can’t deny you have reported it.” Constantijn agrees: “I don’t care about the police. After I’ve squatted a place I just ring them up and I’m friendly. I don’t want to be the same as them. I’m different, that’s what I want to be. I don’t care what they think. So, just be friendly. I can be aggressive but then maybe I’ll get kicked out or have problems with them. No, just hello, good morning.”
Constantijn even noted that one squat was a tip off from the police: “It was about six months ago, they just drove by and said if you want to squat something tonight.... and gave us the address.” Community policing or what!
“It’s a basic rule in the house. The police don’t come in whatever. Sometimes it is smarter not to use violence but they don’t in.”
Obviously police and owners will always evict if they can. “They try to intimidate you”, says Constantijn. The police commonly cite safety as a reason for eviction. Marije was once evicted because the house did not have water and the police claimed this was a fire risk: “They wouldn’t give us water and then they said we have to evict you because you don’t have water.” Constantijn remembers getting evicted, “because my bed wasn’t a bed, it was a thin piece of cloth on the floor and they said that’s not a bed!”
Tijn lives in a squat that had been empty for 12 years. It was squatted and evicted quickly seven times before Tijn moved in three and a half years ago. Since then the owner has tried three illegal evictions: “He tried to ram the door down with a sledgehammer. We barricaded it so he couldn’t get in but the third time I was out for coffee and came back and he was already in.”
Tijn had to fight with the owner and face out some heavies he had brought with him. “I went away and called the alarm and a lot of people showed up. The cops as well.” Because Tijn had called the police when he moved in they had already registered it as being squatted: “As there were a lot of people there they had to apply the law which is that this owner has no right to break into my private home. So they arrested him.”
This owner had bought the property in auction, secured the eviction of the tenants by saying he intended to live there and then left it empty for 12 years.
Squats are frequently barricaded in defence against evictions. Barricading, explained Oscar and Paula in the Vrankryk, can lead to the police having to evict through the roof. The Bratra, the Breaking and Tear Gas Unit, are used in these cases. When a house is secure downstairs they use a three-sided crane, drills and chainsaws to come through the roof.
Oscar believes, “they admire a good barricade. You can have a conversation with them. A professional understanding.” Constantijn thinks you have to decide each time whether a building can be defended. “It depends on the building and the people living there. There’s a squat over the road, a small place and the guy living there doesn’t like violence so that will be evicted very quietly.” But at the Blauwe: “It’s been here 14 years and they’re evicting it for more cars. So OK. Let’s barricade. Come and get us out!”
Dutch squatters have another variable to deal with: the scourge of the anti-squatters. There are five private anti-squat agencies in Holland. Owners use the agencies to find people, often students, to live in their empty buildings and prevent them being squatted.
Feelings run high about anti-squatters. Walter, barman at the Vrankryk, said: “If anti-squatting happens in London smash it when it starts. We let it happen here. Don’t take that.” He pointed out that a school over the road from the Vrankryk has five anti-squatters living in 30 peoples’ living space.
Some anti-squatters just pay water, gas and electricity, they have no rental rights. Constantijn explained that, “You have to be introduced by another anti-squatter. I can understand it.... if you need a home you can get one like that. It sounds like it’s safer to go anti-squat than to squat but that’s really naive because when the owner says get out you have to get out.”
He feels that anti-squatters can “do what they like but I think they have to know what they are doing. They trick people into living like that.” Ever optimistic Constantijn does not see anti-squatting as a real threat to squatters: “I don’t care about anti-squatters. I just carry on. If I have the chance I would talk to them. I don’t believe every anti-squatter is an antisocial bastard. That’s like one squatter is bad so every squatter is bad. There are people who really need a home and get introduced to it by other anti-squatters.”
This squatter is quite clear how he wants to live: “I want to live in a squat because it’s a good way to live. You can try to legalise it if you want, you can build it up, you can shape it anyway you like. It’s where the revolution starts!”
He believes that squatting is important because it gives people direct control over the way they live. “You don’t have to live without electricity or water or heating. The house where I live, we painted it, we put in a central heating system. There’s new gas, water, electricity in it. We made a garden and the roof’s been fixed. I’ve lived there for a year now and it looks like it has been bought by very rich people! It’s great”.
Because of the pragmatism and ingenuity they ooze, because they are on top of current legislation, because they strive to be well informed these squatters were inspiring. They inspired a sense that no legislation has the power to silence the scream of outrage at the obscenity of property speculation in the face of homelessness.
If this attitude was exported to this country, squatters would simply rise to legislation contained in the CJA. No-one knows the business of squatting better than squatters and, armed with accurate information, with the help of friendly lawyers, they will find the loopholes in this palpably unworkable law.
The last word belongs to Meyndert at the Binnenpret who is waiting for the next “top of the wave”:
“There’s a new fight coming, a new kind of revolution. I see the ‘60s as a revolution, but I feel there is a level where people are organising themselves better now.... There’s always been squatting and there will be as long as it’s not a real right that everybody has a place to live, and there are places standing empty. It belongs to human nature like if somebody is hungry and he doesn’t have money he will find food otherwise he will die. From the moment there were three houses and one of them was empty it was squatted.”
Read the other articles from Squall's report back on squatting in Holland in Squall 10: KRAAKING THE SYSTEM / KRAAKING INFO
THEY MUST BE KRAKERS - Battle zone as Kalenderpanden - the large community squat in Amsterdam - is evicted - 18-Nov-2000