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Housing struggle in the Netherlands 1980: The battle for Vondel Street and the ‘Coronation Revolt’ on Tour through Europe

Amsterdam. Netherlans. 1980. The militancy of the Amsterdam squatters movement in 1980 had an impact outside the Netherlands as well. The images of tanks and militant clashes made a strong impression in Western Europe, with the result that squatters from Amsterdam were now welcome guests of their comrades abroad.

Published by Enough 14. Written by Riot Turtle.

In the latest issue of Sunzi Bingfa there is also a German version of this article :

As summer approached, the Amsterdam squatters swarmed across Europe. When I moved to Amsterdam in 1981, I got in touch with squatters from abroad very rapidly. Some of them were regularly in Amsterdam, others lived there by now. But I was also often on the road myself, I always liked to be in Basque country. There, the anarchists didn’t have it that easy, they were often trapped between Spanish and Basque nationalists, although many anarchists there maintained a critical solidarity with the armed struggle of ETA. This had something to do with the fact that ETA had blown up the head of government, Luis Carrero Blanco, with its “Operation Monster” on December 20, 1973; the highly decorated admiral was to become Franco’s successor. The Franco regime never recovered from this blow. ETA had played an important role in ending Franco’s dictatorship, which made it possible to occupy houses in the Basque Country in the first pace. For me, moving in an area as tense as the Basque Country meant above all learning, learning a lot. This kind of ‘offline’ networking continues to this day. The learning too.

This is how the journal of “ETA Militar” celebrated the assassination of Carrero Blanco on December 20, 1973.

But back to Amsterdam in the year 1980, where the conflicts over squatted houses continued to intensify after April 30, 1980. Although there was movement in the background on the issue of legalizing living space for young people created by squatters, the struggle on the street itself became increasingly fierce.

On May 31, some residents of the ‘Great Emperor’ squatted a new building. After months of living in constant tension behind steel plates and sandbags, they want to take it a little easier. They choose a large vacant building stretching from Singel 370 to Herengracht 329, the ‘Vogelstruys’. But they soon have to use all their skills against a private gang of thugs, and soon they have to deal with the threat of eviction again.

The owner, a shady real estate dealer, has the authorities “return” the premises empty on charges of trespassing. On the morning of July 3, the building is evicted by riot cops. But that is not the end of the story for quite some time. That same afternoon, activists storm the building, throwing the owner’s straw men out on the street and re-squat the Vogelstruys. Shortly after, the cops evict the building complex for the second time that day. On the canals the cops are bombarded with a hail of stones, but some cops also throw stones back, others drive their vans into the crowd like wild bulls. Many people are injured on both sides. Six people are arrested, and their trial leads several months later to a third chapter for the Vogelstruys.

First, however, there are conflicts about the luxury apartments on the Prins Hendrik Kade, which were occupied in April. In August it became clear that they will also be evicted. The preparation for the eviction is chaotic. Unlike in the ‘Great Emperor’ and the Vondel Street, this time there is no tight organization by a small but fine group of ‘squatters. After the occupation it was not easy to keep them out, but ‘Theo’ & Co were not welcome everywhere because of their authoritarian style.

I also always made sure that our own self-appointed bosses had as little influence as possible on projects I was involved in. The squatters of the Prins Hendrik Kade decide to barricade the building and defend it with an inside and an outside team, as they did with the Emperor, but this time they fail to mobilize squatter groups from other parts of the city.

Among the squatters, doubts are growing about the purpose of a new militant confrontation, which will lead to further injuries and arrests.

An article is published in a Dutch newspaper showing photos of the roof of one of the squatted houses full of projectiles, including refrigerators. “Ready to fight” is the headline of the article. Due to the lack of support from other squatter groups, it becomes increasingly clear that the original battle plan is not feasible. But a virtue is made out of necessity and an alternative plan is developed: The trick box will be opened.

On the day of the eviction, a huge police force is mobilized in Amsterdam. Two thousand cops will be deployed to retake the luxury apartments. Several mobile cranes are used to place containers full of cops on the roof of the squatted complex. A small container dangles on one of the crane arms, from which a group of snipers keeps an eye on the roof.

When the attack is launched, squatter Moos appears at one of the windows with a megaphone, informing the astonished authorities in a statement that all the squatters but himself have long since left the building and that in the face of such a large force from his side, a militant confrontation will be avoided. Moos is surrounded by a large group of members of the press, who echo his words to the far corners of the country. Two thousand cops for a single squatter. The whole country laughs about the cops. The priest of the neighboring Nicolaas Church helped with the action. Shortly before the eviction, he offered the squatters an escape route through a secret passageway, and brought them in the rectory.

Eviction of the Prins Hendrik Kade on August 19, 1980.

But not everyone agrees with the peaceful message being proclaimed from the Prins Hendrik Kade. When ‘Theo’ realizes that the squatters of the Prins Hendrik Kade are heading for a non-violent eviction, he grabs the microphone of “Radio Free Emeror” and calls for resistance. His call subsequently contributes to the outbreak of militant clashes in front of the evicted building. The cops evict another squatted property on Huiden Street the same day. This second eviction of the day comes as a complete surprise. Since the building complex is just around the corner from the ‘Great Emperor’, rumors quickly spread that these six buildings were also up for eviction. When the news reaches the battlefield at the Prins Hendrik Kade, the squatters rush back to the ‘Great Emperor’. In no time, barricades are erected on the canals. To calm things down, the cops then confirm the squatters in black and white that the ‘Great Emperor’ will remain untouched on this day.

The rift between the’fat cats’ and other parts of the movement is widening after ‘Theo’s’ call for the Prins Hendrik Kade. This is not only about questions of strategy, but also about the ‘leadership claim’ of ‘Theo’ and some other people. Even a year after the eviction, I kept hearing discussions about this action of ‘Theo’ and one quickly realized that the opinions about it were quite diverse. The discussion was always about the strategy of the movement in general, but also about the extent to which individual squats can and should decide for themselves how to resist an eviction. There were people who thought that ‘Theo’s’ call was necessary, others thought that it was intrusive. As a newcomer, I quickly realized that the revolution was not going to be that easy.

On September 8, 1980, the trial of those arrested during the eviction of the Vogelstruys takes place. They have spent six weeks in pre-trial detention. On the eve of the trial, the Vogelstruys is squatted for the third time, and is immediately evicted by riot cops the next day. In response, barricades are erected and set on fire on the Rokin, shop windows are smashed and some stores are looted. Part of the movement is engaged in a strategy of maximum property damage. The cost of eviction must be driven up so high that evictions simply become too expensive for the state.

The situation around the most important symbol of the squatters’ movement, the ‘Great Emperor’, is still not finally solved. The government in The Hague increased the pressure on the municipality to evict the ‘Great Emperor’. On October 13, Interior Minister Wiegel and Prime Minister Van Agt let two fighter jets fly low over the ‘Great Emperor’ to take infrared footage. In Amsterdam, however, local politicians realize that an eviction of the ‘Great Emperor’ would be a outright declaration of war against the squatter movement. Not only would intervention lead to unrest, but relations with activists in the city would be damaged for years to come. The city prefers a different solution. The city buys the ‘Great Emperor’ and offers negotiations on the legalization of the squat. The political and material damage during the last evictions was so high that the city is trying to pacify the conflict through the legalization of many squatted houses. At the same time, however, repression and cop violence are on the rise in other cities in the Netherlands.

By the end of 1980, the outlines of a new conflict between squatters and the local municipality began to emerge on Pierson Street in Nijmegen. This conflict resulted in the second deployment of the Dutch army against the movement in 1981. But I will tell you more about this in the next issue of Sunzi Bingfa and on Enough 14.

On the barricade: a resident from the neighbourhood among squatters behind one of the barricades in the “Free State Unicorn,” as the area around Pierson Street was called.

Video: Amsterdam 1980: The Battle for the Vondel Street squat: A Vondel Bridge too far 

Video: No Housing! No Coronation! – The Coronation Revolt, Amsterdam 1980

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