Last Friday marked a significant change for the Netherlands. No, I’m not talking about the scary fact that far-right populist Geert Wilders gained decisive influence in the national government, but something else: since 1 October, kraken (which in Dutch refers to squatting an abandoned house, not a monster from the depth of the seas) is illegal in the Netherlands. It was not supported by all Dutch people, but the end of kraken marks the end of a typical Dutch institution.
If you are new to the Netherlands it might surprise you that it was legal at all, since squatting is illegal in most countries. Squats were, and still are, often used as a centre for counter-culture, non-commercialism and an alternative way of life. An example of this is Maastricht’s most famous kraakpand (squat), the Landbouwbelang, which established itself as a well-known centre for alternative culture in the region. Countless small cultural initiatives grew out of this centre, its parties are legendary, bands from all over the world are regular guests, and the weekly volkskeuken is enjoyed by locals and international students alike.
Sadly, not all squats are like this, and not all squatters care for the community. The right to squat has been abused by some individuals, and big cities in particular have experienced problems with criminality and “kraak-tourism”; that, is foreigners coming to the Netherlands with the intention to squat a house. Thus, after a long debate that took place around a year ago, the conservative parties in the Dutch government succeeded in making squatting illegal. This might affect students as well, because anti-kraak (house-sitting to prevent squatting), which has always been a cheap source of housing space for students, is now no longer needed. I knew people who lived in vast abandoned office complexes, or in old schools, which had its own particular charm and gave its own spice to life as a student. It would be a pity to see that go as well.
But don’t fret: the fact that squatting has become illegal does not mean that the Landbouwbelang will close immediately. The city recognises its contribution to the local culture and the parties involved have reached an agreement which allows them to stay for a few more years. But eventually, they will have to leave – and the gap they will leave behind in the local scene won’t be a small one. With the end of kraken, the Netherlands is becoming a bit more ordered, and a bit cleaner, but also, I’m afraid, a bit more boring.
Aretz (30), who grew up in Germany, is a former UCM student and currently preparing for a year of travelling through Canada