For the last year or so, the authorities in Amsterdam have been waging war on the city's squatting community. So much for the Dam's reputation of being a loved-up haven of excess ruled by scruffy-haired liberals preoccupied with concentric canals and totaalvoetbal. These days, the sight of a screaming crustie being dragged into the back of a riot van by his hair is almost as commonplace as mushroom-guzzling foreigners getting crushed by trams.
Last week the latest round of squat evictions took place in Amsterdam. The canals were turned into a battlefield, and 143 people were arrested, including us. Here's how the day's events unfolded.
We went over on Monday evening, the night before the planned eviction, to see what was up. We were treated with warmth and hospitality at first, but when we told the hosts we were journalists they rescinded their offer of a bed for the night and told us to turn up the next morning at 5:30 AM sharp. So we did.
When we arrived, five women in wedding gowns were sitting around pouting at each other and a friendly Irish man was playing a fiddle while an anarchist in a black hoodie pounded senselessly on a drum kit. It was very touching.
There were the usual grim squatters with ski masks and a vitriolic hatred for anything to do with civil society, but also loads of cheerful supporters who wore makeup and brightly colored clothing. Hippies, to be precise.
This masked avenger was enjoying stories about masked avengers. Around this time one of the squatters asked what the hell was taking the riot police so long to arrive. “We filled one of the rooms with soapsuds, but it’s beginning to evaporate.” He was really bummed out.
Some band was playing on a rooftop across the canal. It sounded like shit, but there was some romance to the idea, I guess. My friend told me it was "like a noise band playing on the deck of the Titanic." I told him to stop being so melodramatic.
The squatters were getting bored of waiting around at this point, and decided to hurry things along by setting fire to a trash can at the top of the street. Firemen quickly extinguished it, but the squatters got their wish, and the riot vans began to arrive.
That stands for All Coppers Are Bastards.
Eventually two fronts emerged. Small people in black hoodies…
Versus big people with batons, tear gas, riot shields, helmets, protective clothing, and effeminate yellow waistcoats.
My friend Alejandro got up on the barricades to take pictures, but most of the other journalists were filming from the opposite side of the street. A smart move. As soon as the riot police began to move in, we had to hurdle numerous squatter-erected roadblocks to avoid being pummeled in No Man's Land. We were caught in the middle of police batons and a squatter missile barrage. The crusties seemed to have raided their kitchens for things to lob at the cops, which would explain why Alejandro spent the rest of the day with glass in his hand and his arm covered in blood and peanut butter.
This was the first line of defence. A pink airbed.
The airbed's utter failure as a protective shield didn't stop people from taking it with them when they began to flee. Because Alejandro's fist was mangled, he had to hand over his camera to Ewout. Ewout quickly ran into an alley, where he found another casualty:
A nice lady gave him plasters and whispered some sweet words of solace into his ear. Even police brutality couldn't stop this brave soul from squatting.
Because it was still early, every so often neighbors would stumble sleepily into the streets. I'm not sure this man's Che Guevara shirt means that he's a revolutionary, he certainly didn't join in.
Riot vans proceeded to plow through the crowds.
This was when the kettling began. We were stuck for ages between two groups of riot police with over a hundred squatters. They wouldn't let anyone leave, not even this old lady.
Then two strangers who'd been watching the protests jumped into the canal to join the squatters in the kettle. I'd call them idiots, but I guess that'd make me a hypocrite.
One of the squatter girls decided to take a swim as well. Riot police blocked access to the water after that.
And then someone on a megaphone broke the news to us: “This is the police. All squatters and squatter sympathizers are hereby arrested.” We tried to tell them that we were press and just doing our jobs, but they really didn't care.
These plainclothes policemen rejoiced at the news, because it meant they could finally get to work…
Finally get to work violently arresting people who had been taunting them for hours.
Most people sat down, so they had to be carried one by one into the three buses that would take us all to jail. Sure, it sounds brave, but it's hard to explain just how demoralizing it is to sit around and watch everyone offer up some futile resistance before ultimately being thrown in the back of a van by Daddy.
Our Managing Editor, Wiegertje, got out of bed and brought an issue of VICE down to show the riot police. Because our names were on the masthead, we hoped it would convince the cops that we really were press. But it didn't work. I have no idea why we thought working for VICE would get us out.
While Alejandro was released due to his wounded hand, Jan and Ewout spent three and eight hours locked up, respectively (always bring ID when you go to a demonstration kids!). They were put in separate jails along with the squatters and squatter supporters. It stunk (predominantly of sweat and the kind of farts that people who haven’t eaten in a long time emit). Luckily, they got out with only a citation.
WORDS AND PHOTOS: EWOUT LOWIE, ALEJANDRO TAUBER, AND JAN VAN TIENEN