Wassenaar: The Danger of Occupied Ivicke

Why does the municipality of Wassenaar consider our residency at Ivicke to be a “danger”? And what exactly are we endangering? Here, I will give these questions some space, that necessarily lead us back in time.

In January 2019, Ivicke’s owner requested the municipality to enforce the bestemmingsplan (zoning plan), which was rejected a few months later in June. The municipality justified this decision by pointing out that our eviction would constitute a danger to public order given the owner’s lack of a plan for the building – that is, more vacancy could lead to a second act of squatting.

[Sidenote: The notorious bestemmingsplan is the bureaucratic destiny of Ivicke which was changed to an office function in the 1980s from its original purpose as residency. Thereafter, antisquat companies, hired by the current owner, made use of some rooms, which moves in a legal grey area but is tolerated due to its corporate nature and temporary status. While our residency is quite certainly of a temporary nature as well, the bestemmingsplan has been used as a strategy to evict the “danger” we pose by both the owner and the municipality.]

Back in time: The owner’s lawyer appealed on 29th of July, which was received on the 31st of July by the municipality – interesting timing, as the mayor got to know about the upcoming No Border Camp (NBC: 01.08.-04.08.) on the 30th of July. The NBC is an international gathering with workshops and actions, that inform about and act against the inhumane migratory policies of EU-states, and that aim to connect struggles in other parts of the world. Here, we pause in time because those days were packed with legal procedures and political struggles.

After the owner’s lawyer was informed about our plans with the terrain, she took the municipality to court in order to force them to prohibit the upcoming camp. When the judge didn’t grant her will, she went in appeal hoping that another judge would forbid the – at that point – ongoing camp. Luckily, this didn’t happen and the NBC proceeded. It is however interesting to investigate the lawyer’s justification for this legal upheaval. Her main argument emphasised the potential harm that the activities during the camp could cause to the monument. Her concern is quite ridiculous, as she is representing the person – Ronnie van de Putte – that has remorselessly observed the gradual degradation of the monument and not taken any steps to prevent its eventual destruction.

While this hypocrisy is underlying her argument, it is also factually fragile – given that the NBC didn’t actually make use of the monumental building. The camp took place outside: guests were camping in the garden where they also had access to cooking and sanitary facilities, while discussions and workshops were organised in big tents outside – the building was exclusively used as storage space. We can thus conclude that the monumental value was clearly not endangered.

Moreover, we didn’t hear any such concerns on the 17th and 18th of May when we hosted a music festival in our basement and concert hall. That event took place largely inside the building with a comparable amount of guests as the NBC.

One could now wonder why neither the owner nor the municipality expressed their concerns over the building’s monumental value back then… The press reported positively: “the squatters didn’t harm a fly” – we were portrayed as peaceful, well-meaning people, and the event could proceed without any interference by either the owner or the municipality. In news coverage and council meetings, the enforcement of renovating actions against the owner were prioritized over our departure. During the No Border Camp, however, we were portrayed as a danger to the building, the neighbours, and the public order of Wassenaar. So why did the reactions to the two events differ so significantly?

There can only be one reason – the No Border Camp was political. The political character of the event rather than the danger to the monument was problematic. The owner and the municipality were threatened by the danger of a counter-narrative to the established order and didn’t consider an action camp, also referred to as a demonstration (during the court case), to be appropriate for the monument. The municipality saw it as a danger for the public peace in the town, where the richest people of the Netherlands live – and where the unfair distribution of wealth is most obvious.

During the event, we experienced that the NBC had been categorised as a “danger”, as the authorities didn’t hold back with extraordinary surveillance: they installed a camera pointing to the gate that made every passing face and license plate recognizable to the authorities – which is clearly a violation of the right to privacy. As if that was not enough, the police and representatives of the municipalities came to control us every day. On the last day of the No Border Camp, ten riot police vans from The Hague came to intimidate us following a demonstration against NATO.

We were also visited by a supposed journalist from Wassenaar’s newspaper whom we invited onto the terrain until we recognized his true identity: he turned out to be Laurens van Doeveren – the head of the VVD in Wassenaar. In fact, Van Doeveren committed identity theft and his visit led to several wrong statements (e.g. the state of the building has further deterioriated since it has been squatted). Indeed, the news coverage surrounding the NBC followed the pattern of demonising the camp, its organisers and its hosts, whilst dramatising the potential danger of our residency.

Van Doeveren was also the one who requested (together with the CDA) that our eviction be discussed in the upcoming meeting of the municipality. The discussion took place on the 17th of September and caused heated debates. While all politicians wanted to get rid of us as soon as possible, they were nevertheless divided on some of the proposal’s spicy details. VVD and CDA suggested to remove banners, signs and flags from the terrain – thus to limit our freedom of expression. This illustrates nicely to what extent VVD and CDA perceive (the articulation of) our ideology as a threat – it must not be visible and it doesn’t fit with “this beautiful monument”. Some politicians considered this plan of action too far-fetched and it was eventually cancelled. A lot of emphasis was placed on the halting of Ivicke’s degradation but nobody mentioned concrete actions in relation to the owner. The politicians agreed that we didn’t belong in the future of Ivicke but that we did fulfil a function until our eviction – we are, after all, maintaining the building in opposition to the owner.

While the words printed in newspapers and leaving politicians’ mouths may be considered empty – reactionary propaganda that was to be expected – the real twist occurred in the municipality’s strategy toward our residency. If you remember the beginning of this article, they had refused to enforce the owner’s request to enforce the bestemmingsplan (a.k.a. The procedure for our eviction on the grounds of the building’s destination). Following the above-mentioned council meeting, the municipality revoked their original decision and decided to enforce the bestemmingsplan – they considered the NBC to be too much of a provocation for the established order in Wassenaar, where many of the winners of capitalism live. While they emphasized the danger to the monument, they actually feared political diversity and activism – in the words of Laurens van Doeveren: “Wassenaar is not a left municipality after all”.

Our critique of capitalism, and specifically of property (speculation), is not welcome. Nevertheless, or precisely for that reason, we shall continue the struggle for our right to calmness and joy in our home and against the dishonest distribution of property and wealth.

For the continuation of this story, check the other articles that trace the more recent development of the tensions in the triangle of the owner, the municipality and us…