On October 15th, 2009 a fundamental human balance was disturbed between a person’s right to have a roof over their head and real estate profits in Holland. This article is written from the perspective of a neutral eye witness and aims to give details about the demonstration that was carelessly disregarded by the media.Background:
A series of peaceful demonstrations were held in the Hague beside the Parliament buildings for the purpose of protesting a law that was being passed there that evening. The law was to make squatting illegal in Holland and punishable by one year in prison. Squatting is now legal in Holland. A person can squat a property if it has been empty for more than one year. If the owner has an immediate need to get the property emptied they can negotiate with the squatter or start a simple legal case. However, if the owner simply wants the property to sit there unoccupied again, the courts will value a person’s need to have a home over the need for potential profits that might come out of capitalizing on realestate.
“The anti-squatting bill is an initiative by MPs from two coalition parties, the Christian Democrats and Christian Union, and the conservative opposition party, the VVD. The second-largest member of the ruling coalition, the Labour Party, is against the new legislation. Consequently the bill relied for support on the rightwing opposition Freedom Party, headed by anti-Islam MP Geert Wilders. The Freedom Party only agreed to back the bill when the proposed minimum sentences for squatting had been raised.
At present squatters of buildings that have been empty for more than a year are not prosecuted. To be charged with breaking into a building, squatters have to be caught in the act. However, the days of legal squatting in the Netherlands now appear to be over. Under the new legislation, convicted squatters face a one-year jail term.
Opponents claim that squatting helps maintain social housing, combats speculation, stimulates cultural initiatives and protects historic buildings. Their last hope is that the bill will be blocked by the Upper House.”
- Exerpt from RNW Radio Netherlands Worldwide
The decision to ban squatting is a major move towards neo conservative values in a progressive European country like the Netherlands. As a Canadian citizen observing the events that night it made me think of my previous vision of Holland as a very liberal society of rich human rights and tolerance.The Daytime:
The bill was to be voted on at 6pm that day. The demonstration began at 1pm with people setting up tents and playing music at the main square near the parliament buildings.
The attitude was positive and people kept arriving. I went to talk to squatters and supporters about what they thought about the protest and what they do with their lives. The stereotype of squatters that paints them as lazy punks who sit around all day and disobey the law was crushed by the fact that the great majority of these people hold normal jobs or are going to school. More on this topic will be covered in my book about squatters later on this year.
People played music, talked and set up stations for food, coffee and free giveaway stands. Despite the positive activities, tension was in the air. People were about to find out if they were going to loose their homes.
Journalists were at large interviewing people and taking photos. People on the streets went into the grounds to take a look at the proceedings.
People waited for the decision patiently. Some went to the parlament buildings to sit in on the voting proceedings. The time came to make the vote at around 6pm. After arriving at the entrance to the chaimber I met another reporter who was stuck outside. There was a crowd gatheredoutside the entrance. They were waiting patiently to be allowed inside. Suddenly the police started pushing everyone out. The crowd resisted as there seemed to be no reason why they should leave.Eventually the police gained control and closed the doors leaving the people outside.
The people outside left after a few minutes and the journalist and I were allowed to exit as well. The mood in the square was grim. People had just come closer to losing their right to a roof over their head.
Van der Burg parliamentary groups (VVD) were interviewed in front of the parliament buildings. The demonstrators marched over to show their discontent with the decision to make squatting illegal.
The demonstrators kept back from the police line. They raised their banners in hope to be captured by the many reporters that were shooting the scene.
Crowds headed in the direction of the gates to the Parlament buildings. Suddenly the whole crowd started moving there. The mounted police and officers started running in that direction.
There were some demonstrators who shouted obscenities at the police on the other side of the invisible line and gestured but anyone who paid any remote attention to the proceedings could easily tell that these were a single few people. The vast majority of people simply sat and waited with banners as the media scanned the crowds.
The demonstrators sat down in front of the gates and raised their banners.
When the police radio blared out a message the crowd raised their voice in defiance. The poice messages were not being heard at all. At about 8:30pm a police officer came around with a large stack of notices. Some of them made it to me and I read quickly that the protest by the parlament buildings was ordered to be stopped at 8pm by the Major of the Hague. The notice was hastily yanked away from me before I could read anyting else. Shortly after the notice was given the crowd slowly started obeying. People left the doors of the parliament buildings and dispersed from that location with only one incident. It involved some sitting demonstrators being kicked and dragged by the police as to leave. These few people stood their ground and in the end were not removed. However, they peacefully left some time after.
After the police stampede the crowd cleared for the most part. The people who were left were being removed by police using force.
A large crowd gathered at the square where there were still tents erected. People were cleaning up garbage and putting it into black bags. Some were packing away their tents. Cars were pulling out of the area. The area was mostly cleared exept for a small crowd gathered talking at the monument of the Price of Orange. I was also there talking to people about their views on the current political situation and their feelings about the potential new law.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw some blue light on one side of the parliament buildings and dark figures moving into the area. When I came closer I saw that the riot police was moving into the area. This was the beginning of the final confrontation, however, it did not seem logical to me why the small group of people would be asked to leave a public square while not doing anything at all.
Nevertheless, I tried to get behind the riot police in order to snap a photo from the back. Thinking I was free to move about, I went towards the police. As I tried to pass one from the side to exit I recieved a hit on the face with a riot shield. I fell to the ground slamming my elbow and rolling onto my backpack. I gripped my camera and scurried to grab my flash which hit the ground hard. I got up and said that I would like to pass peacefully and that I am trying to document the event. The officer shouted for me to get back approaching me with a baton. At this moment I knew that the people at the square were in trouble.
My nose was numb and the inside was dry. Feeling my nose a little bit of blood came out, but there was instantly dry. Nothing was broken, but was that really necessary?
In short, when I went back to the monument people were sitting down and a few photographers were about. I talked to a photography from the Hague as the riot police advanced. He was slightly confused about this fate as well. The media was going in and out of the riot cirlce. They were not displaying any media passes, just cameras. At this point I felt that my rights as a peaceful observer and documenter have been seriously violated.
A police officer came around with a megaphone and started to relate a message. Her megaphone was malfunctioning and the feedback noise was bizarre. None of what she said could be heard. She might not have realized it as she kept on speaking as her megaphone blared out distorted noises that sounded like a broken radio.
I was determined to observe the arrests from behind and made sure I was not in the way of police as I shot my last photos. I was later arrested myself and dragged to the police van with my camera still in my hands. A part of me still could not believe that they were arresting people who were willing to leave peacefully.
The real surprise came when the first aid attendants and another reporter were hauled in next to me. The reporter was put into the same chaimber as me in the police truck. His hands were tied behind his back and his camera was hanging from his neck. It was a pro camera worth approximatly 6000 euros. He said he had a press pass and when he offered to show it the police officer told him ” I did not see it”. The journalist was worried about his girlfriend who had a stroke only four days ago and was now home alone waiting. The arrest came as a shock to him. In the end the reports say that there were around 105 people arrested. The detainees had to be transferred to different jails as there was not enough room to house them all in the Hague.
This protest did not recieve nearly enough mass media attention. My hopes that the reporter who snapped a photo of me being dragged away with a camera in my hand was going to publish the image. Instead it most likely died in his hard drive or on the editor’s desk. Perhaps the goal of the mass media was to discourage civil disobedience by denying to report on it in detail, but this time they have failed because this article is there are people determined to be heard and their struggles will not go unnoticed. This and the other freelance articles are a testament to that. Let us help prevent one sided mass media influence and help people get informed about what is going on in their countries.
You can see all of the photos from the protest here.Keep posting your reactions and look at the following news coverage:
Indymedia NL: http://indymedia.nl/en/2009/10/62229.shtml
Photos from Indymedia: http://indymedia.nl/nl/2009/10/62308.shtml#comment.86609
Alex Wolf from vespers.nl Reports: http://www.verspers.nl/?categorie=1&soort=foto&id=232
Micheal Spekkers Reports a very nice article with photos : http://www.michelspekkers.nl/2009/10/16/15102009-een-kort-dagverslag-van-de-demonstratie-in-den-haag/#more-726
Rutger Tries to Comment on Squatters: http://www.geenstijl.tv/2009/10/rutger_doet_knuffelen_met_krak.html
Dutch News.nl : http://www.dutchnews.nl/news/archives/2009/10/squatters_arrested_at_new_law.php This
article is comepletely incorrect saying that 100 ’squatters’ got
arrested. According to this article you can understand that this is not
Indymedia Article: http://de.indymedia.org/2009/10/263486.shtml
Ravage Digitaal.org: http://www.ravagedigitaal.org/index.htm?2009nieuws/oktober/16/nws.php~mainFrame
Ravage Digital.org (another one): http://www.ravagedigitaal.org/index.htm?2009nieuws/oktober/14/nws.php~mainFrame
NuFoto: (incorrect info given on the number of arrested) http://www.nufoto.nl/fotos/117664/krakers-demonstreren-op-plein-in-den-haag.html