Antikraak: The Bureaucratisation of the Squatter Movement, or How to Organise Legal Squats
Squatting is not a contemporary phenomenon. It has existed for as long as private property has existed. Unused, derelict and temporarily unoccupied spaces, be they victims of economic or social crises, have always been clandestinely occupied as a logical response to the desperate need to survive. But what does have its origins in the 20th century is the consideration of squatting as a coordinated, revolutionary, vindictive political act that affects the whole urban entity.
The squatter movement enjoys fluctuating fortunes in Western cities. As a phenomenon linked to outbreaks of social catharsis or a symptom of situations of inequality, it takes on different guises in different periods and contexts. In Europe, its origins are to be found in the British underground movement of the 1960s and 1970s, when hippies and then punks began to move into unused, publicly owned properties that were stuck in a political impasse due to a lack of rehabilitation funding. In the years which followed those first illegal occupations in the UK, squatting was replicated in other North European countries.
In Holland, where it peaked somewhat later, squatting arrived as the result of a process initiated by the Provo groups of artists and intellectuals and their successors the Kabouters1. The 1980s in Amsterdam represented a paradigmatic moment for the squatter movement, which then gradually declined over the following decades until the practice was illegalised on 1 October 2010. The movement constituted a key component of Amsterdam’s urban identity and character.
After the ban, some classic squats managed to survive for a few years, but always under the heavy cloud of the movement’s criminalisation. Squatting is a manifestation of the urban population’s needs. It’s also an expression of concern about the possibilities of city-building as something more than simply providing housing. Based on this premise, to evolve it needs to overturn a whole series of established situations, an objective which will never enjoy universal approval. The Dutch antikraak (literally, anti-squat) movement arose as an attempt to balance out the equation.
Antikraak is a way of finding uses for properties which are going to be vacant over a period of time. Spaces are offered for a symbolic price via agencies working in collaboration with government departments and private owners. The objective is to find temporary users who will maintain, safeguard and conserve properties, thereby preventing them from falling into the hands of unauthorised individuals who may vandalise them or use them for activities that are less controlled or might transform the buildings and their environment.
The spaces in question can be of all types, from old schools to residences, offices, factories or even an abandoned church. Antikraak makes large spaces available for a provisional, unguaranteeable period of time at minimal cost by means of loan contracts. For antikraakers, flexibility and calmness in the face of instability are therefore very helpful virtues.
Generally speakers, the main users (note: not “residents”) of the antikraak system are young people, students or artists, for whom this lifestyle offers a housing opportunity which would not otherwise be available them, allowing them to save money and further personal projects. The system’s disadvantages are its instability and its users’ lack of rights in comparison with those of tenants or residents.
Antikraak is a very common, well-regulated, highly sought-after practice in the Netherlands, conducted under the watchful eye of owners and enthusiasts but still viewed with a certain amount of mistrust by the “traditional” squatter movement.