In the past couple of weeks Amsterdam has been the theatre of one of the most intense and breath taking protests which have been happening in the Netherlands in the past few years. As a matter of fact, a surprisingly long lasting “arm-wrestling” competition has been happening between the management board of the UVA university and its students and professors.
There have been various reasons which have triggered the start of the protest but the main one, at least according to the protesters, has been the lack of democratic transparency in the actions taken by the UVA while handling budget cuts and resource management.
UVA has been under pressure to enact drastic cuts, due to the huge debt in which the university is at the moment. One of the consequences of UVA’s financial situation has been to cut down drastically the funds to the humanities department. Measure which has, of course, not been taken really well from the students and the staff.
Moreover, what the protesters mainly complain about, is the fact that UVA has been neglecting completely the possibility of any sort of dialogue with the staff and the students on how to handle the budget cuts.
The situation was already particularly tense. However, an initiative from UVA in particular, might have been the cause (and inspiration) for the students to occupy the Bungehuis building: the eviction of the Spinhuis.
Spinhuis was an unused building owned by UVA which had been occupied by squatters and largely utilized by students as well.
The eviction of the building ultimately enraged the students which considered it an important place to meet up. Consequently, the group of the Bungehuis occupation actually started to form. The students mainly got the idea to occupy from the Squatters experience (even if the occupation was exclusively initiated by students), and quickly started to organize the occupation.
I was able to interview a student which actively took part in planning the Bungehuis occupation and that is currently taking part in the Maagdenhuis protest as well. The student wanted to maintain his anonymity. Therefore, he shared his story with me under the nickname of “number 10”. His story was particularly interesting due to the great obstacle which was placed between him and his commitment towards the protest and occupation: the fact of being a non European student.
I got in contact with number 10. When he answered to my questions I wrote him online ( we could not actually meet personally due to the Maagdenhuis immediate turn-out of events) this is what he texted me: ” I write to you from the Maagdenhuis: occupied and under way.”
Number 10 has been involved in the protest since almost the beginning. He actively took part in planning the occupation.
Quite ironically, this is how he described how the planning of him, and his fellow protesters started: ” We never explicitly talked about planning a form of direct action until January. Where I was invited to take part in a meeting discussing a possible mode of direct action. We met with a group of 21, made and ate pancakes and then planned to occupy the Bungehuis. Although I unfortunately did not get the pleasure of actually occupying.”
Indeed, even if number 10 has been planning the occupation and helping the occupiers throughout their staying he was unable to directly, and intensively, take part to the occupation himself. Due to the higher risk of (if taken under arrest) having his permit taken away and become unable to keep on studying at UVA. Number 10 definitely felt that the higher risk he was going through while protesting had quite an impact on his experience: ” due to the fact I was not an E.U resident and other complicated matters I could not occupy. The decision was a hard one to make, since I was involved somewhat in the planning and this issue was close to my heart, I really wanted to occupy. It was a classic case of reason versus emotions, and I am not too sure whether reason prevailing was a good thing- because the people who did occupy had a beautiful experience that few get to experience. I nonetheless devoted as much time as I could to support them.. And showing solidarity in that manner was just as powerful for me.”
I tried to find out what he meant by powerful and the answer which he gave me, allowed me to get a deeper understanding of the incredible “bust” which has been taking place during (and after) the Bungehuis occupation: ” The occupation sparked something much bigger than anyone anticipated! There was a protest of 1,700 people on Wednesday in the streets of Amsterdam supporting the occupation and the demands for a more democratic university! The support has been overwhelming, now with the occupation of the Maagdenhuis its a clear sign that these issues are serious and the resolve shown by the students to solve these issues is strong, and lets not forget this was a peaceful protest that is not ending yet”.
The feeling which number 10 has towards the protest is undoubtedly strong and passionate, even considering the additional danger which he goes through due to the possibility of his permit being taken away, and many more students share the same resolve. Visiting the Magdeenhuis I have been asking questions to many people and they all seem to share the conviction that if the momentum keeps on going big concessions will have to be given and overall big changes within and outside the university are about to happen.
There is no actual certainty to what the turnouts of the events will be like, also because of the mutual inability of each side to properly communicate with the other, but surely the turnout of events (with the immediate occupation of the Maagdenhuis) has left everyone surprised both on the protesters side and on the UVA one. The momentum might end at any time that is certain, but it surely seems quite vivid and powerful right now.