Our man in Amsterdam
By Michael Marchman
In October 2010, squatting became illegal in the Netherlands. In the US, where private property rights are so sacrosanct as to be virtually unquestionable, the thought that a person might have the legal right to make their home in or on someone else’s unused property is probably enough to make most peoples’ heads explode. But for most of the past fifty years, squatting was, under certain conditions, entirely legal and squatters (krakers in Dutch) enjoyed full legal protection.
The right to take over an abandoned building and to legally claim it as your home, art studio, bar or community center, is one of the conditions (along with legalized prostitution and soft drugs, of course) that has given rise to the Netherlands’, and in particular, Amsterdam’s international image as a place of tolerance and unparalleled individual freedom. (Or, if you are a devotee of Fox News’s The O’Reilly Factor, as “a cesspool of corruption, crime [where] everything is out of control. It’s anarchy!”).