NETHERLANDS. The squatting movement has created a new way of living as it gathers people of different nationalities under the same ceiling and provides a precious chance to live in a melting pot where all differences and stereotyped ideas disappear.
To squat a house in the Netherlands, one needs to make sure the house has been empty for twelve months and its owner has not shown any plan to use it. Once done, the squatter or the kraker, as called in the Dutch language, brings a table, chair and bed, then sends a letter to the house owner and invites the police to inspect the squat. Only then, the house can be considered legally squatted.
“This house has been squatted to create a new social space of intercultural understanding”, says Teun, who lives in the ‘Middle East’ squatted house in the centre of Amsterdam. Obviously the name of the house brings to mind the image of the Middle East region and suggests the idea of finding Middle Eastern people living there, mainly as the name is written in Arabic letters. However, Teun explains that the first squatters were Dutch people, living in the middle of the eastern region of the Netherlands, and some migrants from Middle East countries joined them and wanted to create their own peaceful Middle East to stand against the conflicts and the disputes the region witnesses.
Teun is a Dutch student who left his small city of Nuenen to get his MA in Philosophical Studies in Amsterdam, and found it hard to enjoy his ‘right of living under a roof’. Having contacted some squatters, he decided to join them and experience their lifestyle and share their ideas.
‘’I have discovered many things. The squatting movement defends the right of living, rather than the right of the house owners who want to make a profit of these empty buildings. We are six people living in this house: three from the Netherlands and four from the US, Germany and Turkey. Some of us are students, while others have got jobs. We all believe in the value of sharing a communal life form free from authority.”
Break up with stereotypes
Only a few meters away from the Middle East house stands a four-story building painted in yellow and orange colours and a drawing of a giant colourful snake. “Before we started squatting this house, it had been empty for six or seven years”, says Mark, a Dutch movie maker living in the building.
“We took it over in 1983”, he adds, pointing to a yellow label hanged close to the door of the house and trying to explain its meaning. “This building was squatted in 1983. In 2008, it was purchased by a housing company. But, we are still trying to convince the Amsterdam City Council of the importance of this building on the ground that it is the oldest squat house in the city and because it combines together a group of ten artists from different countries: the Netherlands, Norway, Afghanistan, Australia and Poland.”
Mark and the other residents insist on the idea of a world without borders. “How can we understand the world without giving a chance of knowing each other and exchanging ideas and thoughts and break up with all stereotypes?”, he wonders.
The world is for the people
Livor has a flat in the same house where Mark lives. She came from Norway to study in the Netherlands and went back to her country, but her love for the cultural and ethnic diversity of Amsterdam brought her back to the city. For her, living in a squat house was not a choice at the beginning since it was not possible for her to rent a flat. Yet, what she experienced during the last few years she spent in that building, paved the way for her towards a better understanding of the world to the extent that she does not feel herself an immigrant, saying that “we are all people because we share the space.” She adds that “there’s a guy from Afghanistan living in this house, and he’s ten billion times more integrated than some of those guys in the [city] council.”
Livor feels offended about the fact that some political parties, mainly the Liberal party, the Christian Democratic party and the Christian Union, have introduced a bill to ban squatting. She says: “I hate it. It’s the most ridiculous suggestion I’ve ever heard.”
She keeps silent for a while, then says: “The idea of a diverse world where we can live together cannot be difficult.”