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Housing struggle in the Netherlands: Tanks in Pierson Street

The first three parts (1,2,3) of our series “Housing Struggle in the Netherlands” dealt with the struggle for housing in Amsterdam. But at the end of 1980, a conflict over a parking garage in Nijmegen heated up. There, 14 houses were squatted that the city wanted to demolish for a parking garage. Usable housing in a city with a severe housing shortage. Once again, the army was deployed. For this article Riot Turtle also translated subtitles for the Dutch documentary film ‘Pierson Unknown’ (47 minutes, Eng subs)). You can find the film below this article.

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:

After I had experienced the “Coronation Revolt” on April 30, 1980, as a 15-year-old youth, I was a regular guest in squatted houses in Arnhem. Arnhem was close to the village of 600 souls where the children’s home I was accommodated was located. Nijmegen was also not far away.

The plans to build another parking garage in Nijmegen have existed since 1969, but there is a lack of understanding among the population because the already existing parking garages are often empty and affordable housing is to be demolished for the new parking garage. Despite a great housing shortage, the original residents of 14 houses in Pierson Street had to leave their homes in the summer of 1980. The Nijmegen Squatter Movement decided to stand up for the residents of Pierson Street and the residents are accepting this support. As soon as one of the original residents has to leave his house, a squatter moves in until all fourteen houses are squatted. The Unicorn (Einhoorn) Warehouse, just around the corner, is also squatted.

The city council is now clearly dissatisfied with its own decision, and the discussion about the parking garage will be revisited in January. In vain, the city council proved incapable of even temporarily suspending the controversial plan.

The city of Nijmegen opens legal proceedings against the squatters. As a response barricades are erected during the night of February 15-16, 1981. The area is renamed “Vrijstaat de Eenhoorn” (Free State Unicorn), after the vacant Eenhoorn warehouse, which is also to make way for the parking garage. The action is similar to what happened a year earlier on Vondel Street in Amsterdam. A demonstration starts to distract the cops and at the same time Pierson Street is turned into a fortress by hundreds of people. The plan works, the cops concentrate on the demonstration.

“In order to be able to barricade Piersonstraat, Karrengas and Zeigelhof, we held a demonstration to distract the cops to Pontanusstraat. Fifty people at most participated, but they were very loud and the police immediately rushed to them. Meanwhile, we started digging like crazy. Hundreds of people, many wearing balaclavas or helmets, erected barricades of stones, sand, spring beds, beams and refrigerators. We also drilled holes, fixed stakes, and strung homemade cables and barbed wire. The area was hermetically sealed off. The studs are still in the wall. After 40 years.”

Flip Bastiaan in February 2021

“Radio Rataplan”, the local illegal radio station of the squatters, is now broadcasting twenty-four hours a day. The population of Nijmegen is informed and calls go out to defend the barricades. From all parts of the country, people come to the “Free State”.

In our village, the action in Pierson Street was also the talk of the day. We decided to go to Arnhem to get more info. But almost all of our friends in the squats there were in Nijmegen themselves by now. There were four of us and we decided not to go back to the children’s home. A similar scenario as on April 30, 1980, so instead we took the train to Nijmegen.

We found Pierson Street quite fast. We started to help reinforce the meter-high barricades. Residents kept bringing hot tea and soup and many offered to use their toilets. It was really cold, but we regularly received donations of firewood and also blankets. A neighborhood snack bar was handing out chips. That was one of the first things that I noticed. The enormous support from the residents.

The contact between us and the inhabitants of this working-class neighborhood was really nice. Their little houses, how they talk, their way of life, it was a kind of culture shock. It helped me to look at these people from a different perspective. As a punk, I thought that the whole bourgeois society sucked. But these people were much closer to me than I thought.

Usually we slept in one of the squats. During the day, there were occasional confrontations with kids from the city. They threw stones and eggs at us. Often pushed by fascists. A bicycle store, for example, distributed eggs to these kids. After a few days, the situation calmed down, mainly because local residents began to talk with the kids and explain to them what this conflict was about. With an enormous amount of patience. For me, that was really impressive.

On Friday, February 22, the court then delivered a verdict. The city was now allowed to evict the site. Now we also became nervous. We knew the pictures of the tanks in Vondel Street and had our own experiences of what had happened on April 30. Tension was rising; the eviction could begin any moment.

For us, safe spaces like the ‘Eenhoorn’ were something special. The cold, clinical interactions in a children’s home in the 1970s and 1980s had destroyed us on the inside. In these free spaces, we revived. We felt comfortable, the warmth and human relations were very important to us. It showed us that things could be done differently. Knowing this gave us the power we needed to continue. Although we were afraid of the possible deployment of the army, we were ready to defend the ‘Eenhoorn’. By now, all four of us had helmets, balaclavas, good gloves, and were waiting for things to come….

The weekend went by in a flash. There were more demonstrations for the preservation of the ‘Eenhoorn’. One of the first things that made it clear that the eviction was about to begin was the raid on the studio of ‘Radio Rataplan’. Rataplan was the most important means of communication we had. Both for the people of Nijmegen, and for the people behind the barricades. The military police destroyed the entire Rataplan studio. Radio Rataplan, however, was prepared for such a raid. The next day it was already broadcasting from another location.

Monday, February 23, 1981. It is half past five in the morning and five degrees below zero. Tired, tense and subcooled, hundreds of nonviolent activists wait for the police to storm the barricades. Behind the barricades are people who want to use other means. The three streets have already been barricaded for a week.

An ‘external team’ attacks the police as they leave the main police station in Marienburg at 5 am. In Pierson Street, a 2000 strong force, including soldiers, is deployed shortly afterwards to chase away the activists on the barricades.

We saw soldiers with their weapons pulled out on the rooftops. In front of us, the blockades of the ‘non-violent’ are dispersed with an orgy of violence. Everywhere people are screaming in pain. Blood, helicopters and the roar of the engines of Leopard tanks. The cops use two types of standard tear gas and CS gas. People who inhaled the CS gas become disoriented within a minute and have to vomit constantly.

Seeing the first Leopard tanks, my knees start to shake. You know that throwing stones at a Leopard tank is pointless. Leaflets are dropped from helicopters, saying that the police are allowed to shoot live ammunition when Molotov cocktails are used. However, many people had a problem with the use of Molotov cocktails before that. Nevertheless, inside the barricades we tried to defend the ‘Eenhoorn’ with stones. A lot of smoke bombs were also used to take away the view of the cops. Many of us were injured and within 2 hours it’s all over. We left the area, mostly puking due to the massive use of tear – and CS gas. But the cops also had a lot of people injured.

“I climbed up one of the houses in Pierson Street and saw riot cops starting to carry away the first row of squatters on the barricades. Apparently they thought it was too much work, because the rest were beaten away with batons. The yelling and screaming was terrible. Next to me were beer crates with empty bottles, and in a rage I began to throw them until I thought of the warning on the leaflets: if Molotov cocktails were used, they would shoot. There were snipers on the rooftops around Pierson Street.”

Flip Bastiaan in February 2021

After the eviction, there were demonstrations against the eviction and police violence for weeks. The parking garage was eventually never built, which was little consolation to the residents of Pierson Street who had lost their homes. The collaboration between the working-class neighborhood and the squatter movement remains something I will always remember. After that, Nijmegen was one of the cities where the squatter movement was significant for many years.

But first we had to go back to our village. In the children’s home I was punished this time with six weeks of “privacy ban”. A punishment where you were not even allowed to go to the toilet alone. You were only allowed to be in the common rooms. Constantly supervised.

Although this punishment hit me hard and it took me a long time to come to terms with this and similar punishments afterwards, they could not break me. No one could take away the things I had learned in the ‘Free State Unicorn’. It gave me an incredible power. I had decided to run away again, to prepare it well this time and never go back. With my head I was already in Amsterdam and ready for the struggle. But I’ll tell you more about that in the next part of Housing struggle in the Netherlands.

Pierson Unknown (Dutch, English subtitles) – Documentary 47 minutes

5 thoughts on “Housing struggle in the Netherlands: Tanks in Pierson Street

  1. […] Housing struggle in the Netherlands: Tanks in Pierson Street […]

  2. […] Housing struggle in the Netherlands: Tanks in Pierson Street […]

  3. […] Nethelands. After the Pierson eviction in Nijmegen (part 4 in this series) in February 1981, I will return to the developments in Amsterdam. The first 3 parts on the housing […]

  4. […] Nethelands. After the Pierson eviction in Nijmegen (part 4 in this series) in February 1981, I will return to the developments in Amsterdam. The first 3 parts on the housing […]

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