Amsterdam: The Kraak Spreek Uur, autonomous squatting assistance

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An interview with Rogier from the Eastern KSU and Maks from the Student KSU, in Amsterdam (Wertheim park, July 28th, 2013). The interviewers are Y & Z, two Frenchies involved in the squatting movement in Paris. You also can find a French translation of the interview on the French pages of Squat!net.

Y & Z: Do you know when and how, in what context, the Kraak Spreek Uur were born ? What is and what means Kraak Spreek Uur ?

Maks: It means Squatting Assistance Hour.
Rogier: It’s a place where people can come and get informations about squatting and getting practical help on how to squat and do these things.
Maks: And also once you have squatted, you can get informations on how to keep your space, and how to prolong your stay in the squatted house.
Rogier: So the « squatting hour » is not only a group of people who inform about squatting, but also have the connections with different kind of groups that help for squatting. There is the juridical part, the political part, the practical part, and actually opening up the house… And all these things come together at the Kraak Spreek Uur, where people with experience and knowledge can help you and advise you in opening up a house and also how to keep it, plus not get evicted after that.

Y: And it’s based on « Do it yourself » ideas ?

Rogier: Of course. You have to squat yourself, but you can get help with it.

Z: What about the historical origins of Kraak Spreek Uur ?

Maks: The Kraak Spreek Uur started in the 1960s/1970s, when squatting became a really big topic in Holland, lots of people had difficulties to find a house, there was a huge crisis, so people took it upon themselves to squat houses, and it kind of started from there in order to help other people in squatting houses. I don’t know exactly when the first Kraak Spreek Uur started…
Rogier: I think it was in 1967, 1968 or something like that. Also the term « kraak » evolved at that time [in Dutch kraak = squat, verb = kraken]. Some people who were squatting thought it’d be a good idea to inform people about it and how to do it. When there was the first courtcase of squatted house, in which the « house peace » of the squatters was established and until nowadays it remained an important fact, this « house peace » means no one can enter your door, not even the authorities. Squatters, by opening up the doors, being in there after « house peace » even though squatting was illegal at that time.
This « house peace » came from this first group who established the Kraak Spreek Uur.
All of this grew slowly, at the beginning it grew very very slowly, and later lots of people were doing it, and then there were many Kraak Spreek Uur in different areas of Amsterdam.

Y: So it began in Amsterdam ?

Rogier: It began in Amsterdam, in the East of Amsterdam.
Maks: Still a few years ago, there were more Kraak Spreek Uur than we have now. Now, we have three Kraak Spreek Uur : the Eastern one, the Southern one, in the Molli and the Student one.
Rogier: And it used to be others ones in the West, in the Center, and in-betweens as well, different ones…

Y: Is there just geographical divisions, or also political divisions or other differences ?

Rogier: There used to be political differences, to the point that one Kraak Spreek Uur wouldn’t talk with another one… Nowadays, we’re back against the wall, there’s lots of repression so not so many people do it anymore, this political/ideological partitions faded away, which I think is a very good thing.
At that time, there were the « radicals » who were always in the center, the more « pragmatic » ones or the « hippie » ones were more in the east, and then…
Maks : And then in between, there were the « students », who kind of felt that we had to break down the walls and get more people involved, because the squatted scene looked very secluded, it was very hard to go into… then the Student Kraak Spreek Uur really targeted students in order to start squatting in different parts of the city.

Z: What kind of people are coming to the different Kraak Spreek Uur ?

Maks: All kind of people are coming.
Rogier: The Student Kraak Spreek Uur of course get more students because it sounds easier for the students to go there. In the East, it’s more based on the neighborhood in a way, we have a lot of contacts with the renters’ organizations, other renters, local politicians and blablabla… so it’s easier for this Kraak Spreek Uur to know where are empty spaces because you can get some hints from the renters’ organizations, or from people we know in the neighborhood who say « hey, this is empty, it needs to be squatted », so in that way it’s easier to involve more people into squatting.
And in the center, it was not based on the neighborhood at all because it’s full of commerce going on, a lot of speculation, which needs a more « radical » approach, you know, you have to be kind of tougher to deal with this kind of house owners. So the squatters in the center were also in way tougher and more radical, and also more closed…
So all of that attracts different people I think.

Y: Can you present the Kraak Spreek Uur you are involved in ?

Maks: I think the Student Kraak Spreek Uur was created in the 1990s. The first squat they did was next to the Olympic Stadium, in Amsterdam. And there they opened their first Kraak Spreek Uur to attract more students and make it easier for them to open squats. The squatting movement went down at the beginning of the 1980s, and went down again in the 1980s-1990s, not so many new people were squatting, so they started the Student Kraak Spreek Uur in order to get more people to squat.
Rogier: And now it’s the same problem again…

Z: And the Eastern Kraak Spreek Uur ?

Rogier: I think it was mid-1990s or something like that. The oldest one is in the Molli and started maybe in the 1980s or before [The Molli has been squatted in 1979].

Y: Why is there only three Kraak Spreek Uur nowadays ?

Rogier: Well, there used to be West, South, Center, East and the Student. It just declined a lot…
Maks: Since the new law, a lot of people are now afraid to squat, or were at that time. So there were not so many people coming in to the different Kraak Spreek Uur, then the people decided to join some Kraak Spreek Uur, like the Center one and the West one moved to the South one.

Z: So you think it’s mainly because of the squatting-ban a few years ago ?

Rogier: That’s one reason, I guess it’s an important part, but it’s not the only reason. There were also huge internal conflicts in the scene/movement itself, and I think it was even more damaging than the ban itself. Also, the years before the squatting-ban, there was a huge and continuous bad campaign in the media against squatting which discussed only the bad stuff, which resulted ultimately in the abolition of squatting rights. So all of these factors combined mean that not so many people do it anymore… Many people also say that this situation in a way is good because there were lots of idiots in the movement, lots of opportunists who just fucked it up badly. I think lots of people forgot that in the beginning, squatting was addressing a need concerning many people, not a certain few, squatting was really a broad thing, it was broadly accepted because everyone could feel the problem and would understand the need of taking things to your own hands. The longer it lasts, then the more « radical » it went also, it became for the squatters only : squat-bars, squat-clubs, stuff like that, restaurants for squatters… And when the squatting-ban came, it became different again, the campaign in the media stopped a bit, and also people thought « why are we doing this ? Not just only for us », but because there are housing-waiting-lists for fifteen years or so, the prices and rents get higher, lots of people can’t afford it anymore, there’s a crisis, and that helps a lot the perception of squatting, it’s changing again to more positive things, and bring out more people to think in that way instead of just « fuck the system ».
Maks: You can see also in the last few years of squatting, most of the squats that have been set up were all political, they always put up some manifestos, or something about why we take the spaces…
Rogier: These ones are the ones that still exist, the other ones just faded away.

Z: When you say it was more focused on the squatters themselves, you said it was more « radical » or more « closed », as I understand it, the problem was not that they were « radical » but « identity-based », you know what I mean ?

Rogier: Yes. I think you’re right, it’s more about an « identity » thing than « radical » or « not radical » because some people who have been declared « not radical » have been proven to do very radical stuff in the end, for instance to chain themselves in the house to prevent evictions or stuff like that, you know, so yes I think you’re right it’s more about an « identity » thing…

Z: So, now, you think this « identity » thing is a bit disappearing ?

Rogier: It’s my personal analysis, but I have the idea that this « identity » thing is more and more disappearing. I was talking about internal struggles before, and if I keep it simple, there was a separation between « radicals » and « non-radicals », it becomes more and more a « non-radical » thing, the « dogmatic » thing is disappearing. It becomes more pragmatic, so we help each other much more, it doesn’t matter from which Kraak Spreek Uur you are or which center you are, we are all together in the same… and everyone is a bit different, but the basic thing is what we do, and we’re all sharing this, and I think that’s a very positive development, and you only get this, actually, by being pushed against the wall… and you know, you kind of have to redefine yourself or find a new way in this, and from that point on, it would be very nice if now it starts growing again with more people involved…
Maks: I kind of agree with you but still, although the « radical » part has gone down, you still see things coming up when there are big evictions’ waves or something, although we haven’t had a « radical » one in the last year, but before, people really stood up, although there were differences between the people, everybody really joined in order to protect the squats, especially in the East.
Rogier: It’s true. What happened at the time : there was like five important houses got evicted on the same day, and all the houses were cealed and barricaded properly, strongly. Every house had one lock-on with two people on it, except one that had no lock-on but resisted in throwing smoke-bombs and paint-bombs. It took the police a really long day to get everyone out.
Maks: Normally, an eviction starts at 9am, sometimes earlier, it depends on wintertime or summertime, and ends normally at 4pm. And this time the cops were busy with it until 10pm or something.
Rogier: Yeah, we almost managed to get them a second day.

Z: When was it ?

Rogier: At the end of 2011, just after the squatting-ban.

Y: Are there differences between Kraak Spreek Uur in Amsterdam and in other cities in Netherlands ?

Rogier: Sure, Amsterdam people, generally, especially in the squatting scene, are regarded to be a little bit arrogant people, they’re supposed to think just about Amsterdam and not much more… And to a certain extent, that’s absolutely true. But after the squatting-ban, there was much more solidarity in between the cities, we all support each other.
Maks: When there are squatting-actions in Amsterdam, I often see people who are not from Amsterdam, and that’s very nice. And I know that lots of people from Amsterdam go to other cities too.

Z: Where can we find Kraak Spreek Uur in other cities in Netherlands ?

Rogier: In Utrecht, Groningen

Y: Nijmegen

Rogier: Nijmegen for sure !
Maks: Leiden… Den Haag I think they had one but I’m not sure it’s operative right now. Zaandam, but Zaandam has a different thing.
Rogier: Haarlem.

Z: And in Rotterdam ?

Maks: I think they stopped.
Rogier: Rotterdam, I don’t know about it so much, but it’s completely differently organized. They don’t do Kraak Spreek Uur, they do what they call « wild squatting », which means that you don’t do it in an organized way, you just go and you squat with a group of friends, and always like that.
[Actually, there was a Kraak Spreek Uur in Rotterdam… See http://rotterdam.squat.net/ – See also http://squatting-manual.squat.net/ for the KSU in other cities.]
You know, about these Kraak Spreek Uur, some think it’s nice to have that sort of institution, but there are also lots of criticism as well, from other squatters. Some of them say it’s a bit bureaucratic and elitist. But there are reasons to continue to do Kraak Spreek Uur in a certain way, to keep on doing that for quite a long time, to minimize the risks which come with a squatting-action, because when you get arrested all the time you’re not able to do it for a long time, so we want to do it properly, we want to know everything about the house, and therefor we prefer to take a little bit more time to make the researches instead of running to something and…
Maks: … and find out on the way. And then you have to clean up on the way, you get prepared to what can happen, you can have a preset to respond to what’s happening when you squat a house.
Rogier: Because nowadays, almost all the squatting-actions get the media and so you have to be prepared, for example the politicians, even the right-wing politicians have to say something about it, so it’s good to kind of know what you are getting into.

Z: During the Kraak Spreek Uur, do you use or give to the people squatting handbooks or something like that ?

Rogier: Yes, it’s on the internet, so everyone can see it and download it.

Z: Do you know the history of it ? In France we have a squatting handbook, we update it when there is new stuff or whatever, and I think it’s very useful, it’s also on the internet and on paper. We do it since the late 1990s and there was another version even before. Do you know the history of squatting handbooks here in Amsterdam ?

Rogier: In the late 1960s, when the first people squatted their houses, and find a way to this whole housing shortage, then they started with a manual, that’s when the first Kraak Spreek Uur also started. It got more « professionalized » in the late 1970s and beginning of the 1980s, which was really the strongest period but also the most violent period of squatting in Amsterdam and in all Netherlands, with major clashes with the police. At the time there were squatting manuals and stuff like that, a squatting magazine going out every week, there was a lot of things going on. But the manual we have today, I think it comes…
Maks: It’s pre-ban. The manual we have now has been made before the squatting-ban.
Rogier: Yes.

Z: It hasn’t been updated since the squatting-ban ?

Rogier: There were plans to update it but…
Maks: I think there’s still a plan to update it. I’ve seen a new revised version but it’s not out yet, because people still want to add things and it was too long, etc.
Rogier: But this version, I think, is from 2003-2004 [Actually from 2005 – see http://ksuoost.squat.net/squatting-manual/ and here – Another one has been published in Rotterdam in 2009].

Z: As Kraak Spreek Uur participants, don’t you think it would be very important to update this squatting handbook ?

Rogier: It’s very important. It’s always a question of effort and who does it in the end… And if I speak for myself, I was part of it, and I tried to put lots of energy in it but it wasn’t enough to make this.

Z: It will come soon or later, no ?

Rogier: Maybe later than sooner, unfortunately.
Maks: I think there’s gonna be a new manual between now and two years…

Y: Do you have a list of empty buildings to help people find something, or should they already have an idea when they come to the Kraak Spreek Uur ?

Maks: We don’t have lists. We kind of know, sometimes, which houses are empty because we bike around the city as well, but normally when new people are coming and get in touch to squat an empty house, we really want to see the efforts of people looking for a house, it’s not like you’d come to the Kraak Spreek Uur and « hey, here’s the address, this is the story, now have fun ! », no, we really want the people to really learn it themselves. If you hold them by the hand and squat it for them, they have no clue about what they’re doing, especially because now you’re breaking the law, we want to see people putting effort in, and then of course we help them with everything. And if they really can’t find empty houses, we sometimes point them in the direction of areas where we know there are lots of empty houses.

Y: And then you explain them how to open the door, how to deal with the police…

Maks: And to find out why it’s empty, for how long it’s empty, what the plans are, if there are any permits on the building, who the owner is, what’s the story of the owner, for every step on the way, we help them. And even after it got squatted, we still help them for the courtcase, or…

Y: Do you have lawyers ?

Maks: Yes.
Rogier: We always have lawyers, good lawyers.

Y: So if someone goes to the Kraak Spreek Uur and has a trial for squatting, it’s possible to ask for a lawyer ?

Maks: Yes. We have a certain group of lawyers which always help for squatting actions. They always help us, it’s really nice.
Rogier: And the good thing with the Dutch juridical system is that it is accessible for everyone, because you are able to get subsidies for having a courtcase.

Z: In France, the squatting movement seems to be much less publicly organized than in the Netherlands. It’s much more « informal »…

Rogier: Yes, in Amsterdam the squatting actions are very public. In most of the other countries in the world, especially in Europe, people are sneaking in at night to open new squats. Here, we go to the empty space on a day-time, fifty or more people go there, squat it publicly, call the police themselves sometimes, to make it clear that it is squatted, and also why it is squatted and make the reason public.
With the squatting-ban, there was a discussion to change the tactics and so on, to go at night and try to sneak in, etc., but…
Maks: It didn’t work out.
Rogier: It made yourselves much more vulnerable as well, and it was also an « ideological » question, if you really want to do that… because you’re addressing a general problem, the housing shortage in the city, so that’s why it’s good that people actually see that it’s still happening and how ot happens.
Maks: If everybody knows there’s a squatting action, and we see the house and we squat it together, then everybody will show up when something happens against the house. And if you do it very sneakily and nobody knows that you squatted somewhere, people would react like « Ho, there was a squat there ? I didn’t know about it. Ho they got evicted !? ».
So it also has to do with the solidarity of the squatting-scene, in a way.

Z: The squatting-ban didn’t really change any tactics or strategies for opening squats ?

Rogier: Slightly, but not profoundly. First, it used to be like that : you squat the house, then you let the police come in so they can see it’s empty, it’s the first « witness of the emptiness ». And after that, it was kind of decided that we don’t do this anymore when the police comes. Normally there are lots of people, we hang banners out so there’s no mistake that we’re actually inside, because there has been some trouble with that. And then it’s squatted and it goes to the juridical part, it goes to the court and stuff like that. So it’s not in the hands of the cops. That’s actually our first goal. As soon as you squat the house, you make it clear that it’s not the cops to decide about it.

Y: What about the internal functioning of the Kraak Spreek Uur ?

Rogier: It’s very horizontal of course. Normally during the first two hours, people can come in and ask for advice, and if it becomes more complex or goes towards real actions, then you get everyone involved and in the end we discuss all different cases and decide all together what has to be done.

Y: So you receive people individually and then you go back to the collective…

Maks & Rogier: Yes.

Y: … and then return to the people…

Rogier: Yes, we discuss it all together.

Y: What is the Kraak Spreek Uur role for mobilizing, spreading informations, etc. ?

Rogier: It’s a « Do it yourself » thing so when an eviction’s coming up, the house itself has to get organized and do something about it. The Kraak Spreek Uur will not do that. The squatters themselves can come and ask for help, saying « we want to do this and that », « how can we do this and that ? », « to whom can we ask for that ? », « who is good in this ? », in that we can help, but the Kraak Spreek Uur doesn’t organize the eviction resistance, and it’s the same for squatting actions.
We can mobilize the squats together, we have a list of squats and we can go around to ask them to come. We also have an « emergency » thing : the alarm-list, this is made by the Kraak Spreek Uur. All the Kraak Spreek Uur have their own alarm-lists and have an alarm-phone-number, all the squats know this alarm-number and can use it. When there’s something going wrong, you can call this alarm.

Z: If the squat gets attacked or something like this…

Rogier: If the owner comes, if the police comes, or whatever. Then you call the alarm-number. On the classical way, you’re expected to keep the door shut for at least half an hour. So your door has to be barricaded, you have to be able to put something behind the door which gives everyone else enough time to arrive at the squat and then hopefully have enough people there to change the outcome, to change the balance of power.

Y: And for demonstrations ?

Rogier: It’s also rarely organized by Kraak Spreek Uur. It’s to the squatted houses themselves to organize that kind of thing.

Y: Even against the squatting-ban, for example ?

Rogier: The demos against the squatting-ban were not organized by Kraak Spreek Uur… It’s not that handy to be too publicly in that kind of events, especially after the squatting-ban. It’s good to be there as an « institution » that people can fall back onto, but it’s not good to be as a Kraak Spreek Uur holding the banner and walking on front.
Maks: Right now in the Student Kraak Spreek Uur, we have problems with a right-wing party in Amsterdam because we use a rented space (the VondelBunker – http://vondelbunker.nl/) and they want to end the contract because we are there, and they say that we squat houses, but it’s not true, as a Spreek Uur. So, the Kraak Spreek Uur really has to be an advice group and not actually a group that open squats.
Rogier: It’s supposed to be the backbone of everything.

Z: To resume, we have the Student Kraak Spreek Uur in a rented space in the Vondelpark, we have the Eastern Kraak Spreek Uur in Joe’s Garage, a squatted space in the East, and the third one is in the Molli ?

Rogier: Yes, it’s a legalized squat, in the South.

Y: You already told us a bit about the practical consequences of the squatting-ban for the squatting movement and the Kraak Spreek Uur. What could you add ?

Maks: Well, according to the law, when you squat a house, you get one year of jail, but if you are in a group, you get three years in jail… This has not been made yet, people have been arrested but not for squatting, I believe…
Rogier: Eeeerrr… yes, people have been charged already, but not with these sentences.
Maks: Basically, it’s still the same principles : you squat a house, you get evicted and you squat a new house…
Rogier: Practically it didn’t change too much… But for the squatting scene itself, there were less and less squats, after the squatting-ban there was lot of repression and apparently we were not strong enough to put up, many squats disappeared. And it was a psychological thing as well, not the year itself but the year after, the self-confidence of squatting and being able to resist the state power fell away quite a lot, so that’s why we’re now in the situation that we are, with much less squatters, lots of the older ones kind of retreated and there’s a lack of a new generation too. The most critical thing now is to find new people, from younger generations, which would want to come and deal with that and try to make something out of it. It’s still time enough to do that because we have now squats which do good stuff, we can also show people what fantastic stuff you can do if you just take your rights a bit into your own hands and see what’s possible to happen. And in the end it had also a positive effect : there were less people, but more solidarity. Many of these people who were just here in order to suck energy from the general squatting movement have disappeared. So I think we should see it as a chance in order to refresh and rebuild a stronger movement.

Y & Z: Ok, merci beaucoup !

 


From Provo to the squat as a mode of action :

Between 1965 and 1967, the Netherlands was shaken by a movement, inspired by anarchist and situationist ideas, called Provo. It wanted to “burst the smooth facade of a society that demeans men by turning them into machines of conspicuous consumption” (flyer 1965). The name comes from their mode of action, provocation. With it, “Authorities shall manifest themselves as REAL AUTHORITIES (…). They will become more an more unpopular, then peoples’ consciousness will mature for anarchism. AND COME THE CRISIS! It’s our last chance: THE CRISIS OF PROVOKED AUTHORITIES”.

In spring 1966, because of a repression which increased while their popularity spread all over the country, a part of the movement decided to campaign for the municipal elections of June. Provo got a seat in Amsterdam which it shared between the first four candidates of its list. Dissensions began to appear. Between the 13rd and the 15th May 1967, the movement dissolved itself during a huge happening. Since then a multitude of little groups, attached to a peculiar struggle, merged.

Squatting as a mode of action was popularized by the alliance between Provo and students from the journal Propria Cures (“mind your own business” in approximative Latin) who, from 1966, edited articles, flyers and posters with informations about local struggles against the urban restructuring, encouraging the population to occupy empty houses marked by white painting (Cf. flyer “Witte Huizen Plan”, 12 may 1966).

The handbook for squatters :

In 1969, Rob Stolk, printer and defender of the direct action line of Provo, created the Woningburo de Kraker (office for housing of squats) which presented itself as “radical movement of expropriation of private lands and properties” (Flyer Woningburo de Kraker, 1969). Actions were multiplied and soon demands for housing arrived. To allow individuals to proceed effectively to their own requisitions, it edited the first “Handleiding Krakers” (Handbook for squatters). There you could find comments on other groups activities, techniques to open (and close) a building, pamphlets legitimizing the action of the Woningburo and squatters in general, some articles about the situation of most precarious people, juridical informations, etc.

A modern version (which needs an update, considering that the juridical situation has changed from 2010) is available here.

The Kraakspreekuren (The Squatters information hour) :

In 1970 Roel Van Duijn, who led the reformist Provo, created the Kabouters Party. One of its councils was devoted to the question of urban restructuring. Like its predecessors, it won seats in the Amsterdam’s city council (four), and dissolved itself because of a split between direct action orientated and reformists Kabouters. In 1974, the Amsterdam Aktie Partij (Party of Action Amsterdam or AAP, which means “monkey” in Dutch), specialized into neighborhood sections. It elaborated the structures which actually make the specificity of the Dutch squatting movement. In 1975, all the squatters from Amsterdam converged to the Nieuwmarktbuurt. The occupation lasted several month and squatters created a journal, the “Nieuwmarktkrant”, two radios, “Mokum” and “Sirène”, an emergency phone line, etc.

During summer 1974, the AAP began to collect complaints from Amsterdammers concerning the housing problem. Datas which were collected were printed on papers named “Kraakspreekuur” (Squat discussion hour). In December, the group settled in a squatted space in Hogendorpstraat and opened a service proposing advice on how to squat for inhabitants of the city. In September 1975, several collectives established their own Kraakspreekuur.


On radar.squat.net, you can find an updated list of Dutch KSU, oficinas de okupación from Spain, French “permanences logement” and so on.