Monday, May 26, 2008

The open society and its enemies in Amsterdam

In 1945 my mother was evicted from the miner's cottage she grew up in, shortly after the death of my grandfather. The trauma of being thrown out onto the street stayed with her all her life. The year before, my late father-in-law took part in Operation Market Garden during which many Allied soldiers lost their lives while helping to liberate the Netherlands. This was a history lesson I had to give a Dutch TV reporter today, when he asked how many Poles were in the building that was illegally evicted early on Saturday morning. As it happens most of the occupants were Dutch. Very early in the morning on the Eerste Oosterparkstraat in Amsterdam Dutch riot police entered the apartments while most people were sleeping and dragged them out onto the streets. The police also used pepper spray to pacify people, and according to witnesses who spoke to me, two were badly beaten. 51 people were arrested and 15 are still unaccounted for. So far only three have been given access to a lawyer. Everyone that was there had all of their property taken from them and it was only after a loud noise demonstration outside police headquarters that an agreement was reached so that the property would be returned. According to an eye witness, the riot police banged in the door and asked for someone's ID. It is not a legal requirement to carry ID inside your house in Holland (at least not yet) so the ID was not shown, with the result that the squatter was dragged out onto the street and arrested, as were 51 others. These apartments are still the subject of a court case and the eviction by the police was illegal. Today at 3.30pm I was denied access to the press conference given by the Mayor of Amsterdam, Job Cohen, so I did not get the chance to ask him the reason why this had to happen.
The police claim to have discovered weapons in the apartments such as a hockey stick and some knives. Most houses have knives to use in the kitchen, and I'm not aware that playing hockey is illegal. They are trying to spin this story as some kind of "war on terror" action, rather than what it really is, a typical Dutch cock-up. In the newspapers there is a nice list of the different nationalities that were present in the building and these included British and Polish nationals. My father-in-law was British and served his country well in 1945. Many Poles lost their lives in the Battle of Britain. This is a sad tale of media hype to paint a picture of a squatting movement intent on violence and disorder. Perhaps, Mr Cohen, you should think of the positive contribution that the alternative scene has made to the international image of Amsterdam as a tolerant and open city.

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