After the struggle for a squatted house in Vondel Street, which we reported on earlier, this second part of our series on housing struggles in the Netherlands looks at the action month of the squatters’ movement in April 1980. The action month reached its climax on Beatrix’s coronation day, on April 30, 1980. April 30, 1980 the biggest revolt that took place in the Netherlands after World War II. This piece tells about that April, we have also added the documentary film about April 30, 1980: “No Housing! No Coronation!” and added English subtitles. You can find the film below the article.
Originally published by Enough 14. Written by Riot Turtle.
In the latest issue of Sunzi Bingfa there is also a German version of this article and documentary: https://sunzibingfa.noblogs.org/post/2021/02/22/haeuserkampf-in-den-niederlanden-keine-wohnung-keine-kroenung-1980-teil-2/
The Battle for the Vondel Street had changed everything. Since the beginning of March, more and more buildings were squatted, not only in Amsterdam, but all over the Netherlands. Many new squatter groups emerged and the deployment of the army in the Vondel Street had cost the state a lot of trust, even in bourgeois circles. Soldiers in action had not been seen in Amsterdam since World War II. Politicians had failed to sweep the housing issue under the rug by means of a massive criminalization campaign and a subsequent military operation. Instead: A lot of rage and a tremendous growth of the squatter movement. I was 15 years old at the time and followed the developments closely. Even in the 600-inhabitant village where the children’s home I was staying was, a building with new empty luxury apartments was squatted. Soon I was a regular visitor there, soaking up all the information that was available. At school, too, squatting and housing shortages were the number one topic of conversation.
Originally, April 30 was supposed to be a day of action against housing shortage. But it turned into a month of action. In Amsterdam, there was a new target: vacant luxury apartments. The first major action took place on April 2. Empty luxury apartments were being squatted in a new building complex on Prince Hendrik Kade across from the main train station. The occupation of luxury apartments is a new provocation for local politicians, a month after the battle in Vondel Street, Mayor Polak and all city council factions are under such pressure that in a first reaction they can only express understanding for this action against vacancies in a time of urgent housing shortage. Even the conservatives. The entire political class had been put on the defensive.
A day later, a large group of squatters stormed the office of the municipal housing department GDH. They occupied the building for a few hours and stole dozens of files from the list of houses scheduled for eviction. Local politicians are furious. The distribution of available housing in a time of shortage is sacred to the city government. The squatters, however, point out that the GDH only served to maintain this scarcity. From their point of view, the distribution system acted as a lightning rod for the real approach to the housing shortage, this view was increasingly supported by GDH officials themselves. A month and a half earlier, they had been on strike for a day because they were dissatisfied with the poor functioning of the service.
After the action at the GDH offices, the squatters moved to the Palace at Dam Square, where several smoke bombs were set off, accompanied by the slogan “No housing! No coronation!” It slowly becomes clear to the outside world that the squatter movement wants to use the day of Beatrix’s inauguration for a broad protest against the housing shortage. Interior Minister Wiegel responds to this pressure; on the evening of the demonstration on Dam Square, he addresses the population on television: “April 30 must become a day of celebration.”
Wiegel himself was generally held responsible for the deployment of the army in Vondel Street, and his call for a celebratory inauguration of Beatrix therefore works more as an accelerant to an already smoldering fire. As a child in a children’s home in the 1980s in a village of 600 inhabitants, one quickly learns what discrimination is, and the fairy tale of equal opportunities is quickly recognized for what it is: a fairy tale. Most of our group knew that they usually had to leave the children’s home at 16, and young people like me, who were assigned a custodian through the family court, knew that at 16 they were expected to keep up on the housing market with only 600 Dutch guilders (a little less than 300 Euro) a month. 600 guilders a month for everything: food, beverages, clothing, rent, and so on. That was not even possible in the 198o’s. So it’s not surprising that many in our group started to think about squatting. Me too. So I decided with 3 friends that we would run away from the children’s home on April 30 to go to Amsterdam.
Politicians were getting hysterical. The police and the judiciary were carrying out a manhunt for the “April 30 Action Day” poster that had appeared all over the country. Outside Amsterdam, a number of raids were caried out against youth organizations and squats who had put up the poster in their windows. The city of Amsterdam rushed to subsidize a music festival organized by squatters and others on April 30 in the “de Pijp” district, the so-called ‘Braak Festival’.
The royal family’s planned tour through the city after the inauguration was canceled, and councilman Schaefer let slip that he was willing to buy a number of squatted buildings, if necessary even without subventions from the Dutch government. In particular, he is aiming at the Handelsblad complex (NRC), which is literally a stone’s throw from the palace on Dam Square. For their part, Amsterdam’s housing associations announced that they would do everything in their power to ensure that no apartments would remain vacant by April 30. A week before Beatrix’s inauguration, the government announced that the proposals for the ” anti- squatting law” would finally be withdrawn.
In the weeks leading up to the coronation, collective paranoia reigns, caused by nothing more than a simple poster cobbled together by a small group. The unprecedented success of the first poster inspired the creators to intensify the campaign. In mid-April, a second poster appears, calling for people to gather at the Dokwerker statue on April 30 for a “demonstration with effects.” The poster is decorated with a picture of the smoke bomb that disrupted the wedding procession of Beatrix and Claus in March 1966. This time the poster is not anonymous, but “the autonomists” take responsibility for it. For me personally, it was the first time I heard the word autonomists. The poster hung in my room for about three hours before one of the “childcare workers” confiscated it. However, he did not find the copies that we still wanted to distribute.
However, originally it was not intended that April 30 would be a day of confrontations with the cops. The plan was to squat as many houses as possible, not only in Amsterdam, but also in other cities. It was clear that evictions would not be accepted and that we would resist attempts by the cops to evict occupied buildings. Since I was still living in a children’s home and hadn’t heard much about the preparations, I didn’t know many things. But the fact that the first thing was to squat as many buildings as possible had also reached our village of 600 inhabitants.
On April 30, several hundred buildings in the Netherlands were squatted in the early morning hours. Outside Amsterdam, the squatters got into trouble not only with the cops, but also with civilian thugs, quite a few of whom were paid by the owners of the buildings themselves. In Amsterdam, the atmosphere wass extremely tense that day. The center of Amsterdam had been hermetically sealed off and was turned into a fortress. We had started early and arrived safely. We then went first to a new squat in the Kinkerbuurt district. A street party was organized in front of the squat. The traffic was therefore blocked, but the tram was allowed through. Suddenly the cops showed up and started beating up all the people they could get their hands on. We got away just fine, but the anger about this orgy of violence by the cops was intense. The tone was set. We talked with some people and decided to move together with them in the direction of the demonstration at the Dokwerker.
In the early afternoon of April 30, several thousand people started to march there, but the demo was stopped by the cops on the Blauwbrug (Blue Bridge), near Waterlooplein. A reason to stop the demonstration was not announced. At least I didn’t hear anything. For me this was not the first demonstration. I participated in an anti-nuclear action before. At that time I went to that action as a pacifist, which changed abruptly when cops started beating up people with their batons in front of my eyes. Many people had to be treated in hospital afterwards. Because of this experience at the anti-nuclear action, I decided that I would defend myself if necessary. The clashes that started on April 30 on the Blauw Brug spread to large parts of the city center in the hours that followed.
The celebrations desired by Wiegel ended in looting and destruction that lasted into the night. We tored up the streets without a break and supplied people with ammunition, unless we were at the front line ourselves and attacked the cops. We soon realized that more and more people were joining the revolt. On Hoog street the cops had to retreat again and again and were only able to prevent with difficulty and combined forces that the fighting reached Dam Square, where the coronation of Beatrix was taking place.
I remember we spent a long time at the Rokin. The Rokin is also near Dam Square. We fought with the cops there for hours, trying to reach Dam Square. It was the first time I ever built barricades, but you learn something like that fast. Learning by doing. Tear gas hung in the air everywhere and many people were injured. Again and again we took injured people to the ambulances that were waiting in long lines at the edge of the battleground area. Some injuries looked really bad, but we usually didn’t have time to think about that. The battles were so intense that it was simply not really possible. People were taken out of the danger zone, to the ambulance and then we went straight back to the front. There was also a lot of hand-to-hand combat on the Rokin. There were plenty of flagpoles, because the supporters of the royal house had hoisted their flags everywhere. Their flagpoles were then used against the cops: Flagpoles versus batons. The cops were clearly shocked about these direct confrontations. They had to give up terrain again and again, but were able to hold their ground just outside Dam Square.
In the night hours, the situation slowly calmed down. We decided to stay a few more days and then go back separated and with a time gap, so that we would arrive at the children’s home one by one and we would each have our own story ready for the director of the children’s home. The punishments in the home were often harsh, but occasionally with a good story you could get off with a slap on the wrist. Unfortunately, that was not the case this time. They couldn’t prove anything, but they had a strong suspicion that we had been in Amsterdam. We didn’t really care, because it was worth it to us and we were already aware in advance that they probably wouldn’t buy our stories.
The days after April 30 were also very intense. A first crack went through the squatters’ movement. Nobody had expected that the conflicts would become this violent. There were even some dissociations. There were some groups, such as the “autonomists” who took “responsibility” for the revolt, and there were groups who considered the chosen path to be a dead end. The “autonomous factions” argued that the peaceful path up to Vondel Street had long since reached a dead end, and that it was the militant resistance that provoked the deployment of the army and had put the dispute over housing shortage and urban politics in general on the agenda. The discussions were sometimes exhausting, but very informative for a 15-year-old. Today I know that the basis for a life of decades of struggle was founded at that time, and those discussions were the reason why I started to participate mostly in autonomous groups. When I moved to Amsterdam in 1981, at the age of sixteen, to live in my first own apartment, I moved into a squat after three months. My first shared house. But I’ll tell you more about that in the next issue of Sunzi Bingfa.