Friday, April 27, 2012

Last days of Hallen. Press Release

Release Last tuesday the news about a new eviction wave, shortly after the last, reached us. Lots of big and long-lasting squats will probably disappear. The two-and-a-half years squatted tram station De Hallen is not on the list, but unfortunately will also cease to exsist. Luckily this is not because of some crazy decision by the insance public prosecutors...

For quite a while already the Amsterdam Bellamy-neighbourhood is being more and more influenced by corrupt politicians, speculating private owners and 'social' housing corporations, and their interest in only money, money and more money. Not just the character of one of the last old neighbourhoods is destructed by this, the buildings and inhabitants suffer as well. The only ones that really profit are those in pretty suits, able to use their wallet as a bar chair. And in the middle of all this lies a big complex, built around 1900, over which neighbours have been fighting for years with those, who only care about profits or their image.

It's been more than fifteen years that the old tram station has only been inhabited by pigeons, rats and other vermin, calling themselves anti-squat. Until on the 31st of January 2010 a group of squatters took the initiative to occupy two of the many halls. From day one angry neighbours and squatters united against the big commercial plans of Lingotto, not coincidentally good friends of stadsdeelvoorzitter Bouwe Olij.

Slimy politicians showed, as expected, their most hypocritical side. Olij's PvdA (labour party) claimed the neighbourhood supported the plans, coalition partner GroenLinks (Green Left) provided a weak 'you made your point, now you can leave' and the right-wing liberal VVD was even most opportunist with a 'normally we're against squatting but we find this a good initiative'.

The squatters decided to immediately show the building to the neighbours, ask for their opinions about future use and join together in the fight against the plans that were there. Things were started off in the form of an open day. Politicians directly panicked en made up a story about safety, to forbid this open day. Of course it went on as planned, visitors feeling unsafe were offered a builders helmet, which was only taken by one neighbour, purely as a joke.

On day two the city filed a report to the police (lokaalvredebreuk, similar to breaking domestic peace, of a building that in their OWN words 'was empty for years'). The new public prosecutor Kramer took an advantage on the upcoming squatting ban by claiming that if the owner had pets (read: anti-squatters) even in just one small place of a complex, eviction was allowed. It should be clear how little sense this makes and they just wanted to get rid of the squatters, even if it meant evicting for emptiness. This whole 'not evicting for emptiness' is, as is proven over and over, just a nice sentence used to shove many evictions through the throats of the less attentive citizen.

At the very last moment public prosecutor and self-named 'squatting-expert' (which means former VVD-employee) van der Bijl decided not to evict. The accusation of lokaalvredebreuk would never be approved by any judge. Otto van der Bijl is not a stranger to most squatters, and he keeps following up to his already bad name. He denied the OM was afraid to lose in court and made up the most ridiculous excuses to bullshit his way out of this position. Unfortunately these were copied blindly by local newspaper het Parool (1). At least the squatters could continue.

In the meantime the city rented out other parts of the complex for fotoshoots and film recordings, for thousands (sometimes tens of thousands) of euros in each contract (2). Later we found out the council didn't even know about these. Would the money just have disappeared in the pockets of corrupt politicians?

In the meantime the squatters organised small-scale events, new rooms were built, and despite the limited facilities, the state of the building and the cold (it was squatted mid-winter) there was much progress. In the first year alone there was more happening than in the fifteen empty years before, solely made possible by enthusiastic people who volunteer to create free and social spaces, without heaps of money or laws, regulations and all sorts of commercial and bureaucratic rubbish.

And in the meantime parliament politicians worked as hard as they could to ban squatting altogether, and after on the 1st of June it was approved by the first chamber (senate/house of lords) it was inevitable that as of the 1st of October squatting would be criminalised further. Luckily not everyone's a sheep in the herd and squatting stayed.

Merging the local city council (for instance the 'Old-West' fused into just 'West'), partly meant the squatters could stay, since Olij was finally gone. But next tot de Hallen was an old office for the Old-West, that wouldn't be used any more. After some anti-squatters were used to fake the use of the place it was demolished, and the terrain was empty. The planned apartments next to it were already cancelled and this peace of land had quickly transformed into a swamp. It shows, again, that not just the old tram station, but the whole area is a sensitive subject, that politicians keep getting back in their faces. And again they demolished a place next to that building they are just not allowed to demolish due to the monument status.

The way openly announced neighbourhood initiatives are being put down whenever they don't fit within the lines became visible once again. Less than a week before the opening of 'Buurtland' the city suddenly decided to create some 'neighbourhood-gardens' and recreation (even though this was already mentioned in the other initiative). After the first attempt at a 'grass field' (it resembled slices of cheese more) failed, the oh so caring local government created a field where al the yuppies could enjoy the sunshine, surrounded by building fences en sand, everything without any real option of participation from the neighbourhood. While the people are being kept quiet since they've only seen 'building' disasters, politicians restore their image a bit. While so much more is possible...

And if they ask something to the people it's called 'neighbourhood-input'. An idea that politicians speak of with disgusting pride, but never shows to mean a lot. An evening where it's possible to have your say or ask a question is being abused as 'participation', while it really means 'you can talk, but we still do what we want.' Whether the people living around like it or not.

That is still makes sense to show discontent and criticism only showed later, after the people living around the complex complained, started their own initiative and their position was restrengthened by a group of squatters occupying two of the halls. At the end of 2011 the city made the decision between the disgustingly huge, commercial, totally undesirable Lingotto-plan and the more social, neighbourhood friendly and monument friendly TROM-plan. Of course, it's not all black and white, but the sour faces of politicians when they have to admit that it's not going to be their preferred plan but the one of neighbourhood is a joy to see.

The situation changed for the squatters as well, there was a promise to keep. A plan that stems from the neighbourhood initiative, respects the monument (don't demolish, don't build new parts) and is still realistic. In one of our first press releases we claimed to leave for such a plan, and now it's there. With some sadness about leaving this beautiful place, and some regret that exactly now there was a possibility for more activities, the group decided to leave voluntarily, so that hopefully the foundation and other parts of the complex will be properly renovated and the neighbourhood can enjoy it again.

Though it ends here we've shown in two years and four months how ridiculous politics work, how corrupt even (or especially) local governments work and how money, unfortunately, still decides. The squatting action also showed that a strong combined actions by 'normal' neighbours and squatters together, in any given way, can have a positive effect. Hoping that the building can still be saved and the neighbourhood gets what it deserves from it the squatters are leaving. But we announce this already: if again it goes like this, and after bankruptcy and disagreement, political and financial crisis, the building is empty again, we'll be back.

2. We still have the contracts for anyone interested

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