For decades now, the squats of Amsterdam have stood as inspirations to the world. Though globallly, one in six people is a “squatter”, most of them are confined to third world shantytowns. For squatters in the first world, holding onto one’s home is a constant battle against property speculators and police. A single vacant commercial building may be “worth” hundreds of thousands on paper, and millions if developed. While this doesn’t stop them from leaving them to rot, it means a tremendous uphill battle for the few squatters willing to risk it.
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The Netherlands have long been considered a paradise of sorts for squatters. Since “golden days” of Dutch squatting in the 1970 and 1980s when an estimated hundred thousand squats forced the issue onto the national stage, squatting has been legal. Those actions took place during a major housing crisis and recession, though, and those conditions have improved significantly. Squatting forced Dutch Developers into putting their properties to use, and that translated to more traditional homes and prosperity. Numbers have declined heavily since then, to the point where the squatters’ opponents have become very bold.

As of October 15th, squatting will be illegal in the Netherlands. This legislation has been snaking its way through the Dutch legislature for a few years now, and it's finally getting final approval. There's no telling yet how this legislation will be enforced – it has many opponents in government such as the housing councillors from Amsterdam, The Hague, Rotterdam and Utrecht. Officials have stated that they won’t just evict everyone immediately, but what that really means is anyone’s guess.

Much of this is based on a perception of the squatters movement as “increasingly violent and radical”. What this leaves out is that squatters have already been under attack for years. The last time I was in Amsterdam five or six squats were evicted in the three days I was there – some of which had been around for decades. Other world-famous squats I visited on that trip, such as the Ungdomshuset (pronounced Oooongg-dum-shooset) in Copenhagen and the Rhino (pronounced Rheee-no) in Geneva, have been evicted since. If confrontations have been getting worse, it’s because squatters are being backed into a corner.

And squatters are fighting back. A major campaign is beginning this month against the new law, both in the Netherlands and internationally. Debates are heating up within the squatter and anarchist communities about how to deal with it, but everyone seems certain on one thing: the fight will go on.

Squatting is a threat. Even one successful squat proves that we don’t need rent, mortgages, property management firms and developers to run our homes and commercial buildings. This is why it’s always been so violently opposed by governments in North America. And this is why they’re now trying to purge it from Europe. But this will only prove once more that squats and squatters can survive in the face of police repression. Sustainability is about more than the environment – it’s also about our ability to defend ourselves.

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