[EN] Examining mainstream media discourses on the squatters’ movements in Barcelona and London

Examining mainstream media discourses on the squatters’ movements in Barcelona and London (peer-reviewed article) – ETC Dee and G. Debelle dos Santos (pp. 117 – 143) in Interface Journal Volume 7 Issue 1. Interface is open access and all it’s articles are free to dowload. This article can also be found here – .

Abstract: This article brings together separate research on mainstream media discourses concerning the squatters’ movements in Barcelona and England and Wales. The previous findings are introduced and then compared. Using the technique of Critical Discourse Analysis, we assess the presentations in the mainstream media of the squatters’ movements and analyse how they
individually contest these portrayals. Mainstream media discourses often present a negative stereotype of squatters which in both cases facilitated repression. These dominant narratives both shape and are shaped by public opinion, as indicated by specific examples. The findings for London and Barcelona are compared and three specific concerns are addressed, namely how squatters are presented as a deviant other, ways in which squatters
formulated new meanings of squatting through linguistic methods and how mainstream media discourses can be contested.

[EN] Have Squat, Will Travel: How squatter mobility mobilizes squatting

A chapter from Squatting in Europe: Radical Spaces, Urban Struggles

Have Squat, Will Travel: How squatter mobility mobilizes squatting

Lynn Owens

“We will not leave!” This defiant statement is the typical re-
sponse from squatters threatened with eviction. To leave would be to
give up, to lose one’s home or a community’s social center, to lose a
building back into the real estate market, to lose autonomy, to lose
face. Thus, when eviction looms, squatters will do nearly everything
to hold on to the building, whether that involves going through legal
channels to increase their claims over the property, waging a public rela-
tions campaign to turn local sentiment in their favor, or, if all else fails, employing more militant tactics, such as barricading the space and defending it against the police. Leaving is losing. Stability is security. It is not only their space that is under attack, but also their identity, because what is a squatter without a building to squat? To successfully occupy a building, they must refuse to leave.

Except, of course, when they want to. While resistance for squat-
ters is often, and most publicly, performed simply as staying put, the
reality is more complex. In fact, as David Harvey (2005: 42) notes,
sometimes “the only form of resistance is to move.” It does not always
make sense to stand and fight to the end. Escape can be a powerful
supplement to open conflict as a response to power, and squatters often
build elaborate escape paths from their buildings as part of preparing
its defense (ADILKNO 1994). Escape, however, is simply one way to
move. Squatting provides a stable place to live and work, and by do-
ing so, it also launches various complementary and conflicting forms
of mobilities. At its simplest level, squatters must always keep an eye
towards their next location. While particular squats are not always pos-
sible to maintain, flexibility and mobility guarantees that squatting can
be. Thus movement may be from one street to another, from one neigh-
borhood to another, or possibly to new cities or countries. Squatting
provides stability by creating a resting place for transient populations;
it also creates new opportunities and desires for mobility. Squatting sets
people into motion, drawing them to cities to become squatters, to ex-
perience their culture, to learn their tactics.

If the individual squatter’s maxim might be stated as create stability while preparing for mobility, this is even more the case when examining squatters’ movements.
Squatters’ struggles emerged in many European cities in the late 1960s
and early 1970s, and quickly spread across urban, national and inter-
national spaces. The spread of squatting across Europe was more than
merely the abstract diffusion of ideas and tactics; it was driven by the
spread and physical movement of actual squatters. Amsterdam squat-
ters went to Berlin. Berlin squatters went to London. London squatters
went to Barcelona. Barcelona squatters went to Amsterdam. Sometimes
movement provides an escape, sometimes an exchange, and often both.
Squatting is about space. At its most basic, it is about people with
not enough space appropriating it from people they think have too
much. Squatting is also about place; it is a tool to defend place, as well
as to redefine it. Generally, squatting is about turning empty spaces into
meaningful places. To fill these spaces with meaning requires a lot of
hard work, both to repair and renovate the building and to convince
others that their efforts at place making are legitimate and worthwhile.
To do this, squatters draw on many resources, grounding their meaning
in the concepts of “the local” and “stability.” Despite the important role
these two bundles of practices play in successful squatters’ movements,
this should not be taken to mean that squatting is exclusively, or even
primarily, about the local and the stable. In fact, a careful reading of
the successes of squatters’ movements in Europe reveals that squatting
is at least as dependent on cultivating and strengthening strategies of
the translocal and of mobility. This tends to be underplayed in public
discourse, though, since it does not fit easily with common sense ideas
of community, which squatters appeal to in their claims, even as they
complicated it through their actions.

Using the case study of the emergence and mobilization of the
Amsterdam squatters’ movement in the late 1970s and 1980s, I will
show the critical role that activist mobility played in the simultaneous
formation of a local and international squatters’ movement. Mobility
is critical in understanding contemporary social movements, even one
as seemingly place based and resistant to moving as squatters’ move-
ments appear to be. I argue that you cannot fully explain and analyze
the emergence and activity of a social movement without paying close
attention to the actual movement of people who constitute it. Even the
most intensely local politics are the product of many forms of mobility.
It is not that the political creation of the local actually ignores the im-
portance of mobile bodies to their issue, it is just that they are too eas-
ily dismissed as nothing more than “outsiders” or as secondary actors:
belonging is placed in opposition to mobility. Mobility is not just about
difference. Movement both homogenizes and differentiates. Flows of
people, things, and ideas produce unique places, as well as spaces of
sameness, linking them together into a broader web of paths and con-
nections. I hope to show how squatting provides both “moorings” and
“mobilities,” feeding and being fed by its simultaneous local and trans-
national context. This dynamic is fundamental to understanding the
emergence of the Amsterdam squatters’ movement and how other local
and national movements emerged alongside it due to the forms of mo-
bility practiced by squatters.

Movements move

How many social movement dynamics get missed through the thor-
ough, but partial, focus on the “social” as opposed to the “movement”?
When mobility is studied, the focus is primarily either on a momentary
movement, like the protest march (Barber 2002), as well as the maps
they generate (Wood and Krygier, 2009), or on large-scale elite mobil-
ity and the formation of transnational social movement organizations
(Keck and Sikkink 1998). But as protest and protestors have globalized
in their fields of struggle, the importance of mobility for all kinds of
activists has also increased.

Activist mobility is central to creating durable forms of collective
identity. Urry (2000, 2007) and Kaufman (2002) both argue that con-
ceptions of society and the social, including social movements, need to
be rethought through approaches based on mobility. That is, to focus
on the “social” side of social movements requires a fuller engagement
with issues of movement. Mobility, like place, is relational. That is, mo-
bility is meaningful in relationship to other forms; it is always plural,
never singular. Moreover, mobilities produce a way of relating. They are
how we form and make sense of relations to others (Adey 2009: 18).

Building solidarity across space can play a critical role in forming an
effective collective identity. McDonald (2006) points us towards new
ways of conceptualizing movement solidarity, ideas that are in line with
theorizing the practices of traveling activists. Importantly, he supple-
ments the concept of solidarity with his own, “fluidarity,” which is
based on more fluid and fleeting identifications, which are not a sign
of weakness, but rather of flexibility. Travel lends itself to such models
of collective identity – fluid because travel is at its core transient and
changing, but also solid, since travel is embodied. Bodies and politics
travel through space and are grounded, at least for some period of time,
in a specific place. “Bodies and embodiment occupy the center of activ-
ist experience…the body keeps recurring, to the point where it threat-
ens to take control of experience” (54).

McDonald builds on Urry’s (2000) concept of the Bund, based on
the German word for association, as an important basis of identification
and action, one that combines ideas of belonging and mobility. Unlike
conventional forms of community, the Bund is intense, impermanent,
and mobile (McDonald 2006, 95). This ties in well with both travel
and squatting. Not opposites, they are rather different manifestations
of the same desires. One is captured at rest (but even then still mobile,
even when promising “we will not leave”) while the other is in motion
(even while the beliefs and practices remain stable within the cycle).
Protests have always been a place where ideas are shared and commu-
nicated – not just to the larger public, but also to other activists and
participants. When activists travel, it can spark increased innovation,
information sharing and identity building. As Eyerman (2006) argues,
mobile activists create new forms of political interactions, which pro-
vide “additional space for education and political and social interaction
between activists and with the local community. Demonstrations in
other words have become extended periods of intensive political social-
ization” (206).

Mobility is a way of being in and defining space, and space matters to
movements. Tilly (2000) lays out the most important ways space affects
movements. Movement participants act in space, and are therefore en-
abled and constrained by it. Movements act on spaces. And movements
change spaces. Cobarrubias and Pickles (2009) show how movements
actively work to imagine the spaces of contention. For example, activ-
ists produce maps as a means to re-imagine and redirect political action
and outcomes. During the past decade, global justice summit protests
have played a key role in creating an alternative space of political con-
tention and discourse. Mobility is key to the strategy and identity of
these protests, as denoted by the emergence of a new political actor, the
“summit hopper.” Featherstone (2003) follows the “Inter-Continental
Caravan” in the way its movement across spaces creates new maps of
grievances. As McDonald (2006) points out, this mode of politics as
travel “underlines the importance of a grammar of experience associ-
ated with displacement and voyage” (44). And when activists arrive at
their new destination – the place of protest, which is itself a protest of
place – they seek to redefine cities to make them suitable for political
confrontation, as Shields (2003) shows in his analysis of protesters’ ap-
propriation of the tourist maps of Quebec City in 2000.

Place can be understood as either territorial or relational (Nicholls
2009). Traditionally, place is treated as territorial, as a fixed and solid
entity. Nicholls (2009) argues that such conceptions are problematic
in a world defined by mobility and flux. Rather place is better seen
as an area “where actors with different statuses, geographical ties, and
mobilities interact in fleeting and unstructured ways” (80). Massey
(2005) defines place as “always under construction…It is never fin-
ished; never closed. Too often space has been relegated to a frozen, im-
mobile state” (9). Thus, “conceptualizing space as open, multiple and
relational, unfinished and always becoming, is a prerequisite for history
to be open and thus a prerequisite, too, for the possibility of politics”
(59). She claims that simplistic treatments of place leave it vulnerable
to being cast as a victim in current debates about globalization, even by
its claimed defenders. While the local is often posited as the opposite
of the global, and thus both threatened by and the primary basis of
resistance against globalization, Massey shows that the reality is more
complex: “local places are not simply always the victims of the global;
nor are they always politically defensible redoubts against the global”
(101). Thus, local production of the global offers some chance to affect
global mechanisms through local politics – not merely as defense but
to reshape the global itself (102). Mobility of political actors, and the
concurrent politicization of mobility, is one way in which activists par-
ticipate in complicating how space and place are understood, opening
it up not just to flows of people, but also to new ideas and practices.

As Massey notes, “the closure of identity in a territorialized space of
bounded places provides little in the way of avenues for a developing
radical politics” (183), so when activists struggle for more immediate
demands, they are often simultaneously resisting the closures of space.
While Nicholls (2009) supports Massey’s relational understanding of
place, he argues that it also lacks a working theory of collective action
that can explain how place is made and remade by collective actors.

To address this omission, he recommends bringing mobility and
place theory into social movement research. Such a move offers impor-
tant perspectives on how place creates opportunities for diverse actors to
come together, how this coming together affects power relations, and,
most importantly for this work, how activist nodes get linked together
to form a broader social movement space (Nicholls 2009, 83). Building
on this latter point, he asserts that social movement place-making and
mobility create productive conditions for forming and cultivating col-
lective ties, increasing the number of possible contact points for diverse
actors with similar goals to come into contact with each other. “While
these complex interactions can spawn new alliances, they also play a
role in lowering cognitive barriers, freeing the flow of information be-
tween different organizations, and spurring innovation” (85). Mobile
activists spread ideas and identity, and in doing so facilitate the future
spreading of new ideas and identities.

This social movement space is the product of both mobility and sta-
bility. Moorings make mobility possible. They act as enablers, allowing
actors to experience the mobility of themselves and others, as well as cre-
ating destinations for movement (Adey 2009: 21). Relationships between
the fixed and the mobile are recursive: mobilities defined fixedness and
create further fixedness, albeit not without tensions (23). Mobility, es-
pecially in repetition, creates stability and formulates attachment – to
movement, but also to place, as well as the people and things one trav-
els with. Technology, which makes mobility possible, is also assumed to
render it redundant, by delinking communication from proximity. But
closeness does not replace the need or desire for “real contact” – it actual
intensifies it (18). Mobile life is constituted through a “material world
that involves new and distant meanings” (21). Mobility is not the inverse
of stability, nor does it always challenge forms of stability. Instead, to be
fixed and to be mobile are two related and interactive aspects of social
movement activity, and it is important to understand the conditions un-
der which these relations support or undermine the other.

In recent years, social movements have drawn on ideas of Deleuze and
Guattari (1980) in formulating both strategies and self-understandings,
particularly their idea of the nomad. They locate their social position
in opposition to citizens, sedentary actors, who are not necessarily im-
mobile, but when they move, they travel over familiar routes, returning
to the same places. Nomadism, however, takes a different tack, not one
of rigidity and permanence, but fleeting, free lines of flight without an
endpoint. The nomad relies on spatial features, but is not governed by
them. The nomad travels through open, smooth space, navigating not
from global knowledge (i.e., “the map”), but by localized engagement.
The nomad engages with a space that is “localized but not delimited”.
Nomadism, despite (or perhaps because of) its romantic opaqueness,
has been appropriated by numerous radical political actors. Nomadism
is equated with resistance (Adey 2009: 60). Day (2005) argues that
Deleuze and Guattari’s third category, the smith, is more appropriate.
The smith is neither nomadic nor sedentary, but is a hybrid moving
back and forth, guided by an “involuntary invention” of new tactics
and strategies (403). This actor creates both moorings and movements,
a network of connections that itself is always in flux.

Another concept appropriated from Deleuze and Guattari is deterri-
torialization. To deterritorialize is to decontextualize relations, often as
process of reterritorializing them into a new context. Fernandez, Starr,
and Scholl (2011) in their book on the social control of dissent, show
how summit protests can be seen as a conflict between police and pro-
tests to control space through processes of ongoing territorialization.
As they show, this is not limited to the space of the actual protest, but
begins long before, as activists try to move through space in order to
contribute to the action, and the state seeks to limit their movement as
much as possible, sometimes changing the laws to do so. Mobility sits
at the heart of new European spatial visions (Adey 2009: 10). That is,
the new Europe is a product of new forms of mobility, for capital, con-
sumer goods, and people. This ideal Europe is only possible, though,
through the exclusion of others’ movement, primarily non-European
immigrants, but also oppositional political actors. In the run ups to
recent summit protests, governments have suspended the Schengen
agreement which allows free movement across borders, in order to ren-
der activists immobile (Fernandez, Starr, and Scholl, 2011).

That government officials have become so interested in constraining
the mobility of activists could be taken as one more sign of the success
of such movement to the larger movements. But while travel tends to
serve certain positive needs and goals of activists, it is not without its
own costs, such as a tendency to inflate the appearance of the depth and
breadth of opposition, which can result in tactical blunders and mis-
steps, as well as organizational infighting (Katsiaficas 1997). Networks
and links built on mobility are often maintained by and oriented to-
wards the needs of the most affluent and elite participants, since they
are the ones who can most easily travel.

Mobility is riven with differences and access issues. While it is easy
to celebrate, it is not always simply positive. It is gendered, it affects
abilities to participate, it can disrupt consensus, it can erase public-
private boundaries (Adey 2009: 88). Additionally, Nicholls (2009)
argues that there are two moments in social movement mobilization.
First, forming loose connections between activists who share grievances
and identity create identification with a general cause. Second, directed
and coordinated mobilities produce a network of affiliated activists who
can participate in shared actions. This second moment often creates
tensions with the first. “The ability to overcome geographical and cul-
tural obstacles makes it possible for ‘mobile’ activists to forge a coherent
social movement space, but in doing this, they introduce new points
of antagonism that pit them into conflictual relations with their less
mobile and more locally grounded comrades” (91). Mobility – and the
control over mobility – is power (Adey 2009, 104).

Squatting: a place to move

At first blush, squatting presents a very straightforward relationship
to place, as captured in a popular slogan for squatters facing eviction:
“We will not leave.” This demands a stable conception of place, one
that resists change and disruption by staying put. Already, however, the
first signs of complexity emerge from this stance – to resist change is
also a form of making change. This is common in social movements,
where demands for larger social change are often accompanied by ac-
tivists’ efforts to protect their own most cherished values and practices.
But there is still more to the story, as place carries within it its own com-
plications. For squatters, place is about much more than stability, it is
equally about mobility. To have a place of one’s own provides more than
a place to rest one’s head; it also creates a destination for others, as well
as a home base for one’s own movement, producing a node in a larger
network of travel. Squatters, of course, recognize the importance of
certain forms of movement to the success of squatting – squatters don’t
simply occupy buildings, they also move in, move through, and when
compelled to leave, they move on. As much as squatters emphasize their
commitment to not moving during their confrontations with police and
government authorities, in fact, squatting has always been at least as
much about creating free and rewarding forms of mobility as it is about
creating a place to stay.

Activists have long been travelers, whether they are the revolutionar-
ies of old, who traveled both to foment revolution and to join already
existing rebellions, or today’s global justice activists, who travel to eco-
nomic and political summits to protest the decisions and decision mak-
ers there. Likewise, travel offers escape for political actors, whether it is
to be on the run from the law or just to get a break from the grind and
potential burnout of feeling “stuck” in the same place. In this chapter,
I use the history of the squatters’ movement of Amsterdam to explore
the ways that squatting is used as a tool to redefine both urban place
and social movement space through creating new forms of both stabil-
ity and mobility.

Stabilizing squatting

Mobility is a political tool, but it can also be a severe liability.
Amsterdam squatters initially had to do an enormous amount of work
to link an effective politics to their actions, and much of this effort was
directed at grappling with the relationships between squatting, stability,
and mobility. In the 1960s, Amsterdam squatters could count many
enemies – the police, the landlords, the property speculators, the gov-
ernment. Yet they also faced a less likely foe: the countercultural tourist.

The Provos, a small but influential anti-authoritarian group, staged fan-
tastic “happenings” during the early to mid 1960s, fueling a burgeon-
ing youth culture based on opposition to authority, creativity and drug
use (Mamadouh 1992). As post-war Europe recovered, mass tourism
returned. Tourists flocked to Amsterdam. While some came for the ca-
nals and the Rembrandts, others were more interested in the drugs and
the hippie scene. The Provos, a precursor to the squatters’ movement,
proposed the White House campaign in late 1960s in response to the
growing housing crisis, where they urged people to live in abandoned
buildings to save them from disrepair and provide cheap housing for
those in need (Duivenvoorden 2000).

Although activists were slow to take up this call, countercultural
tourists were already way ahead of them in terms of occupying empty
houses. “Tourist squatting” was quite popular in Amsterdam (Pruijt
2004), with travelers sleeping in Vondelpark or Dam Square, as well as
any empty building they could find. These tourists showed little inter-
est in repairing buildings or helping neighborhoods. In fact, their goals
were often the opposite: destruction could be far more entertaining.
Squatters, more interested in addressing the housing situation than in
no-frills tourism, bristled against intrusions into their physical and po-
litical space. In the early 70s, Nieuwmarkt squatters distributed posters
proclaiming, in Dutch, English, German, French, and Arabic, “Our
neighborhood is no campground” (Duivenvoorden 2000: 85), hoping
to drive tourist squatters out, and to distinguish themselves as a “good”
type of squatter: one who intended to stay and contribute to the com-
munity over time. Culturally, activists and tourist squatters were quite
similar, and the activist milieu even attracted their own tourists. But
activists and tourists clashed over squatting’s meaning. Activist squat-
ters worried tourist squatters hindered their goals, leaving destroyed
buildings and public outrage in their wake, and confusing the public
by conflating cultural changes advocated by the youth movement with
social and structural changes to buildings and neighborhoods. Making
squatting the basis for a political movement required successfully shift-
ing the tactic from the domain of tourists to activists, which meant
that squatting had to be made about stability rather than mobility.

Activists argued that the value of squatting came from the ability not
just to move in, but also to stay. Their public missives were increasingly
marked by commitments to the long term – to being good neighbors,
to being good caretakers of buildings. In this formative moment of the
squatters’ movement, the need was to connect squatting with a very
fixed and stable conception of place, one that minimized mobility.

This battle was most hotly contested during the early periods of the
political movement, as it sought to stabilize itself as a legitimate pub-
lic actor, emphasizing the stabilizing effects of squatting. As political
squatting grew in size and influence, direct challenges to tourist squat-
ting dissipated. But the tension remained, as evidenced by the defense
of the Groote Keijser. Following a particularly violent eviction at the
hands of the police in 1978, squatters decided that they were no longer
willing to vacate buildings without a defense when the eviction orders
came. When the eviction for the Groote Keijser was ordered in 1979,
squatters decided this was where they would make their stand: “We
will not leave.” To transform the building into a symbol of stability
and steadfastness required work, not just in barricading the doors, but
also in replacing and changing the residents and their commitments,
since many living in the building at the time were either apolitical or
traveling tourists. ADILKNO (1994: 47) asks, “But why should those
houses whose front-door keys had been handed around by tourists just
last summer, houses that had had Israelis barbecuing on the floor, start
to function as a symbol of the people’s will?” The reasons were prag-
matic: the building was big enough to hold a lot of defenders, strategi-
cally located on a canal, and owned by a particularly reviled speculator.

Securing the building, however, meant expelling the tourists. Squatter
Theo remembers giving them a deadline to leave, warning that if they
did not leave willingly, he would return “with a larger gang to throw
them out” (De Stad 1996: 126). With the building barricaded, the
tourists and apolitical residents removed, the squatters waited in their
fortress for the police. But the police, and the expected confrontation,
never came. Instead, the showdown occurred elsewhere. After resquat-
ting an evicted building on Vondelstraat in early 1980, squatters suc-
cessfully drove off the police with a spontaneous explosion of violence.

They barricaded the street, holding it for a weekend, and transformed it
into a carnivalesque zone – the “Vondel Free State.” But the end came
as suddenly as the beginning. Monday morning, tanks crashed through
the barricades, sent by the city to restore public order (Andreisson
1981). Despite this massive show of force, the movement prevailed,
saving the Vondelstraat squat and increasing their presence and influ-
ence in Amsterdam city politics (Duivenvoorden 2000).

To effectively politicize squatting meant a focus on stability, in rela-
tion to the building and to the neighborhood, as well as to the identity
of the actors and the movement itself. To be a good squatter meant to
stay. To be a successful movement meant to stay. However, as soon as
the movement experienced its first major successes, this same stability
became the basis for a dramatic increase in mobility, both into and out
of Amsterdam.

Mobilizing squatting

“Help! The squatters are coming – Cologne falling into chaos?”
(quoted in Duivenvoorden 200: 179). In Amsterdam, during the early
months of 1980, squatters’ efforts to hold on to their squatted homes
escalated into a series of violent standoffs with authorities. And the
tactics were not just heavier, they were also more effective, as squat-
ters held on to their buildings, beating back not just the police, but
also real estate speculation in the city as a whole. But following their
triumphant stands, members of the movement were doing more than
simply basking in their victories. Their performances on the streets of
Amsterdam had been so successful, they decided to take their show
on the road. Establishing their travel itinerary was not difficult, as the
invitations to visit other activist groups were pouring in from across
Europe. While local activists tended to treat them as conquering he-
roes, many other residents were far less enthusiastic about their visit.

A November 1980 trip to Hamburg prompted the local press to warn,
“The rioters are coming!” (quoted in Duivenvoorden 2000: 180). While
admittedly sensationalistic, such alarm was not wholly unfounded. The
trips by Amsterdam squatters sparked a string of political riots through-
out Germany and Switzerland, culminating in fierce fighting between
squatters and police in Berlin in mid-December of that same year. And
the travel kept coming. In 1981, Amsterdam squatters added France,
Italy and Spain to their destinations. These political tourists success-
fully exported their ideas, identity, and tactics across Europe, much to
some locals’ dismay. On one level, this is simply a tale of how activists
used mobility to share tactics and strategy. On another level, though, it
reveals the complex ways in which a local place can be constructed and
contested, as well as how mobility shaped, for better or worse, the way
squatters mobilized across Europe.

By the time Amsterdam squatters took to the road in 1980, travel
was already responsible for existing relationships with foreign squat-
ting groups. While most traveled as squatters or activists, early forms
of travel primarily took the form of individuals going to meet and stay
with other individuals. That is, squatters traveled just as friends travel,
but gaining political skills and insight in addition. For example, one
of the more prominent Amsterdam squatters spent time in Frankfurt
during the early 1970s, a time of widespread unrest over housing is-
sues, as well as staying for long periods in the squatting underground
in London during the mid 1970s (Theo, de Stad 2000). He not only
learned how things were done in each location, but also got to know the
people involved; both types of connections would play a key role in his
contributions to the Amsterdam squatters’ movement, as well as its ef-
forts to spread its gospel beyond its own borders. Furthermore, during
the 1970s, calls for solidarity were already crossing borders. Christiania,
the squatted “free state” in Copenhagen, was calling for international
support and for sympathizers to travel to help resist threatened evic-
tions as early as 1975. At this point, though, travel was either individual
or sporadic and based on big evictions. Systematic and representative
travel did not emerge fully until 1980, with the success of Vondelstraat
and the subsequent rise to prominence of squatters as a political force
in Amsterdam.

The politics of Amsterdam spilled over into other cities, first by
the media images that spread throughout Europe and the world, and
then through the movement of squatters as they toured other squat-
ting hotspots. The dramatic Vondelstraat victory, coupled with April’s
coronation riots (Duivenvoorden 2000), drew worldwide attention
(Andreisson 1981). Amsterdam squatters exploited their notoriety.
In fact, the touring had already begun before the confrontations on
Vondelstraat. Only one week earlier, Amsterdam squatters were in
London, at the “International Squatters Festival” organized by the
London Squatters’ Union. There they brought films of recent protests
and evictions, as well as squatting handbooks and other bric-a-brac to
sell in order to finance the trip. They were joined by squatters from
Berlin at the all day meetings and presentations, one of the first ex-
amples of an international convergence of squatters.

The summer of 1980 was a busy one for Amsterdam’s squatters,
and not only because the political situation was heating up in the city.
Through travel they forged stronger ties with their German “fellow
travelers.” In May and June, they paid visits to Cologne, Hamburg, and
Münster, followed by trips to Darmstadt, West Berlin, and Nürnberg in
the months that followed. As stated in a travel report published in the
Kraakrant, the local squatters newspaper, travel and exchange between
the Netherlands and Germany was both informal and organized, with
the goal being both to teach and to learn.

In the previous year many Amsterdam squatters traveled to Germany
in order to see how squatters organized there. Also, people have on
their own initiative made “tours” through German squat-cities, in or-
der to describe squatter activities in Amsterdam, accompanied by films
and video. There was a great interest for such information in Germany.
(“Duitsland,” 1980: 5)

Cologne squatters were to first to invite their Amsterdam comrades
for a visit, creating a public meeting for them to show their films and
speak about the conditions in Amsterdam and the keys to their strategic
and organizational successes. The organizers promised an opportunity
to learn from Amsterdam’s accomplishments, and to spark discussion
over local squatting politics. The visiting squatters shared information
at 2 different meetings – one with about 30 people, the other with
several hundred – on specific actions, but also on their general shift in
tactics, from passive to active resistance, which had proved so successful
and was being touted as the model for squatters elsewhere (Erik, Tara,
John, & Vincent 1980). Weeks later, squatters arrived in Hamburg; the
poster for the event promised,

As you know, the housing struggle in Amsterdam is at a high point:
just during the coronation of Beatrix, 220 houses were occupied by
squatters. The squatters struggle against the vacancy of living spaces
and against real estate speculation in the Netherlands. Despite massive
police and military force the squatters won’t let themselves be repressed
– they simply need a roof over their head. In Amsterdam 50000 people
seek housing. Just as many people in Hamburg have been seeking hous-
ing for years. Must Hamburgers also soon start squatting? The Dutch
squatter has existed for already 10 years. We want to learn from them
how they fight the housing crisis. Therefore we have invited them to a
discussion with squatters from Amsterdam. They are bringing a film
along, reports over their actions, e.g., the coronation day, and informa-
tion on how the organize themselves.

The local press was not amused, warning, “The rioters are coming!”
(quoted in Duivenvoorden 2000: 180). When the Amsterdam squat-
ters took to the road, they represented more than just simply a success-
ful political movement; they also represented the fears of those invested
in protecting the status quo. They symbolized the fact that no locality
was fully safe from political disruption and destabilization, because the
boundaries of each local place were fluid and contested. However, they
also called into being the most dangerous political actor: the outsider.
While they certainly sought to help their squatting comrades, the pres-
ence of outside activists was at odds with efforts for local actors to create
a basis in stability and locality that was so important to the Amsterdam
squatters during their formative stages.

The Amsterdammers were ostensibly teachers, but they also learned
critical information about the different conditions for squatting in
other national and local contexts. For example in a report about their
trip to Cologne, the squatters related the hysteria surrounding their
visit; “the way the press criminalizes squatters was highlighted by the
visit of 4 squatters to town and the headlines, “Help! The Squatters are
Coming!” and “Chaos in Cologne” – as if the Amsterdam squatters had
come to participate in violent defense of the big squat in town” (Erik et
al., 1980: 23). Still, they left town hopeful for the future of squatting
in that city, as they felt that “lots of people coming to the talk were also
first exposed to the new squat Stollwerch, which they hope will be the
start of larger involvement in the movement there” (23).

Information and people were flowing across borders, but so far the
effects on action were negligible. Amsterdam squatters came, spoke,
then went home, leaving their hosts to plan their own actions. With
time, possibly from a combination of intensification of the situation
in Germany, the changing expectations of the presentations, or simply
the motivational power of the speakers, these presentations became pre-
ludes to more “hands-on” actions. For example, a visit to West Berlin in
December coincided with an episode of fierce fighting between squat-
ters and police in the heavily squatted Kreuzberg district. The finger-
prints of Amsterdam squatters were all over the event. “German police
reports pointed not only to the presence of Amsterdam squatters, but
also that the fighting methods employed looked to be transplanted di-
rectly out of the Netherlands” (Duivenvoorden, 2000: 180). A news-
paper story covering the event noted, “the presence of Amsterdammers
on the fight stage is no surprise to German police, because Amsterdam
squatters were already active in West Berlin. Also, Dutch squatters took
part in the occupation of a chocolate factory in Cologne in May and
June earlier this year.”

The situation intensified with a March 1981 visit to Nürnberg.
There was very little actual squatting going on in the city at the time,
and local organizers wanted to change that. The head of KOMM, a
youth center in the city, traveled with friends to Amsterdam and got in-
terested in the housing crisis and squatting, and started squatting upon
returning home. The first visit by the Amsterdammers in late Juanuary
1981 generated a successful talk at KOMM, with about 200 people
attending (Muller 1980). The Amsterdammers taught about their own
movement, as well as shared techniques for those who wanted to squat
themselves. Originally, they had planned to show films of recent ac-
tions, such as the Vondelstraat defense, but because KOMM received
money from the city, city officials forbid the films to be shown at the
center. What they were learning was already worrisome enough to au-
thorities. The local police chief voiced concerns,
the youth were told precisely how the squatters in
Amsterdam work, the tactics against the police, how to best
barricade their house, or how to resist eviction by the police…I
find that a scandalous affair. There are only a few empty houses
here. It is very dangerous, what the Dutch squatters are doing
now in Germany. (Muller 1980: 1)

The concern was not that the Amsterdammers were meeting with
other squatters, but that they were trying to create new squatters’ move-
ments out of thin air. About a month later, they returned for another
effort to show the films at a different venue. When the police arrived
to shut the meeting down, the people present reacted with spontane-
ous demonstration, marching through the city, breaking windows, and
damaging cars, doing extensive monetary damage. The disturbance was
blamed on Amsterdam squatters, with authorities anxious that their
influence was spreading beyond the main German squatting centers
like West Berlin.

It was in Germany that the Amsterdam squatters forged the clos-
est bonds through the most frequent travel. But their travels extend-
ed across much of Western Europe. The same week as the events in
Nürnberg, other Amsterdammers were in Barcelona giving a similar
talk to squatters there. At the same time, a large-scale convergence
in Paris brought together squatters from all over Europe to meet and
discuss strategies, tactics, and political goals, as well as build stronger
personal networks within the movement. The meetings in Paris were
the first major international conference of squatters in Europe. It was
quickly followed by another conference in Münster, Germany. Both
featured significant participation by Amsterdam squatters, who were
generally recognized as the largest, most organized and most successful
of the European movements. Thus their knowledge and experiences
were consistently sought out. These early meetings grew larger over the
course of the early 1980s, later growing beyond the confines of local
and national borders, as well as expanding the issues into a more gener-
alized oppositional ideology and politics. They provide a model for lat-
er, and much larger, protest meetings that brought together European
radicals in a transnational forum, such as the anti-EU summit held in
Amsterdam in 1998, as well as the summit protests of the 21st century
(Fernandez, Starr, and Scholl 2011).

Although the visitors from Amsterdam were tasked with providing
an inside view of the movement, they were far from the only travel-
ers offering such information. In fact, many Germans were also mak-
ing less formal forays to Amsterdam, such as the authors of the piece,
“Amsterdam in Autumn” (1980) who visiting the city for a week in the
fall of 1980 to stay with friends in a squatted house and gain a better
understanding of both the tactical side of the movement and the ev-
eryday life of squatters in the city. It seems it was not just the squatters
who were traveling either, as “The West German police have already
sent researchers to Amsterdam to study the methods of the squatters”
(“Amsterdamse Kraker” 1980: 1) in order to better contain the growing
German squatters’ movement.

In their efforts to legitimize and strengthen their burgeoning move-
ment, Amsterdam squatters focused on developed a practice and im-
age based on stability and spatial fixity. However, successfully achieving
these goals launched them out into the world with new forms of mobil-
ity. It was their ability to stay put in the face of forces, both physical
and ideological, that were trying to pry them lose that produced the
conditions for unleashing waves of mobile squatters out into the larger
European social movement space. They toured the squatting cities of
Europe, teaching strategy, forging stronger organizational ties, and edu-
cating and being educated on the general and the specifics of squatting
in Europe. The same connections built during these travels created new
networks for other forms of travel, this time bringing non-local squat-
ters into the city – sometimes for a quick visit, and sometimes for much
longer stays.

Squatting, despite being intensely local in focus, grew and survived
as a movement in Europe because of the mobility of activists. They
helped form a translocal network of actors who not only could draw
on each other’s knowledges and numbers, but also created a larger
European squatter identity. This larger burgeoning European squatters’
movement drove new forms of mobility both by creating destinations
and by creating a general social movement space that facilitated travel
by making it possible to move from city to city and never fully leave
“the movement.” As this case also shows, there are risks with creating
a space of mobility completely encapsulated within social movement
space. You risk cutting off ties to “the local” and creating yourself as
an outsider. When squatter tactics become “Amsterdam tactics,” this
reveals the limits of mobility in movement building. However, refusing
the advantages of mobility is no guarantee of being spared its costs.

Travel Souvenirs: Something to Remember

This is only a very narrow window into the complex travel patterns
among European squatters. These early trips coming from and to
Amsterdam in 1980-1981 show how quickly mobility became inte-
grated into basic squatter practices. Even in this small slice, we can
see the emergence of the key role travel played in building not just the
content of the movement, but also its symbolic power. Activists are no
different from anyone else – they travel, and they do so for a lot of dif-
ferent, and sometimes even conflicting reasons. Thus, activist networks
can closely resemble friendship networks, connecting individuals across
movements, even when the movements themselves have no formal ties.
Information and tactics can flow through such channels but can be spo-
radic and unreliable. Still, these ties provide existing connections which
can help facilitate more formal travel and interactions when needed.

While these informal networks based on individual travel were key
to later travel of activists as representatives of movements, there were
other important precedents worth noting. That is, before Amsterdam
squatters started traveling, their reputations preceded them, as images
and stories of their actions circulated through mainstream and alterna-
tive media alike. Thus, they were already well known before trying to
make their tours, a fact that certainly made planning easier, as well
as receptions more welcoming, at least on the part of other activists,
if not necessarily the authorities. Therefore, what the Amsterdammers
brought with them was not necessarily completely new to the audi-
ence – most were likely familiar with the famous images of the tanks
at Vondelstraat – but rather to provide depth to issues already known,
as well as organizational and tactical lessons from a movement that was
enjoying victories. When the Amsterdammers traveled, they traveled
not as individual squatters, but as representatives of an entire move-
ment, a movement that was winning and thus appeared to offer impor-
tant lessons to other similar movements and their participants.

As travel became more common, as well as being recognized as an
effective means of building networks to facilitate the flows of informa-
tion and resources, even more formal solutions emerged. Conferences
and convergences provided new destinations that opened up the dis-
cussions beyond the one-way, teacher-student model employed at the
beginning. At these squatter conferences, most activists met each other
as travelers all occupying a neutral place, where the exchange of ideas
was opened up even wider. At the same time, while building new sorts
of relationships at the organizational and movement level, new affec-
tive and friendship ties were being made as well, ties that would help
to facilitate not just future travel and action, but also a growing sense
of collective solidarity – not just as squatters, but also as holders of an
oppositional transnational and translocal European identity.

Intramovement, international travel provided a means for build-
ing identity at multiple levels. First, individual activists gain identity
through traveling as a squatter and being recognized upon arrival as a
squatter and by being recognized upon return as a squatter with new
insights. That is, they traveled as someone with something to teach, but
arrived also as someone with something to learn, which becomes some-
thing new to teach upon their return, setting up a cycle of education
and information diffusion. Second, places and their local movements
gain identity through the contact and collaboration with other places
through travel – they become places that are both similar to other plac-
es, through the shared experience of squatting, but also unique: differ-
ences that only become meaningful in the context of the larger field.

Moreover, activist travel becomes a way to participate in complicating
conceptions of place and the local, while still acting to defend them.
Finally, the larger “squatter movement” also gains a broader identity
that transcends local differences, even as it celebrates them – primarily
by keeping the idea of “destinations” and a defense of the local alive
inside the larger collective space and identity.

Thus, the movement of movement actors creates destinations, new
places to go to, and worlds, new places to be in, as well as the subject
position of the agent that travels between and within them to hold
them together. That is, although cities and scenes get made into desti-
nations worth visiting (either because they have a surplus or a deficit of
information), the travel network being constructed allowed squatters to
“stay in the same place” i.e., the larger squatter movement itself – with
its own culture, rules, tactics, and goals, all converging through the
interplay of activists across borders. This network of squatters’ move-
ments contributed to the formation of an alternative European identity,
one that emerges alongside other competing Europes, including the
hegemonic EU vision of a united Europe. Their Europe matched the
broader trajectory of globalization, which is to link the local to the
transnational, bypassing the central role of the state, as well as resistance
to the state, which had traditionally regulated these relationships.

Travel certainly built complex activist identities, but it also embod-
ied a symbolic enactment of the politics of the broader squatters’ move-
ments. Squatting was at its heart about the creation and defense of
home. At the same time, though, it played out an entirely new vision of
what a home could be: home did not imply a static place to live in, but
also provided room for movement (as well as movements). The choice
to stay or to leave was always present in the squatted vision of home.
To resist the police was not always about the need to stay, but more
often about the need to defend the autonomy of choice – one should
be able to choose when to stay and when to leave. Such a politics takes
a skeptical view of borders, particularly the political borders which con-
strain the autonomy of the individual. Squatters celebrated the power
of a DIY (do-it-yourself) practice, so they always sought to do their
politics, not just espouse it. Therefore it is no surprise that the squatters’
tactics would combine the demand to stay with the freedom to leave,
always trying to strike a balance between the two, a balance further
reflected in the desire to create a space where the individual and com-
munity contribute to each other, rather than repress or reject.
While these flows of people and ideas through movement safe spaces
produce a network of horizontal connections connecting the local to
the transnational, places that are safe for both escape and recovery, there
are negatives to the geographic expansion of the movement, particu-
larly a geographic expansion that is not matched by a similar expansion
of numbers. Thus, if the space of the movement and its politics grows
faster than the population – and in some cases, as happened in the
later part of the 1980s, in the opposite direction of membership – then
growth will create a lot of “empty space” between activists. This allows
for the “illusion of mass militancy” which undermines the local and
connections to the “actual” audience of action, as politics, particularly
at this time remained under the control of the state and local authori-
ties. Moreover, such freedom of movement allows, as well as fosters,
internal splits, which can only be solved through making links to like-
minded actors in a different city or country, a process of factionaliza-
tion that wrecked not only the squatters’ movement as time went on
(Owens 2009), but also similar autonomous movements in Germany
and Denmark (Katsiaficas 1997).

Travel continues to play an important role in the formation of both
local and transnational radical movements, embodying the movement’s
dynamicism and global reach, raising consciousness, spreading tactics,
and effectively knitting communities together. Yet travel in movements
remains contested. Some critics argue that mobile activists are bad for
movements, as they disrupt local communities, reproduce privilege, and
emphasize escape over engagement. But the situation is more complex.
Travel connects people across places and places across people, thereby
offering a means of bridging diffuse global networks with dense local
networks, pulling the two towards each other. These connections, how-
ever, are not seamless, creating new tensions and contradictions, calling
for a deeper investigation of an anarchist politics of place and travel.
What kind of practices and knowledges does travel produce or obstruct?
A key point of contention is over the politics of place, which is more
complicated than the simple traveler/local distinction. Activists straddle
the difficulties of defending old conceptions of place and locality while
creating new ones. As globalization expands the reach of both the issues
and voices of radical politics, increased access to travel creates new po-
litical identities. For the squatters of Amsterdam, and those of Europe,
travel played a central role in establishing both the uniqueness of the local
context as well as the generality of transnational identities and representa-
tions. Travel helped produce powerful forms of political action, based not
on integration, but on “experiences of alterity, of the in-between. We can
see this in the tension between travel and emplacement, between speed
and stillness, between the virtual and the embodied” (McDonald 2006:
223). Squatting is principally about residence and stability, about local-
ity and community, but to build and protect those, it also became about
mobility and flux. This allowed for the creation of a broader social move-
ment space that let squatters move between buildings, between cities, and
between states, carrying information, strategies, and tactics across these
borders. Squatting made new mobilities possible; new mobilities, in turn,
made squatting possible. The importance of mobility for a movement so
bound to a strong sense of place highlights the relational aspects of place and how activists contribute to building and expanding that open sense of place.

However, even open places remain bounded, and the successes
of mobile squatters brought with them new tensions to the movement,
because the strongest language of defending the local remains one of a
stable territory. Squatting continues to struggle with and respond to this
tension openly, which is why it remains such a fruitful case for examining
how place and movement get built though and into social movements
more generally.


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[EN] Squatting And Urban Renewal: The Interaction of the Squatters’ Movement And the Strategies Of Urban Restructuring In Berlin

A chapter from Squatting in Europe: Radical Spaces, Urban Struggles

Squatting And Urban Renewal: The Interaction of the Squatters’ Movement And the Strategies Of Urban Restructuring In Berlin

* This is a reprint of the article published in Holm and Kuhn (2010,
‘Squatting and Urban Renewal: The Interaction of Squatter Movements
and Strategies of Urban Restructuring in Berlin’ in International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 35 (3), 2011, pp. 644-658.

Andrej Holm and Armin Kuhn

Squats have been a feature of the development of many cities in
developed capitalist societies. Existing studies mostly concentrate on
investigating the political and legal conditions for squats (Bodenschatz
et al., 1983), probing the motives and forms of squatter movements
(Pruijt, 2004) or reassessing their character as a new social movement
(Grottian and Nelles, 1983; Koopmans, 1995). These approaches
trace cycles of squatter movements back to changed legal conditions
and social inequalities, especially in the housing provision, as well as
to socio-political and subcultural turning points. They therefore reveal
important factors that determine the development of squatter move-
ments, but we believe that it was first and foremost the broader urban
political context that determined if and how squatter movements arose.
We take Berlin as an example to show that the dynamics of squatter
movements are closely connected to changing strategies associated with
urban renewal, and that in each case they emerge from the crisis of
the previous urban-renewal regime. We begin by looking at Pruijt’s ty-
pology of squats (Pruijt, 2004) and research that shows how aspects
of movements were integrated into neoliberal urban policies (Rucht,
1997; Schmid, 1998; Mayer, 2002) to analyse the specific relationship
between squatter movements and urban-renewal policies in Berlin. In
the following section, after contextualizing the Berlin squats within
the campaigns that were waged by the social movements of the time,
we discuss the background of Berlin’s urban politics, and in the next
two sections consider the two high points in housing conflict that took
place at the beginning of the 1980s and around 1990, respectively. We
focus on the influence of squats on urban restructuring policies. In ad-
dition, we provide a typology of the urban-renewal regimes operating
in Berlin in the penultimate section. Against this background, we argue
in the concluding section that in each case the Berlin squatter move-
ments developed at moments of transition between various models of
urban renewal, and that they contributed in greatly varying degrees to
these processes of transformation. While the squats at the beginning of
the 1980s contributed decisively to the implementation of a policy of
‘cautious urban renewal’, the squats of the 1990s constituted an alien
element in neoliberal redevelopment policy in East Berlin.

Urban policy and the social movement
context of the first Berlin squats

The TUNIX Conference, organized in Berlin in 1978, brought to
an end a cycle of social movements in the Federal Republic that had
begun with the student riots of 1967-68. The ‘red decade’, as histo-
rian Gerd Koenen termed the years from 1967 to 1977, had not only
laid the foundations for new social movements against atomic power,
war and militarization, but also for the sexual-equality movement. It
paved the way for sectarian experiments involving the setting up of new
revolutionary parties and for the increasing radicalization that led up
to the armed resistance of the Red Army Faction and the Movement
2 June. A turning point came when sections of the movement reacted
to the ‘German Autumn’ of 1977 and the level of government repres-
sion at the time by withdrawing from mainstream society and setting
up specific alternative projects. Berlin came to be the centre of this
rapidly growing alternative movement. In 1979 the alternative scene
that grew around pub collectives, bicycle workshops, district newspa-
pers and printing houses reached an estimated membership of 100,000
people (Scheer and Espert, 1982: 19) and provided many of those ac-
tive in the movement with a form of economic security beyond that
provided by capitalist wage labour. The issue of suitable living space
quickly became of central importance for these projects, and squats
seemed to be a way of appropriating such space. In addition, squatting
fitted the political approach of the alternative movement: its interven-
tion in urban restructuring, preoccupation with the problems posed
by apartments standing empty, the housing shortage, property specula-
tion and displacement – all these issues constituted an opportunity for
the movement to go beyond its own needs and personal concerns, and
thereby escape the potential pitfalls of a politics of representation.
While the alternative movement was growing rapidly, Berlin’s urban
politics slipped into a veritable crisis. The housing shortage – in 1980
alone some 80,000 people were registered as seeking apartments – was
not simply the result of established territorial boundaries preventing
the ‘frontier town’ from expanding in size. It was more a case of the
public programme of redevelopment favouring the speculative strategy
of keeping apartments vacant. According to Senate statistics, 27,000
apartments were uninhabited in 1978 (Bodenschatz et al., 1983: 301).
House owners and housing associations deliberately allowed houses to
become derelict with the expectation that they would be able to demol-
ish and re-build or fundamentally modernize them using government
funding, and eventually charge correspondingly higher rents.

The ruling Social Democratic Party in Berlin pursued an uncom-
promising policy of ‘redevelopment by eviction’ in the inner-city dis-
tricts. Described as a ‘feudal, bureaucratic way of disposing of people’
(Eichstädt-Bohlig, cited in Nitsche, 1981: 210), this policy, and the as-
sociated displacement of the low-income population along with a large
number of commercial operations, provoked widespread resistance in
the 1970s. In Kreuzberg, in particular, tenants’ committees, citizens’
action groups and other urban political groups protested for many years
against the restructuring of the area around the Kottbusser Gate. Their
influence was, however, extremely limited, and their participation in
town-planning decisions was at best symbolic (Laurisch, 1981: 26). For
the most part, resistance and squatting campaigns continued to pro-
duce no results.

A crisis of legitimation in urban housing policy was finally reached
in December 1980, when a corruption scandal involving building
contractor Dietrich Garski cast doubt upon the Senate’s policies and
exposed the murky amalgamation of the Senate’s policies with build-
ing contractors, redevelopment agencies and housing associations. The
resignation of the Senate a few weeks later heralded the ‘miry end of
an era’ (Matthies, 2006). The relative power vacuum that lasted right
up to the victory of CDU (Christian Democratic Union) candidates in
the elections of May 1981 paved the way for the explosive expansion of
squatter movements in the months that followed.

Rehab squatting and ‘Revolt 81’

The fall of the Senate in January 1981 was preceded by a sweeping
‘radicalization’ of the movement (Koopmans, 1995:171). The housing
wars to which this led can be divided into three phases: emergence, ex-
pansion/differentiation and downfall. The first phase had already begun
as early as February 1979, when the citizens’ initiative ‘SO 36’ con-
sidered ‘everything produced by the constitutional state’ as exhausted,
and organized the first ‘rehab squats’ (Aust and Rosenbladt, 1981: 36).
The squatters’ practice of occupying houses and immediately starting to
renovate them was meant, on the one hand, to point out the longstand-
ing deterioration and emptiness of the apartments, and on the other
hand, to create acceptance of this method of civil disobedience. The
public and political success of these first squats had further repercus-
sions: until December 1980, 21 houses had been occupied by squatters
in Berlin. As early as March 1980 a ‘squatters’ council’ was set up to act
as the point of contact and negotiation in dealings with state authori-
ties. The district and the Senate’s initial response was a willingness to
negotiate with these first rehab squatters, although the authorities were
inconsistent in their political strategy.

The actual starting point of ‘Revolt 81’, the beginning of the second
phase of the squatting movement, was 12 December 1980 (Michel and
Spengler, 1981). On this date, an illegal eviction carried out by police
in the Berlin district of Kreuzberg provoked a street riot that lasted until
the morning of the following day. In the months that followed, new
houses were occupied by squatters on an almost daily basis, peaking in
the summer of 1981 at around 165 houses (Koopmans, 1995: 174).
The overwhelming majority of these apartment buildings were situated
in the districts of Kreuzberg (approx. 80) and Schöneberg. Massive dem-
onstrations, street riots and direct action, combined with the associated
erratic expansion of Berlin’s squatter movement, was part of a Europe-
wide revolution that began in Zurich in May 1980. The Zurich opera
house riots were the prelude to a two-year phase of severe disputes sur-
rounding an Autonomous Youth Centre owing to a shortage of spaces
for alternative youth cultures. Within the context of a Europe-wide cri-
sis in the Fordist model of economic growth and rising unemployment,
the slogan ‘Zurich is burning’ served as inspiration for an entire genera-
tion of mostly disaffected youth. A widespread lack of perspective and
conservative roll-back against the authoritarian break-up of 1968 con-
stituted the foundation on which the revolt spread like wildfire, initially
in the Federal Republic of Germany (Freiburg im Breisgau, Hamburg,
Berlin, Bremen and Hannover), then on to Amsterdam and later to
Britain (Katsiaficas, 1997: 107ff; Schultze and Gross, 1997: 35).

The 1980 revolt enabled a new political generation to enter the stage,
something which was not attributable to the alternative movement. Very
little reliable data concerning the social composition of Berlin’s squatter
movement are available. An article published in the weekly newspaper
Die Zeit on 12 August 1983 states that 65% were men, 35% under the
age of 21, 40% between the ages of 21 and 25, 36% school children
or students, 26% in employment, and 38% unemployed or without a
recognized job (Pökatzky, 1983: 9). These figures coincide with analyses
that identified two large groups within the squatter movement from the
outset (AG Grauwacke, 2008: 45): on the one hand, the ‘alternatives’,
most of them middle-class students or academics; and on the other hand,
a group of people who were ‘marginalized’, either willingly or unwillingly,
most of them under the age of 21 and with a proletarian background.
This heterogeneity in social structure is also reflected in the diversity of
political beliefs and squat-related goals. The movement developed with-
in a few months and was arguably aware of its heterogeneity but never
quite wanted to refer to itself in such terms. For a different view of the
movement, it is helpful to consult the typology developed by Hans Pruijt
(2004), which categorized different types of squats according to their
respective motives and goals. Pruijt differentiates between deprivation-
based squatting, squatting as an alternative housing strategy, entrepre-
neurial, conservational and political squatting (ibid.: 37).

At first, the diverse interests did not conflict with each other. On the
contrary: the dynamic of the rehab squatter movement was based first
and foremost on the ‘radical’ forces that made use of the political power
vacuum to occupy a substantial number of houses in the shortest possible
time, thereby ensuring a level of conflict potential that largely prevented
immediate evictions. Such strategies were focused on confrontation, and
benefited at the same time from public acceptance and support, which
resulted from the long ‘work of fermentation’ by citizens’ action groups
and tenants’ representative offices and their strategy, which was largely
aimed at negotiation and mediation. Soon, however, the conflict between
a political course of confrontation, on the one hand, and the strategic
pursuit of alternative urban political goals on the other, came to the fore.
By the time the issue of legalization of houses arose, conflicts between ‘ne-
gotiators’ and ‘non-negotiators’ could no longer be covered up: the fac-
tion that could be attributed to the alternative movement wanted to hold
on to the houses and was increasingly prepared to put this interest before
an earlier consensus – no negotiation until ‘political’ prisoners were re-
leased, and an ‘overall solution’ for all squatted houses. The contingent of
‘non-negotiators’ began to differentiate themselves from the alternative
movement by referring to themselves as ‘autonomists’ (cf. Schwarzmeier,
2001: 50ff), and accused negotiators of giving up the political struggle
and of resorting to the mere preservation of their own spaces.
The strategies that the government pursued were aimed at dealing
with this conflict, focusing on the squats and the ‘crisis’ they triggered.
The SPD (Social Democratic Party)-led transitional Senate under the
leadership of Hans-Jochen Vogel, which came into office in February
1981, wanted to convert the squats ‘into legally ordered conditions that
were also in complete harmony with civil law’.Evictions would only
be possible if specific criminal charges were made – trespassing alone
was not enough – and if prerequisites for immediate renovation were in
place (cf. Bodenschatz et al., 1983: 322).

After the elections in May 1981, the CDU-led Senate under Federal
President Richard von Weizsäcker reversed the relationship between se-
lective integration and suppression. Any efforts made towards integrat-
ing the ‘peaceful’ squatters were repeatedly thwarted by the Minister for
the Interior, Heinrich Lummer, a committed advocate of the hardline
faction in the department of public prosecution and the police authori-
ties, who had already counteracted the moderate course pursued by
the SPD-led Senate. Lummer divided the squatters into ‘those ready to
negotiate’ and ‘criminals’. He proclaimed a ‘zero-tolerance’ approach to
new squats, and launched a large-scale offensive against demonstrations
and similar protest actions. House searches conducted on the pretext
of tolerating no ‘lawless spaces for criminals’, were often used either
to damage the houses in such a way that they became uninhabitable,
or simply to evict their occupants with immediate effect. The wave
of repression (cf. Brand, 1988: 204ff) that began with the CDU-led
Senate’s entry into office reached its sad climax on 22 September 1981,
when Klaus-Jürgen Rattay, an 18-year-old squatter, fleeing from baton-
wielding police, was knocked down and killed by a Berlin Transport
Authority bus as he crossed the street. This was the turning point that
led into the third phase and to the downfall of the squatter movement.
After the summer of 1981, the movement’s ‘vanguard in Berlin rapidly
crumbled away’ (Bacia et al., 1981: 127). It was a sign of their ‘ag-
gressive helplessness’ that TUWAT, an ‘extravaganza’ staged in August
1981, brought together up to 3,000 people from the whole of Germany
(Mulhak, 1983: 242). Even the ‘alternative’ squatters ‘believed that the
chance of houses being legalized had been diminished by the new CDU-
led government’ (ibid.). In the following ‘psycho winter’ there was a
temporary absence of repression and consequently absences of unity,
and the squats that housed autonomist ‘non-negotiators’ were ground
down by deferred internal conflicts (AG Grauwacke, 2008: 65ff). The
urban policy initiative in the squatter environment felt that the work
they had been doing over many years was now in jeopardy. At the same
time other conflicts came to the fore, such as mobilization against the
NATO Double Track Decision, the West Runway at Frankfurt Airport
and the Brokdorf nuclear power plant.

While the squatters ‘had lost the initiative’, urban political groups
began to ‘incorporate the squatter movement into their ideas and poli-
cies for housing’ (Bodenschatz et al., 1983: 324). Prominent patrons
from churches, colleges, the arts and culture scene and the unions who
had moved into squatters’ houses for their own protection, declared
shortly after Rattay’s death that they intended to ‘prevent the rehab
squatters’ just cause from disappearing in a fog of violence conjured
up by the Senate’ (EA, 1981: 86). In negotiations with the Kreuzbeug
district authority and the Senate they instigated a moratorium on evic-
tions that lasted until Easter 1982 (Bodenschatz et al., 1983: 322). At
the same time, squatters from across the spectrum of the alternative
movement, in collaboration with urban political campaigners, began to
establish supporter associations that would act as models for legaliza-
tion beyond the scope of individual houses. Attempts to legalize houses
more extensively were, however, repeatedly thwarted by the strategy of
escalation pursued by the Minister for the Interior, who ordered evic-
tions on the slightest pretext, often in the middle of negotiations (ibid.:
325). This ‘type of pre-concerted’ interplay (Pökatzky, 1983) between
the negotiating table and evictions characterized the entire ‘legaliza-
tion’ process right up to the final evictions in the autumn of 1984.
Koopmans (1995: 178) totals up the figures: of 165 squatted houses,
105 were finally ‘contractually pacified’ by rental or purchase agree-
ments, and the occupants of 60 were evicted.

The legalizations were only a partial success: by the end of 1984 the
squatter movement was finally crushed, or rather, ‘pacified’. Only a few
legalized houses enjoyed financial support under the ‘self-help hous-
ing’ programme launched in 1982. In spite of everything, spaces for
collective and alternative lifestyles remained a marginal phenomenon.
At the same time, the legalization of houses established the division of
the movement, making it easier to criminalize the autonomist ‘non-
negotiators’. The latter were all the easier to criminalize because ‘sec-
tions of the squatter movement’, by virtue of their militant actionism
and subjectivist misconception of autonomy, gave up ‘every right to
turn their own ideas into the reality of other social spheres’, and isolated
themselves in the process (Geronimo, 1990: 96). The legalization of
houses ultimately signified the end of any political dimension to the
squats beyond the scope of housing policy.

The housing policy incentives that remained had a particular in-
fluence on the International Building Exhibition set up in 1979, and
undoubtedly constituted a success for the squatter movements. As a
publicly financed and commercially organized institution in the 1980s,
the exhibition became a new centre of power for urban building (Bernt,
2003: 46). Its old-building section was a ‘reservoir for departmental
policies opposed to the demolition policy’ and became the driving
force behind the ‘twelve principles of cautious urban renewal’ that as-
similated the core demands of tenants’ groups, urban political groups
and rehab squatters. Although these principles were never laid down
by law, they had a significant impact, even beyond Berlin (ibid.: 52).
But not even these successes remained untarnished. One effect of de-
centralization and the expansion of opportunities to participate in local
decision-making processes was that even the conflicts had to be dealt
with locally. ‘While the legal parameters were preserved, decision mak-
ing was moved down a level, to the centres of conflict, and activists were
integrated into a consensus-seeking process with the aim of gaining
more acceptance and identification with decisions in the neighbour-
hood’ (ibid.: 56). Even the survival of hard-won achievements in hous-
ing policy, rooted above all in the work of the International Building
Exhibition, seemed to depend on the successful outcome of these at-
tempts to find a compromise. As Karl Homuth (1984: 37ff) put it in
an early study, ‘cautious urban renewal replaced the violent character,
bureaucratic paternalism and inscrutability of these plans with careful,
step-by-step processes that were easier to comprehend and more so-
cially adjusted’, yet this would not come into full effect for several years.

Squats in East Berlin at the beginning of the 1990s

The squats in East Berlin at the beginning of the 1990s can only be
viewed within the context of the explosive social changes that took place
during the turnaround (Wende) and reunification. The political power
vacuum of the Wende period, and the massive loss of authority on the
part of the police and municipality facilitated the large-scale occupa-
tion of vacant old buildings in the inner city. In addition, the GDR’s
housing policy, oriented towards new buildings, was creating the main
basis of urban buildings for the squats. After years of reconstruction
in Berlin, a city scarred by the destruction of war, the housing prob-
lem was to be solved by erecting industrially manufactured apartment
buildings that were for the most part developed in large estates at the
outer city limits in the form of new towns or districts. As a result of
this one-sided orientation, the inner-city areas, consisting of old hous-
ing that had been ideologically devalued as the legacy of capitalist ur-
ban development, were neglected in town planning and were showing
signs of structural decay (Hoscislawski, 1991; Hannemann, 2000). The
outcome of this real-socialist practice of disinvestment was not only
poor refurbishment of apartments in the old housing areas but also
a vacancy rate of up to 20% in particular districts. A total of 25,000
old apartments were vacant, most of them in the inner-city districts
(SenBauWohn, 1990). Accordingly, squats during the Wende period
concentrated on housing stock in the inner-city districts of East Berlin
that dated back to the Gründerzeit (a time of rapid industrial expansion
in Germany around 1900).

In total, around 120 houses were occupied by squatters in the inner-
city districts of Mitte, Prenzlauer Berg and Friedrichshain, and sporadically
around the district of Lichtenberg. Based on an analysis of the usually fort-
nightly (but weekly at times of intensive mobilization) Squatters’ News,
issues of the video magazine AK Kraak, as well as interviews with those
who were active at the time and personal recollections of the period, the
dynamics of squatting in East Berlin can be divided into three distinct
phases. These can be distinguished according to both the character of the
squats and their main geographical focal points.

The first phase of squats encompassed the period from December
1989 to April 1990. The majority of the 70 or so houses occupied
by squatters during these months were in Mitte and Prenzlauer Berg.
In comparison to earlier squatted apartments – ‘schwarz wohnen’ (‘re-
siding illicitly’) had a long tradition in the GDR – the character of
squatted houses clearly changed in the winter of 1989 to 1990. Houses
were occupied openly and assertively. Banners, secured windows and
barricade-like doorways soon made these houses sites for an anarchis-
tic, libertarian experiment against everything that was petit-bourgeois,
against Nazis (who had already begun to organize themselves in very
large numbers in the final years of the GDR) and against every form
of rule. The squatters during this first phase were mostly East German
youth, who were largely already acquainted with one another from
various subcultures and political scenes. They were then joined by the
first West German and international ‘fanatics’ and artists, who by and
large were integrated in a friendly way into the new squat. In particular,
the squat called the ‘art department store’ in the Oranienburger Strasse
(Tacheles) and the squat at 5 Schönhauser Allee, which served as the
headquarters of the art and culture project called WYDOX, focused
on creating spaces that would primarily help squatters achieve self-re-
alization. Their function as a place of residence was merely secondary
(see Galenza and Havemeister, 2005). They were, in turn, joined by
individual squats made up of citizens’ action groups, who focused on
preventing the planned demolitions of entire old housing blocks in the
districts of Prenzlauer Berg and Mitte. Most of these houses were legal-
ized relatively quickly into cooperatives and ‘cautiously’ renovated by
means of financial incentives.

In his typology of squats, Pruijt (2004) identifies a heterogeneous
mix of different strategies during this first phase of squatting at the be-
ginning of the 1990s. In addition to squats that focused on squatting as
an alternative housing strategy, some squats quickly became established
as centres for exhibitions and other events (entrepreneurial squatting),
while other squats had the goal of actively preventing existing demoli-
tion plans (conservational squatting).

A second phase of squats, lasting from May to July 1990, centred
geographically on the urban district of Friedrichshain. During this pe-
riod the squats underwent a qualitative and quantitative expansion,
growing by a further 50. In their search for places to live as well as new
adventure, an increasing number of ‘unpolitical’ groups also experi-
mented with squatting. In addition to the mainly East German squat-
ters, there were now squats that for the first time were being organized
by West Germans or West Berliners. These squatters had been affected
by the housing shortage in West Berlin and had partly been brought
together through political protests. They were predominantly students
who collectively moved into vacant houses in the East. The main fo-
cal points were still Prenzlauer Berg and Mitte. In Friedrichshain only
a handful of houses were occupied by squatters at this time. In the
April 1990 issue of Interim, the newsletter for West Berlin’s ‘alternative’
scene, members from the oppositional ‘church from below’ drew atten-
tion to houses in Mainzer Strasse that had been left vacant since 1987,
and put out a call to the squatter movement (see Arndt, 1991). In their
announcement they said: ‘If there are really enough squatting opportu-
nities for everyone, if it’s more a case of a lack of people willing to take
them up, and if it will maybe help avert or impede a further destruction
of houses along western lines, then why not?’ (ibid.: 32).

At the beginning of May the 11 vacant houses in Mainzer Strasse
were occupied by squatters. With over 250 occupants, the ‘Mainzer’,
as it was called, swiftly became the centre of the Friedrichshain squatter
scene. Alongside many facilities (bookshop, second-hand bookseller,
public kitchen) the first Tunten (gay) house project in East Berlin and a
women’s/lesbian house were set up. Those who lived in these houses on
Mainzer Strasse were mainly West Berliners and members of the West
German autonomous movement (Benjamin, no date). The coordinat-
ing committee that operated between the occupied houses, the ‘squat-
ters’ council’, pursued a strategy of confrontation, in particular through
initial negotiations for contractual legalization of squatted houses.
In Pruijt’s typology this second phase of squats in East Berlin may
be more clearly characterized as ‘political’ squatting. Houses that were
occupied by squatters were no longer considered mere free spaces for
self-realization, but more markedly as sites of confrontation with the
state authorities and as symbols of political self-positioning.

A third phase of the East Berlin squatter movement began at the end
of July 1990. The number of new squats was reduced when the mu-
nicipal authorities in East Berlin started implementing the ‘Berlin Line’
ordinance, in terms of which, from 24 July 1990 onwards, no new squats
would be tolerated, and independently of any criminal charges or evic-
tion notices, squats would be evacuated by police within 24 hours of
occupation. In early November evictions of squatters from 2 houses in
Prenzlauer Berg and Lichtenberg gave rise to violent conflict. After evic-
tions on the morning of 12 November 1990, around 50 squatters from
the houses on Mainzer Strasse spontaneously demonstrated their solidar-
ity with the evicted squatters. According to police reports, squatters re-
acted to the introduction of police reinforcements and the use of water
cannons and armoured personnel carriers in Mainzer Strasse by bom-
barding the police with flares, throwing roof tiles, cobblestones, paving
slabs, sacks of cement, slingshots and Molotov cocktails (Arndt, 1991:
13). During the night, a violent street riot ensued that lasted for hours.
Attempts by around 1,500 police officers, all from the West, to force their
way into the street were unsuccessful, despite the use of water cannons,
armoured personnel carriers and stun grenades (ibid.: 21). This escalation
of violence made a negotiated solution less and less likely, in particular
because the West Berlin police ignored the district’s political protago-
nists and focused instead on eviction by force. In the early hours of 14
November, Mainzer Strasse was cleared by a total of 3,000 police officers
from all over Germany, several helicopters and ten water cannons. With
over 400 arrests made and many casualties on both sides, this was the
violent turning point in the East Berlin squatter movement.

The evictions in Mainzer Strasse clearly demonstrated that the
option of militantly defending squatters’ houses had failed. This re-
alization prompted the majority of groups in squatted houses to
come to the negotiating table. During district-specific negotiations,
usage agreements on the majority of houses were drawn up with the
respective housing associations. However, when East Berlin proper-
ties were being reassigned to their previous owners or their respec-
tive heirs, these contractual agreements were no longer considered
reliable. In the case of a number of squatted houses, reassignment
led to conflict with the private owners and to more evacuations well
into the 1990s.

In contrast to the wave of squatting of the early 1980s, internal
debates between ‘negotiators’ and ‘non-negotiators’ in the East Berlin
squats remained confined to specific time periods. After the dramatic
evictions of squatters from the houses in Mainzer Strasse in particular,
only a few squatters refused to accept a negotiated solution. This change
in attitude is evident from the ratio of around 30 evicted squats to 90
legalized ones during this time. While around three-quarters of all the
houses in East Berlin were contractually safeguarded in the early 1980s,
in West Berlin the figure was scarcely more than 60%. After legaliza-
tion, many former squatters began to make structural improvements
and, following their own initial renovations and repair work, under-
took more comprehensive restructuring, often in the context of public
development programmes. In the course of the 1990s the Berlin Senate
spent over 250 million euros on what was known as the ‘self-help hous-
ing policy’ development programme. In total, over 3,000 units were
renewed in this way, many of them former squats (Abgeordnetenhaus
Berlin, 2002). On the basis of lease agreements that were concluded
over many years and as a result of people having a substantial personal
stake in the modernization of the buildings, modern housing condi-
tions were created in the context of these programmes. In some dis-
tricts, the renovation of former squats was the first clear sign of urban
renewal in the making.

Squatting and urban restructuring

The squatter movements of the 1980s and 1990s were similar not
only in terms of their solidity; we can also identify numerous paral-
lels between the processes involved. First, in each case a political pow-
er vacuum was the condition for the explosive proliferation of both
movements: in the 1980s the death throes of the SPD-led Senate of
January 1981, and the transitional government’s restricted capacity to
act; and in the 1990s the fall of the Berlin Wall and the institutional
chaos that followed. Secondly, in both cases a violent demonstration of
restored sovereignty in urban policy constituted a turning point that
ended in the defeat of the movements: on the one hand, the eviction
of 8 squats on 22 September 1981, during which Klaus-Jürgen Rattay
came to a violent end; and on the other hand, the eviction of Mainzer
Strasse on 14 November 1990. In both cases this restoration of sover-
eignty was preceded by widespread shifts in political power at the broad
urban level: the election of the CDU-led Senate in 1981, the formal
reunification of Berlin and the annexation of the former GDR into the
Federal Republic on 3 October 1990. Thirdly, a further similarity was
the fact that extensive legalization models could in each case only be ap-
plied to houses in public or not-for-profit ownership, whereas for hous-
es that were in private ownership only individual rental, leasehold or
purchase agreements were drawn up. And fourthly, the conflicts within
both squatter movements ran along similar lines: while in 1990 the
conflict between ‘negotiators’ and ‘non- negotiators’ was not as acute as
it had been in the early 1980s, the conflict of interest between, on the
one hand, ‘conservation’ squatting and ‘squatting to try out collective
forms of living’, and on the other hand, the ‘political’ or autonomous
squats, was the same. It was symptomatic that in both movements the
squats organized by citizens’ action groups were the first to draw up
agreements and legalize their houses.

Despite all these similarities, however, we must also take proper
account of the differences. The squats of the 1980s were part of an
extended and differentiated alternative subculture that centred on the
inner-city districts of Kreuzberg and Schöneberg, which made up not
only the ideological background for the squats, but also the environ-
ment of their social and political supporters. The squats in the 1990s,
by contrast, consisted more of alien elements in a situation of sweeping,
radical change. While there were continuities with the GDR practice
of ‘residing illegally’, and many houses were rooted in their respective
neighbourhoods, they could nevertheless not be considered part of the
more extensive movement in the eastern inner-city districts. However,
the most marked difference between the squats of the 1980s and 1990s
may be found in the role each played in urban restructuring. We shall
now explore this difference in more detail.

The role of squats in urban restructuring

The policy of urban renewal pursued in Berlin can be divided into
three clearly distinguishable phases and models: first, what is known as
‘areal redevelopment’, carried out between 1963 and 1981; secondly,
the policy of cautious urban renewal, which was pursued between 1981
and 1989; and thirdly, post-Fordist urban renewal in East Berlin, pur-
sued from the early 1990s. The Berlin squatter movements in each case
accompanied the transition to a new model of urban renewal. For this
reason we shall examine in more detail the specific network of rela-
tions between squatters and the implementation of new types of urban

‘Areal redevelopment’ describes an approach that focused on the
widespread demolition of housing stock that is in need of renewal, as
well as the building of new, modern housing developments. The ‘First
Berlin Urban Renewal Programme’, approved by the Berlin Senate in
1963, provided for the demolition of 10,000 housing units. The re-
newal model was based on developers (mostly housing associations)
buying up mostly private property in the redevelopment areas and ex-
tensive financial support for demolition and new house-building work
from public funds for the Social Housing Development Programme
(Dahlhaus, 1968; Zapf, 1969). Aspects of this authoritarian form of ur-
ban renewal that were particularly criticized were the failure to involve
residents, the concerted destruction of existing neighbourhood struc-
tures, and the demolition of low-cost housing stock that would not be
replaced. In spite of comprehensive funding, rents in the new buildings
were markedly higher than those in the old building areas (Becker and
Schulz zur Wiesch, 1982).

The policy of cautious urban renewal was born out of this criti-
cism of the redevelopment of spaces. In implementing urban renewal
it focused on three types of ‘caution’: caution in construction, which
involved preserving the building stock and modernizing one step at
a time; social caution, which involved preserving the composition of
the social structure wherever possible and allowing tenants in the re-
development areas to stay in their houses; and finally, the principle of
caution in planning policy, comprising widespread involvement and
participation by residents in renewal activities. A participatory model of
urban renewal was tried out. Nevertheless, there was no change in the
material basis for urban renewal. Even cautious urban renewal rested
on extensive public funds and a transfer of the plots of land to (often
urban) redevelopers, so that in spite of other goals, urban renewal was
from then on organized by the state and distanced from the market
(Konter, 1994; Bernt, 2003).

The squats of the early 1980s were of major importance for the
implementation of cautious urban renewal. The squat houses and the
squatters occupying them provided the trigger, as well as objects and
partners, for a new model of urban renewal. First, the concentration
of the squatters’ houses in future or pre-designated redevelopment ar-
eas was a consequence of the legitimation crisis in the redevelopment
of spaces. Squatters, citizens’ action groups and a critical section of
the public attacked in equal measure, if not always as one voice, the
planned demolition of whole streets. The self-presentation of the squat-
ter movement as ‘rehab squatters’ essentially suggested a criticism of
the (by then usual) demolition-approach to development. Secondly, the
squatted houses not only triggered a new policy of urban renewal; they
were at the same time a kind of experimental laboratory in which new
instruments of urban renewal were trialled.

The eviction of squatters was not the only way in which the city
reacted to the regulatory requirement to end the existence of ‘lawless
spaces’. For the first time, some of those living in squatted houses were
granted a say in the renovation and design of their houses. Collective
usage agreements, gradual modernization and the deflationary integra-
tion of self-help interests represented completely new forms of urban
renewal and the end of the authoritarian urban-renewal regime of rede-
veloping spaces. The apparent coherence of the participatory principles
behind cautious urban renewal, along with the squatters’ notion of ‘self-
empowerment’, can be viewed as a third level of successful integration
of squats into cautious urban renewal. Apart from some basic criticisms
of the de-politicization of housing (Homuth, 1984) and of the evic-
tion of squatted houses, described as ‘preventative counter-insurgency’,
an independently minded political alliance consisting of alternative
groups, squatters, the Alternative List (the later Green Party) and pro-
fessional town planners and architects agreed to reject the bureaucratic
and authoritarian urban renewal of the past, and to work together to
create alternative models.

Post-Fordist urban renewal in East Berlin in the 1990s was clearly
distinguishable from the cautious urban renewal in the western part of
the city by criteria relating to real estate, urban planning and finance.
The enormous renewal requirements of around 180,000 apartments
in old buildings, the crisis in public finance and the privatization of
property brought about by restitution in redevelopment areas led to a
form of urban renewal ‘financed first and foremost by property owners’
(Berlin Senate, 1993). Instead of using funds and transferring owner-
ship to redevelopment agencies, the authorities attempted to imple-
ment the social and building objectives of urban renewal in East Berlin
using town planning legislation. The mode of control deployed for
urban renewal could be characterized as an increasingly negotiation-
oriented administrative action (Holm, 2006: 90). Rather than impos-
ing direct control through ‘money’, the redevelopment objectives of
the 1990s were to be strengthened using ‘laws and commandments’ as
means of control. In the process, multifaceted systems of negotiation
between tenants, property owners and urban authorities were created.
The redevelopment regime, in particular contractors and tenants’ com-
mittees, used moderation and consultation to provide, wherever pos-
sible, conflict-free implementation of urban renewal. Now the decisive
factors were not merely economic criteria, but also cultural and social
resources. Educated tenants in particular, and those closely involved
with social networks, were better able to make their interests count in
the individualized negotiation of modernization plans (Häußermann
et al., 2002).

Unlike the West Berlin squatter movement in the early 1980s, squat-
ters in East Berlin did not play a central role in implementing a new
redevelopment regime. Squatted houses were, in fact, an alien element
in the new regime of urban renewal. As in West Berlin, the regulatory
strategy the city’s government was pursuing gave squatters huge scope
for structurally renovating their houses. In East Berlin the authorities
for the most part had recourse to solutions already tried out in the
West. The routine unwinding of self-help programmes and collective
tenancy contracts had absolutely no innovatory potential for imple-
menting the new redevelopment model in East Berlin, focused as it was
on individual negotiation and private investments. These programmes,
on the contrary, brought about only cautious renewal of small niches.
The special role of squatted houses not only created discord between
East and West, but also explained the squatters’ far-reaching avoidance
of district conflicts. Their special status made cooperation with tenants
and district initiatives difficult. For example, widely held fears regard-
ing the restitution process and changing property ownership played
only a minor role in former squats that had long-standing leasehold
agreements. Contact between district initiatives and squatters’ houses
existed primarily in cases where private property owners tried to evict
the squatters themselves. For example, a fire on the roof of the squats
in Dunckerstrasse 14/15 in Prenzlauer Berg’s Helmholtz Square led to
a massive show of solidarity between neighbours and can be regarded
as the birth of many neighbourhood initiatives that still remain active
in the area today. In view of otherwise divergent interests of residents,
such shows of solidarity were, however, isolated cases.

Research carried out on movements such as the Kreuzberg squat-
ters in the 1980s shows that urban social movements cannot really be
understood when considered in isolation, and that they must instead
be viewed against the background of general social change. In the con-
text of the Fordist redevelopment of spaces in particular, squats can be
seen as catalysts for areal development. The orientation towards hous-
ing preservation in the founding period, the demand for a detailed
process of renewal, and even the implementation of an extended en-
vironment for urban renewal, can be seen as crystallization points for
post-Fordist urban renewal (Jahn, 1994). In this way, the Kreuzberg
squatter movement illustrates the modernizing function ascribed to ur-
ban social movements (Rucht, 1997). The institutionalization of social
movements that Margit Mayer (2009: 15) termed ‘from protest to pro-
gramme’ was reflected in the practice of ‘self-help in building’, but also
in the categorical acceptance of cautious urban renewal. In his studies
of Zurich, Christian Schmid (1998) refers to a dialectic of urban social
movements and Zurich’s ‘global city formation’, and in particular iden-
tifies the impulse of urban protest movements and subcultural activities
to bring about a cultural openness and the formation of a cosmopolitan
image of the city (ibid.: 221). In Berlin, too, there were attempts to
incorporate the squatter movement’s multifaceted and often self-orga-
nized cultural forms of expression into the image of a vital and creative
city. Urban protests and squatter movements should not be analysed
as something in opposition to the neoliberal urban development, but
must always be considered in terms of their restructuring impulse.
If we divide neoliberal urban policies into ‘roll-back’ and ‘roll-out’
phases of neoliberalism (Peck and Tickell, 2002), the history of Berlin’s
urban renewal shows that in Kreuzberg in the 1980s new forms of con-
trol and governance were being implemented while Fordist funding
instruments were maintained. It was only when the model was applied
to East Berlin’s redevelopment areas in the 1990s that a clear roll-back
of the earlier welfare-state foundations of urban renewal became notice-
able. The economy of urban renewal, no longer based on public funding
and public redevelopment agencies, now drew on private investments
of professional property developers. However, the communicative
incorporation of modernization projects, the involvement of non-
governmental agencies and the rhetoric of ‘cautious urban renewal’ all
survived. The squatter movement’s demands for a cautious treatment
of building structures and for more participation were absorbed into
the ‘software’ of neoliberal urban renewal, while changes in ‘hardware’
did not occur until urban renewal was extended into East Berlin. The
squatters were not so much the engines of this second transformation
in urban renewal as they were alien elements in its development. Its
abstention from a personal urban political agenda isolated the squatter
movement of the 1990s from other urban protest movements.

A new urban political movement?

Leftist movements today are again taking up urban restructuring as
a theme, and a ‘movement of free spaces’ seems to be picking up the
loose ends left by the squatter movements in the 1990s. In Berlin, these
themes were first revived in the campaign for a social centre between
2001 and 2005. Mobilization against the eviction of a longstanding
housing project at 59 Yorckstrasse, as well as the occupation of the for-
mer Bethanien Hospital and its use as a social centre a few days after
the evictions of June 2005, revived the debate on urban restructur-
ing and free spaces. And discussions around this subject in the Berlin
movements in 2008 seemed for the time being to have reached a peak:
the ‘squatter action days’ held all across Europe in April, the successful
prevention of a possible eviction of the social centre Köpi, the ‘emanci-
patory space’ action days at the end of May, and finally a referendum
that was called by the alliance ‘Sink the Mediaspree’, with 87% of par-
ticipants voting against a large-scale urban restructuring programme.
After 15 years’ delay, how did urban movements assume such po-
litical significance within the current model of post-Fordist urban re-
newal? The first decisive factor was the emergence of a ‘new’ political
movement in the 1990s, for which the Zapatista uprising in 1994 in
Chiapas, Mexico, and the protests in Seattle in 1999 and Genoa in
2001 can be considered the most important reference points. Thus,
for instance, the campaign for a social centre initiated a short time af-
ter Genoa was less an expression of a lack of space for leftist move-
ments than a culmination of the convergence of groups and trends in
the context of a movement critical of globalization (cf. Lebuhn, 2008:
30ff). A second reason is the accelerated urban renewal in Berlin’s in-
ner-city districts. Luxury modernization, rising rent costs and social
displacement are no longer confined to the districts of Prenzlauer Berg
and Mitte, but can be seen increasingly in other inner-city districts such
as Friedrichshain, Kreuzberg or Neukölln. Furthermore, former squat-
ter houses are now no longer excluded from these trends. Changes in
ownership or a revived interest in profit on the part of existing owners
have affected the leftist ‘free spaces’ at 59 Yorckstrasse and currently also
at 54 Rigaer, the Köpi and 183 Brunnenstrasse. This has led to broader
alliances such as the ‘Wir Bleiben Alle!’ (‘United We Stay’) campaign,
brought into being to organize squatters’ action days, or through par-
ticipation in the ‘Sink the Mediaspree’ initiative, which was started in
2006. It remains uncertain how far this new political interest will have
noticeable repercussions for current urban renewal policy, or whether,
in fact, we can expect a break with the current redevelopment model.
The increasingly strained housing-policy situation, the large number of
new and old groups and initiatives, and initial institutional successes
such as the victorious referendum against the Mediaspree development
are at least signs of a new wave of urban policy disputes.


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[EN] The Squatters’ Movement in Spain: A Local and Global Cycle of Urban Protests

A chapter from Squatting in Europe: Radical Spaces, Urban Struggles

The Squatters’ Movement in Spain: A Local and Global Cycle of Urban Protests

* This is a reprint of the article published in Martínez (2007, The Squatters’ Movement: Urban Counter-Culture and Alter-Globalization Dynamics.” – South European Society and Politics 12(3): 379-398).

Miguel A. Martínez López

“A rhizome establishes endless connections between se-
miotic chains, organizations of power, and circumstances
relative to the arts, sciences and social struggles.”
(Deleuze & Guattari 1977)

The emergence of the squatters’ movement in Spanish cities in
the 1980s coincided with the first important crisis of the neighbour-
hoods’ movement. The latter, a protagonist movement for a great part
of the transition period between 1975 and 1982, has been studied by
several scholars (Castells 1983; Villasante 1984) who have emphasized
its combination of demands for collective facilities and democratic re-
form. In reality, although the practice of squatting was very common in
earlier urban movements, these were composed of different generations
(age cohorts) of activists (Villasante 1984; 2004). Squatting activists
were mainly young people who started to adopt lifestyles and ideas
that had spread through other European countries in previous decades
and which they tried to imitate, albeit in a slightly diffused manner.
Although clear lines of continuity may be identified between the events
of May 1968 and the new ‘alternative’ social movements on which
they had a substantial impact, this was not a somewhat delayed revival
of the communitarian and libertarian spirit of that era (Bailey 1973;
Fernandez Duran 1993).

The practice of squatting in abandoned buildings was initially a way
of finding spaces to strengthen the most radical aspects of the new so-
cial movements (NSMs) (conventionally reduced to environmentalism,
pacifism and feminism), but also of other more fringe and alternative
movements (students’ and workers’ autonomy, counter-information,
anti-fascism, solidarity with prisoners, and international solidarity). It
immediately spread as a movement with the characteristic features of
an urban movement, an alternative political scene and counter-cultural
practices that distinguished it from other social movements.

As we shall see later, only sensationalist reports in the media seemed
to acknowledge the movement’s existence in the mid 1990s. Social sci-
entists have paid scant attention during the years of its long journey,
a journey that began more than two decades ago. It is clear that this
social movement has not mobilized large numbers of the population,
as either activists or sympathizers. However, it cannot be excluded so
easily from the political and social analysis of our urban environments.
Its relevance and significance lie in both the actual characteristics of the
movement and its relationships with other movements and with the
key problems of the social context in which it operates.

This article will affirm that the squatters’ movement is an excellent
example of an urban movement with a ‘radical left’ approach and, si-
multaneously, one of the areas to have undergone the strongest political
and social ‘counter-cultural’ innovation, largely as a prelude to what has
since developed into the alter-globalization movement.

Of all the alternative movements to have appeared during the last
two decades in Spain, the anti-militarist movement and, in particu-
lar, the insumision campaign (refusal to serve compulsory military ser-
vice) have been those that have achieved the highest level of political
confrontation and success in terms of their objectives (Aguirre 1998).

This movement managed to enter public debates, draw attention to
protests and channel the broader anti-militarist sympathy of society
in its favour, and all this with relatively few activist and organizational
resources. Its small membership and politically radical nature (reject-
ing alternative national service and calling for the full dismantling of
armies), dealing with issues fundamentally affecting young people in
the process of finding employment and becoming independent from
their families, became an extraordinary paradigm for those who were
new to squatting. The seminal work of Manuel Castells (1983) on the
issue of urban movements pointed to an interesting approach to their
structural dimensions (economic, political and cultural) and effects.
Later criticisms of his model (Pickvance 1985; 1986; Fainstein & Hirst
1995; Marcuse 2002; Martınez 2003) stressed the need to focus on
other social and political dimensions of their context, and on organi-
zational resources, given the difficulties of understanding urban move-
ments such as that of the squatters (Lowe 1986: Pruijt 2003).

Therefore, it is appropriate to explain the genesis and development
of these types of movements and to identify their peculiarities and im-
pacts by complementing the traditional approaches of social sciences
with others that emphasize the movements’ complexity: their networks
of transversal relationships with other movements and with different
social contexts, their own reflexivity, their capacities for creativity and
for providing public goods (Martınez 2002a).

From this perspective, the squatters’ movement will be presented
as a ‘rhizomatic’ movement, with multiple connections between the
‘nodal points’ of networks, composed of these people, ideas, events or
spaces, characterized by non-linear evolution based on ruptures, recon-
stitutions and alliances, with the opening up of new possibilities for
expression, entry and metamorphosis (Deleuze & Guattari 1977). Or
as an ‘immediatist’ movement: criticizing the immediate sources and
impacts of power whilst rejecting utopias and ideologies that project
liberation from the existing forms of domination onto a distant future
(Foucault 1982). Or as a movement generating revolutionary situations
and temporarily autonomous zones, creating workers’ committees that
release the working class from their alienation, experimenting with
urban design to promote community meetings (Debord 1995/1976),
protesting against capitalist domination through insurrections of ‘po-
etic terrorism’, using music and ridicule, guaranteeing the invisibility
and invulnerability of protesters (Bey 1996/1985).

These theoretical approaches draw attention to aspects of the squat-
ters’ movement which are initially indiscernible and normally relegated
and undervalued in more conventional press and academic articles.
They also overcome analytical simplifications that focus almost ex-
clusively on: (a) the criminal nature of the movement’s main activity
(squatting as a violation of private property); (b) the subcultural and
fringe nature of squatting activists (squatting and squatters as an ‘urban
tribe’ with their specific dress code, discourse and original customs)
(Feixa 1999); (c) the juvenile nature of this social movement (squatting
as a passing and transitory collective action, limited to satisfying tem-
porary needs for accommodation—or temporary concerns—of young
people during their period of emancipation from their families).

Based on findings reported in earlier research (Martınez 2002b;
Pruijt 2003; 2004; Adell & Martınez 2004), this study follows an anal-
ysis of the squatters’ movement which, firstly, identifies the persistent
and consistent aspects of this set of urban practices which intervene in
local and global policies. In that sense, this article embarks on a pre-
sentation of the historical evolution of the squatters’ movement which
is structured along the basis of certain dimensions (such as claims over
the housing question and an explicit conflict with local authorities) that
have conferred its social relevance and its relationships with other social
movements and organizations.

Secondly, the analysis proceeds towards an explanation of some of
the contributions made by the squatters’ movement, such as its radi-
calism and political creativity both within the movement itself and in
relation to the urban, political and social contexts with which it has

In its aim of achieving both objectives, this article focuses on the
alter-globalization movement as the main benchmark of validation. To
this end, it asks the following questions: to what extent did the squat-
ter movement precede the alter-globalization movement, and to what
extent have its local characteristics been incorporated into that move-
ment? The final section presents evidence on these questions and pro-
vides some answers.

Most of the findings presented here stem from a long period of
participant observation within many (Centros Sociales Okupados y
Autogestionados/Squatted and Self-Managed Social Centres) CSOAs
and squatted houses in medium and large cities all over Spain. I stud-
ied squats during the period 1997-2004, though I have subsequent-
ly continued to collect documents and visit CSOAs. Sometimes my
participation took the form of giving talks or organizing workshops,
but more frequently I simply attended concerts, exhibitions, talks, mu-
sic festivals, meetings and demonstrations and visited people I knew.
My notes varied in length, as they were dependent on the length of
my stay in each city and the type of involvement and fieldwork I un-
dertook. Therefore, I made extensive use of information produced by
the movement itself through its various pamphlets, underground maga-
zines, self- recorded video tapes, internet websites and mainstream me-
dia. I conducted more than thirty in-depth interviews with activists in
different cities (mainly between 1998 and 2003, with squatters living
or working in CSOAs in Madrid, Barcelona, Vigo, Bilbao, Valencia,
Seville and Saragossa). Empirical data provided in other works (also
based on personal interviews and some focus groups) have been also
used (see Ehrenhaus & Perez 1999; Martınez 2002b; Batista 2002;
Adell & Martınez 2004; Llobet 2005). Historical examination, com-
parison with the experience of squatting in other European countries,
contextualization of Spanish social processes and urban politics, and
critical analysis of qualitative and quantitative data (basically pro-
vided by news in publications like IPA-Molotov, La Campana, CNT
Newspaper, Contra Infos, etc.) were the guidelines of the methodologi-
cal strategy adopted. Due to space limitations, the inclusion of specific
interview extracts has been avoided. Instead, a general assessment of the
evolution of this local and global urban movement has been favoured.

Missing Points in the Historical
Reconstruction of the Movement

As is the case with many social phenomena, it is not very enlighten-
ing to give an account of the history of the squatters’ movement by
simply grouping together facts in successive phases. That approach has
virtues in terms of charting events with respect to specific dates and
building an overall historical perspective but is insufficient in terms of
explanatory quality. For that reason, here, influenced by Foucault and
Guattari, there is a combination of that approach with an identification
of relevant ‘catalysts’, ‘triggers’ and attempts at ‘restructuring’ in the
development of the movement. Before considering these elements, it
should be remembered that the consideration of a set of practices as a
‘social movement’ is the result of a slightly artificial external operation.
This is particularly true in the case of squatting, not just because its
practitioners often refuse to see themselves as members of a supposed
squatters’ movement but also because the experiences of each squatted
building, district or city where successive squats have appeared include
uniquely local characteristics that force us to undertake a very accurate
and delicate appreciation of their common features.

According to the aforementioned three concepts, the approach pro-
moted here may be summarized in the following way.


The young people behind the emergence and development of squat-
ting in different cities during the 1980s and 1990s shared a common
experience of unemployment, job insecurity, difficulties in access to ac-
commodation, and the development of cultural outlets independent of
state institutions or other formal organizations. Certain circumstances
and social phenomena operated as ‘catalysts’ for the consolidation of
the movement, such as the relative lack of a precise legal and political
framework for the definition of squats, and the extraordinary survival
capacity of certain squats which served as a benchmark for others in the
same city and elsewhere.


The squatters’ movement endured strong judicial and political repres-
sion following the introduction of the Penal Code of 1995. Although
the Penal Code established stronger penalties and laid down the frame-
work for a more severe persecution of squatting, in the years immedi-
ately after its introduction the number of squats, and naturally, evic-
tions increased. That led to a stronger presence of squatting as an issue
in the mainstream media. The movement diversified and multiplied as
it suffered unprecedented criminalization and stigmatization. As ten-
sions with local authorities increased, the consolidation of certain in-
ternal tendencies within the movement, such as a rejection of what was
seen to be its institutionalization, the possible legalization of squats,
and a preference for urban districts targeted by planning authorities for
restructuring and development, became apparent.

Continuities and Restructuring

The squatting of buildings for housing purposes has always been a
feature of the movement. However, the strength and public significance
of the movement have been achieved through the use of squatted build-
ings as CSOAs. In them, the functions of residential buildings have
been integrated, subordinated or eliminated in favour of a broad range
of counter-cultural, political and productive activities open to other
social movements and sectors of the population beyond the ‘alternative
scene’. As the development of the movement was marked by a diversi-
fication of the social networks involved and greater experience of the
participants and activists, the squatters’ movement began to establish
new alliances and embrace non-squatted social centres and social orga-
nizations from a broad spectrum of the alter-globalization movement
or from the districts and cities where squats had appeared.

The article now moves to a diachronic evaluation which is accompa-
nied by a guiding chronology.

First Phase (1980-95)

This period can be traced back to the very first squats that appeared
in residential buildings and were publicly claimed as part of protest
activities by the young people involved until the introduction of the
so-called ‘Penal Code of Democracy’ which criminalized squatting in
abandoned buildings and refusal to undertake military service, in a
clear political U-turn designed specifically to persecute these two alter-
native social movements.

Multiple squatting in residential buildings began to spread in the main
Spanish cities (Madrid, Barcelona, Zaragoza, Bilbao and Valencia) and
slowly a different type of squats, which were also used for other activities
(concerts, discussions and debates, meetings of specific groups) open to
non-residents of the buildings in question, began to make their appear-
ance. Although there had already been some similar ‘squatting’ experi-
ences with an exclusively ‘social centre’ role during the transition period,
the squatters’ movement started with young people who lived in squat-
ted houses and who became increasingly committed to the dynamism of
the CSOAs. This mutual relationship produced a tension that was often
resolved by a drastic separation of squatted buildings used for housing
purposes and others used as social centres. In fact, it was the CSOAs
that gradually attracted more young people to the squatters’ movement
(and other social movements that used squats to meet, raise funds and
promote themselves) and made sure that new activists were recruited to
the movement in order to guarantee the survival of the squats, providing
support during evictions and then squatting in the buildings themselves.
Due to the high intensity of militancy in all facets of daily life and
the insecure nature of living conditions and survival within the CSOAs,
and even the elevated rhythm of organizing and performing all types
of counter-cultural activities, activists were constantly leaving (but re-
placed by others). However, the personal satisfaction offered by the ex-
perience of immediate emancipation in terms of accommodation, social
relations and political activity, coupled with the stimulus of emblematic
squats that had already been around for more than 3-5 years (some are
now more than 15 years old), were some of the main attractions for the
squatter activists who were multiplying in many Spanish cities.

Attention must also be drawn to another relevant element oper-
ating as a catalyst, i.e. that is that the number of squats (more than
80) was at least double the number of evictions (around 40) and that
these took place at a small personal cost, and relatively little repression,
though in many cases they took place without any legal guarantees.

Eviction processes during that period were slow and allowed squatters
to find alternative squats with relative ease. The authorities were only
able to penalize squats with fines and, at most, force eviction but many
squatters were arrested because they refused to do their national service
rather than because of their participation in squatting. The mass media
gradually and in a rather ambivalent fashion began to present a highly
stigmatized image of squatters, without, however, ever treating them as
either a social movement or a threat to social order.

Second Phase (1996-2000)

The accumulation of strengths, experience and generational renewal
within the movement led to the establishment of CSOAs as the main
structural elements of all squats, counter-cultural activities and related
social movements. With the enactment of the Penal Code, some CSOAs
openly challenged the new legal and political framework, increasing
their public presence, protest repertoire and alliances. Passive and active
resistance to evictions also increased, with more street confrontations
with the police. The ‘Battle of the Princesa Cinema’ in Barcelona, the
death of a squatter during eviction from a theatre in Valencia and the
successive evictions and re-squatting of the ‘Gaztetxe’ in Pamplona
drew the attention of the mass media and authorities to the movement,
prompting a quantitative leap in terms of its public visibility.

Housing was still a structural problem in Spanish society. There
were also other serious crises in the late 1990s (inflation, downturn in
the construction of social housing, among others), with a worsening
of the prospects for young people. However, the squatters’ movement
embraced these issues within a broader lifestyle perspective in which all
productive, reproductive and civic aspects are questioned. During that
period, residential buildings and CSOAs continued to be squatted, but
the new legal panorama led to numerous evictions and much harder
repression with documented cases of abuse, illegal eviction, prison sen-
tences and personal persecution. What is surprising is that the cycle of
squats, evictions and new squats did not cease with stronger repression.
As a result, there were more than 130 registered squats compared with
100 evictions in this five-year period.

The CSOAs organized a wide variety of activities and their po-
litical and counter-cultural specialization separated them even more
from squatting in residential buildings for housing purposes, though
not necessarily from people who lived in squats, as sometimes the two
worlds continued to mix. Due to increasing levels of repression suf-
fered by the movement, coordination meetings between the different
squats were considered more important than ever in many cities but
they rarely achieved continuity over time. Nevertheless, during this
period, political contacts between squats in different cities increased
through participation in joint demonstrations and the creation of the
first online communication lists.

Finally, the most significant trends during this period were the evi-
dent restructuring of the movement with an increase in rural squats
with many links with urban squats and, in particular, a convergence
of the squatter movement with alter-globalization protests in which
squatters had participated in previous years. Despite the fact that these
protest events were not particularly well attended, they included more
artistic protest activities and more resources (lorries, music, etc.) and
were much better prepared given the ever present potential for violent
repression by the police (Adell 2004). However, the dramatic increase
in the number of attacks on public amenities or companies during
some of these demonstrations, together with the strategy of some po-
litical authorities to associate the movement with armed groups, such
as Euskadi ta Aslatasuna (ETA), prompted the mass media to transmit
a more negative image of squatters and promoted an increase in their
criminalization and persecution (Gonzalez et al. 2002; Alcalde 2004;
Asens 2004). All this partially undermined the movement’s social le-
gitimacy. However, its long history had already become well known
among young people and especially among social movements from
which squatters obtained new support, regardless of any negative media
stigma attached (Alcalde 2004; Asens 2004).

Third Phase (2001-2006)

Recent years have been dominated by a crisis in the squatters’
movement in both Spain and other European countries (Pruijt 2004;
Herreros 2004). Nevertheless, we cannot easily proclaim its demise be-
cause new squatting and networking initiatives continue and the move-
ment’s philosophy has come a long way. What is true is that squats
have disappeared in some cities whereas in others there has been no
squatting for several years. Evictions have been more conclusive, with
fewer opportunities for re-squatting or the stability of collectives with
evicted CSOAs. A high density of squats and evictions similar to those
in previous years has only been maintained in the metropolitan area of
Barcelona and in various cities and towns of the Basque Country.

Another aspect worth highlighting is that prison sentences have
only been applied in rare occasions and since the previous period the
courts have often been more lenient (or, at least, divided) with respect
to the application of the law. In this sense, eviction proceedings have
been more repressive and have been concluded more quickly but on the
other hand, rulings and sentences have often been delayed for years,
once again favouring attempts to take as much advantage as possible
of squatting without any great fear of immediate penal repercussions.
During this period new and sporadic negotiations were also held with
the owners of squatted buildings or with authorities, but practically
no rulings in favour of squatters have taken place (Gonzalez 2004).

In addition, no formal organizations were created for channelling the
claims of squatters through institutional channels, since in Spain hous-
ing has not been a highly specialized area of voluntary social work, in
contrast to the situation in The Netherlands or the United States (Corr
1999; Pruijt 2003). In fact, demonstrations, joined by the squatters’
movement, against urban speculation and housing shortages have only
recently, since 2006, become widespread.

The two main aspects of restructuring in this phase were: (1) the
appearance of new self-managed but non-squatted social centres (ei-
ther rented or purchased) that prolonged the activities performed in the
CSOAs or which continued to be linked to them in a new, more varied
and open network of activism (Herreros 2004; Martınez 2004); and (2)
the convergence with part of the alter-globalization movement which
strengthened international links by participating in key European dem-
onstrations (Prague, Genoa, Gothenburg, Athens) together with many
other organizations and collaborating in demonstrations organized in
Spain (Barcelona in 2001, Seville and Madrid in 2002, the anti-war
demonstrations of 2003).

More than Just an Urban Movement:
Oscillations between the Local and the

From the analytical perspective adopted here, it was demonstrated
that it is rather inappropriate to see the squatters’ movement as sim-
ply a youth movement or as isolated illegal actions to satisfy housing
needs. In contrast, there are sufficient indicators to confirm that this
is an urban movement (Pickvance 2003; Mayer 2003) that is durable
in time and has given rise to a first-order political conflict with the
dominant political and economic system: in particular, squats are pub-
licized, communicated and justified through the use of both alternative
and mainstream media sources. Squatters therefore try to participate
in the political arena and social life beside the fact that they occupy
empty buildings. This is also evident when the provision of housing by
squats is often combined through the openness of the CSOAs to other
activists, sympathisers and audiences, with the organization of various
cultural activities and protest events over different issues. Following to
Castells’s insights on urban movements (Castells 1983), we verify that
social reproduction, local power and cultural identity were crucial di-
mensions of squatting.

The consistency of the movement over time stems, above all, from
its internal networks of social relationships that are formed between the
different squats and with other social organizations and guarantee the
continuity of both projects and activist involvement independently of
each specific squat. However, it would be a gross mistake to solely clas-
sify this urban movement as a movement of the young, since getting
a place to live and expressing yourself is not only a definitive means of
emancipating yourself from your family but also an aspiration of any
adult person. Although most activists are young and have relatively un-
stable lives, when they squat they normally start to live away from their
families of origin and work in temporary jobs or in the black market
economy, while simultaneously embarking upon an intense process of
political socialization whereby they learn to exercise their civil rights,
collective organisation and self-expression when it comes to defending
squats and participating in different social struggles.

However, it is true that these common features have been ques-
tioned by some within the movement, who argue that squatting is only
a means for achieving other ends. As we shall show later, these types of
declarations only represent symptoms of the alter-globalization enthu-
siasm that has always fuelled squatting, despite the fact that its most
immediate actions have been restricted to local spaces in the districts
or cities where the squats are located. In fact, the existence of a na-
tional or Europe- wide movement has also been critiqued, by alluding
to the fact that the specific development of squats in each city displays
greater consistency. However, regardless of the interactions that have
taken place with local governments, it is important to note that it has
been this level of government that has repeatedly been the main actor
with which all groups of squatting activists have had to test their po-
litical strategies, and this has also been independent of the question of
ownership of squatted properties because most were neither municipal
nor public (owned by regional or central state authorities) (Martınez
2002b, p. 245).

The internal heterogeneity of the movement is generally the third ar-
gument for questioning its consistency as a social movement. At times
of greatest friction, the press and certain political authorities have re-
sorted to classifying squatters as either ‘good’ or ‘bad’, making a distinc-
tion between those willing to negotiate and violent radicals, between
those who only claim residential buildings or social spaces and those
who are more interested in public protest, agitation and civil mobiliza-
tion. Academic publications tend to highlight the differences between
leaders and passive followers, differences between groups with different
ideologies (e.g. anarchists, communists and nationalists) or divisions
according to social class, gender or family. Squatters themselves may
agree with those and other classifications related, for example, to their
personal experience of squatting or their participation in other social
movements (Llobet 2005, pp. 309, 324).

However, it is not hard to identify a common magma of libertarian
and autonomous principles in almost all the experiences, promoting an
assembly-orientated self-organization independent of political parties,
trade unions and more formalized organizations and, above all, draw-
ing attention to the open dimensions of society and politics censored
by the institutional and commercial media. Once again, none of these
issues can be described as the passing concern of young people, even
if this is the time in their lives when they grow into squatter activists.

Furthermore, some social aspects must be highlighted concerning
the urban and political definition of this movement, such as the struc-
ture of socio-spatial opportunities that activists have systematically ex-
ploited in order to set up squats, such as the fact that squats have relied
on the existence of large, unoccupied and abandoned or dilapidated
estates in order to develop. Different squats have been able to concen-
trate in specific parts of cities and establish more or less intense rela-
tionships with one another during those long periods of urban specu-
lation or town planning, right before these areas are transformed into
new residential, commercial or business service areas (Martınez 2004).

Of course, these types of urban transformations are not confined to
Spanish cities. This is a much more global phenomenon. However, only
some places have been used for collective actions such as squatting (par-
ticularly evident in Spain but also in Italy and, to a lesser extent, The

Lastly, the most controversial dimension of the movement is its
counter-cultural element, which represents one of its strongest links
with the global dimension of the movement. Does that mean that
squatters do not have material needs? Could counter-culture be a refuge
enabling its practitioners to avoid the important problems of society? Is
it a post-modern movement that seeks maximum instantaneous plea-
sure through social diversity, partying and a nomadic lifestyle, all tinged
with vague ideological anti-capitalist affirmations?

In some countries, like Germany, squatting has been seen as an exam-
ple of a counter-cultural movement committed to building a collective
identity in strong opposition to other actors but with certain ambiva-
lence with respect to power and material living conditions (Rucht 1992;
Koopmans 1995, pp. 17-37). One of the premises of this article is that
this counter-cultural dimension is more easily understood by linking it to
a constant collective creativity in all facets of daily life which are, in turn,
developed as a reaction to perceived global constrictions (Llobet 2005,
pp. 49, 95). This position can be summarized in the following premises.

(a) Active participation in the squatter movement creates a lifestyle
that involves forms of expression, socializing, and social organization
within a frame of relatively austere material survival. Therefore, the cul-
tural nature of the movement consists of all these aggregated forms of
the squatters’ ‘lifestyle’.

Even though this is very difficult to verify with precision, our sample
of interviews suggests that around half of the squatters were university
graduates. Nevertheless, these squatters did not use their qualifications
for related employment. Temporary jobs, self-employment in coopera-
tives, the informal economy and mutual aid were the more typical way
for squatters to earn a living, irrespective of class origin. For those with
a middle-class background, their material conditions deteriorate when
they adopt a squatting lifestyle, regardless of the fact that they occa-
sionally make use of family resources (more often than squatters with a
working-class background). Nonetheless, it is estimated that approxi-
mately a third of squatters are of working-class origin. Consequently,
individual material necessities are largely resolved collectively or within
the practices of the aforementioned squatters’ lifestyle.

(b) If the social practices associated with squatting tend to be seen as
‘counter-cultural’, this is mainly because on a more conscious or ideo-
logical level squatters seek to oppose and overcome the dominant cul-
ture. ‘Dominant culture’ refers to forms of production, consumption,
social relationships and political decision-making. These are processes
of searching without any specific end. At best they can be seen as ex-
periments or laboratories but that does not imply wandering in a limbo
of theories, discourses and debates. Instead, the opposite is true. The
actual experience of civil disobedience exercised through the action of
squatting enables other practices to take root and reveal the counter-
cultural character of the movement.

Low-priced tickets to music concerts and other spectacles and the
money collected from such events are used to finance squats or other
similar causes. The free promotion of training workshops on the use of
new technologies or craftwork, the opening of squats to promote books
or political campaigns, and the setting up of libraries, work coopera-
tives or language schools for immigrants are just some of the facets that
establish a high level of counter-cultural coherence between means and
ends. It is true that such dynamics often distract activists from other
political struggles (employment) and that the main social problem asso-
ciated with squatting (urban speculation) is only combated through the
action of squatting, which until recently lacked more far-reaching alli-
ances and tactics. However, this should not prevent us from acknowl-
edging the contributions of the squatting movement, the coherence of
many of its practices and the establishment of free spaces for expression
and criticism of the dominant culture.

The Boomerang Effect of Alter-Globalization

The alter-globalization enthusiasm that has fuelled the squatter
movement right from its origins shares certain common features with
the development of the European squatters’ movement: the campaign
against the Olympic Games, for example, successfully promoted by
Dutch squats in 1986 (ADILKNO 1994, pp. 129- 147), and, more
recently, the Social Forum of Genoa in 2000, where the ‘Disobedient’
and ‘White Overalls’ emerged from the Italian CSOAs to resist po-
lice attacks during protests against the G8 summit (Famiglietti 2004),
are a direct manifestation of the fact that squatting has always been
understood by its protagonists as something ‘more than just living’.
That something more turns the political protest into a ‘politics of desire’
(P&P: ‘party and protest’) and the search for a broader self-sufficiency
(DIY: ‘do it yourself ’).

Hence, it seems that from an ideological standpoint and bearing in
mind the types of counter-cultural actions undertaken, the squatter’s
movement has always had a global vocation that differentiates its activi-
ties from those squats whose sole purpose is to satisfy housing needs.
Moreover, some would classify this movement in Spain as a ‘precur-
sor’ or even ‘instigator’ of an entire cycle of protests, which influenced,
through their example of radical democracy, an entire family of social
movements converging in the alter-globalization movement (Herreros
2004). For others, the gradual adhesion of the squatter movement to
the alter-globalization movement and the subsequent crisis of the for-
mer and the rising success of the latter reveal the successful culmination
of one of the predominant discourses (among the most developed) in
the squatting movement, namely the search for greater social autonomy
and multiple alliances in movements that criticize the capitalist order
(Calle 2004).

From sustained participant observation and according to docu-
mented records and interviews, I believe there is abundant evidence to
justify that original global (or alter-global) orientation of the squatters’
movement. First of all, information circulating in Spanish CSOAs has
always included news about squats and libertarian protests in Europe
and Latin America. This international involvement had a direct practi-
cal consequence in the action repertoire adopted by Spanish squatters,
such as conferences and festivals in order to collect funds for specific
causes, protest events in front of diplomatic buildings in Spain and the
boycotting of products produced by globally targeted companies.

Global concerns and new styles of interactions between social move-
ments, through the strong links that squatters kept with the campaign
against obligatory national service throughout Spain and with the free
local radio stations that also tend to act as platforms for counter-in-
formation on global issues, were also developed. Squatters themselves
pioneered early alter-globalization protest campaigns: such as the
‘Desenmascaremos el 92’ (Let’s unmask 1992) against the commercial
nature, urban speculation and social control involved in the interna-
tional Megaevents celebrated in Barcelona (Olympic Games); the elec-
tion of Madrid as the European Capital of Culture and the World Expo
in Seville in 1992; and the ‘50 anos bastan’ (50 years is enough) cam-
paign against the policies of the World Bank, which held its summit
meeting in Madrid in 1994.

In the same year, 1994, Spanish CSOAs served as one of the main
means for disseminating information on the uprising of the EZLN
(Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional/Zapatista Army for National
Liberation) in Chiapas (Mexico), which coincided with the entry into
force of the NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement). This activ-
ity took the form of solidarity and support groups in various CSOAs, trips
by activist squatters to Chiapas as ‘international observers’ and involve-
ment of various CSOAs (mainly from Catalonia, Madrid and Andalusia)
in the organization and provision of infrastructures for the Second
Intercontinental Meeting for Humanity and Against Neo-liberalism that
took place, in decentralized form, in various parts of Spain in 1998.

There has also been a gradual extension of relationships with
European CSOAs (particularly Italian social centres), with visits and
debates to organize discussions and protest actions at ‘counter-summits’
and demonstrations of the alter-globalization movement in Prague
(2000), Genoa (2001), Barcelona (2001) and European Social Forum
in Florence (2002). Another global turn can be observed in the use of
the internet by Spanish squatters with specific mailing lists and their
own webpages (although most were not maintained on a regular basis),
but also promoting Indymedia nodes and, above all, organizing hack
meetings for expanding free software and extensive electronic training
within the squatters’ movement, albeit on a very unequal basis, as high-
lighted by Sadaba and Roig (2004), and Ramos and Martınez (2004).
Since the last years of the 1990s, squatters have been active in other
types of events with both a local and global dimension, such as those
involving lock-ins and demonstrations by undocumented immigrants,
which have proven to be particularly conflictive and publicly relevant
in Madrid (2000-1) and Barcelona (2004-5).

Finally, all of this background experience merged together with the
alter-globalization movement and squatters participated in mobiliza-
tions making an international impact such as: the public referendum,
held parallel with the national elections, promoted by RECADE (Red
Ciudadana para por la Abolicion de la Deuda Externa/Civil Network
for the Abolition of External Debt) (2000) involving CSOAs from
Catalonia, the Basque Country and Madrid; protesting against EU
meetings during Spain’s presidency (2002) involving CSOAs from
different Spanish cities (e.g. Santiago de Compostela and Seville) and
against the Iraq War (2003); and campaigns against hypocrisy, waste
and urban speculation coinciding with the 2004 Universal Forum of
Cultures in Barcelona (Unio Temporal d’Escribes [UTE] 2004).

As mentioned by Herreros (2004), in many of these actions, the
squatters’ movement has been associated with other groups and social
movements (and sometimes even with political parties and traditional
trade unions), always promoting its model of open, horizontal and as-
sembly-orientated political participation. However, it has also suffered,
to a certain degree, isolation and self-inflicted marginalization in some
cases in order to preserve the whole content of its radical discourse
in a coherent manner. This is a crucial question in any process of con-
vergence and coordination of different ideological principles and ori-
gins, one that also affects the entire process of federating in cases quite
similar entities. What are the minimum points on which those alliances
are founded? To what extent can they move forward together? Who
influences who? Are the minority groups doomed to disappear despite
initially being the most influential?

As is acknowledged by some authors (see Klein 2002; Notes From
Nowhere 2003; Santos 2005), the alter-globalization movement has
not just embraced a broad mixture in its composition but has also
revived forms of political organization of a more libertarian nature,
promoting models of direct democracy, seeking the maximum par-
ticipation of all its members, prioritizing the assembly-orientated de-
bate and consensus above the delegation of power and representation
by leaders, in practice rejecting authoritarianism of any ideological
form and promoting direct action and civil disobedience as legitimate
forms of civil expression.

In Spain, parallel to the decline of neighbourhood associations fol-
lowing the first municipal elections after the end of the dictatorship
in 1979 (Castells 1983; Villasante 1984), the same approach was ad-
opted by anarchist trade union organizations which also tried, albeit
relatively unsuccessfully, to revive the libertarian ideals of the transition
and post-transition period. However, it was alternative movements,
such as the squatting, anti-militarist, feminist and counter-information
movements (later, also joined by some factions of the environmentalist
movement), which most openly continued that tradition by forming
a type of neo-anarchism committed more to specific practices than to
strategic reflections on the transmission of their ideological axioms to
the rest of society, bringing forth a new cycle of protests that culmi-
nated in the above-mentioned alter-globalization alliances.

Of all these movements, the squatters’ movement was most suc-
cessful in combining that ideological approach with a global perspec-
tive and intense local and militant action. It is perhaps the movement
that has demanded the most personal commitment in all areas of life,
though prison sentences, with the high personal costs they entail, were
more severe for opponents of military service, many of whom were
also squatters. In this context, interesting political innovations of this
movement included the rejection of official spokespeople (when they
appeared, they tended to do so with their faces covered), public lead-
ers or to setup formal organizations registered by the administration*
and which may be entitled to receive subsidies. The actions of civil and
social disobedience were not limited to squatting in abandoned build-
ings; other actions included calling demonstrations without notifying
government delegations, peacefully resisting police attacks on rooftops
during evictions or causing damage in streets and public buildings
when the demonstrations were repressed by the police, and the perfor-
mance of festive elements during demonstrations.

Consequently, in view of the aforementioned, we may acknowledge
the strong influence of the squatters’ movement on the alter-globaliza-
tion movement and on the many groups that have fed into it. We may
identify both the sources of its influence and the elements that favoured
its coalition with other alter-globalisation organizations:

1. The high level of geographic mobility of squatters and alter-glo-
balization activists from many countries thanks to the greater
availability of cheap flights since the 1990s;

2. Greater expertise in the use of electronic communication equip-
ment, albeit on a very unequal basis, as mentioned earlier, if we
compare the most advanced CSOAs with those most isolated
from new communication technologies;

3. And, above all, the embracing of the Zapatista discourse, which
fuelled anti-capitalist resistance in a way equally detached from
both political and revolutionary parties, and whose goal was not
‘to seize power’ but for ‘civil society’ to organize itself and for
governments to be formed and based on participatory democ-
racy: ‘lead by obeying’.

All of these points may also represent maximum limits that most
squatters are, nevertheless, unwilling to relinquish. In fact, social fo-
rums have gradually embraced an autonomous and radical nucleus in-
creasingly detached from the institutionalizing trends of other formal
organizations such as trade unions and political parties, which are more
willing to negotiate within the official forums of international organiza-
tions or even to join a type of international ‘new left’ party.

This argument leads us inevitably to a consideration of the possible
‘boomerang effect’ that this invisible success of squats has had on the
actual squatters’ movement.

We must consider that the global enthusiasm for opening up and
allying with other non-squatter collectives, spreading forth as much as
possible the ideas of autonomy and disobedience, was never a discourse
that developed in all types of squats and CSOAs. From what we know
about the general European experience, squatting environments have
a strong proclivity for endogamy and towards protecting their signs of

The most dynamic, durable and politicized CSOAs in large cities, or
in suburban areas, when compared with squats in residential buildings
and more isolated squats, have been more effective in breaking down
the barriers of prejudice and in embracing a plurality of actors and
support in both the squats themselves and in their acts of protest. That
attitude prompted them to participate in local and global platforms in
which they had to share demonstrations or manifestos with other orga-
nizations. The experiences of these different groups of squatters have,
in turn, dragged along many of the most reticent members, although
some have even been actively against that, as they considered them to
be ‘reformist’. For instance, some CSOAs have focused exclusively on
organizing concerts while at the other extreme, some Italian CSOAs
are groups more interested in promoting the model of disruptive ac-
tions of the Black Bloc (Famiglietti 2004). In any case, it would be a
simplification to claim that this global enthusiasm was characteristic of
all squatting experiences and squatter activists. However, it can be ar-
gued that some effects of its influence can be identified in the increasing
involvement in alter-globalization initiatives by most of CSOAs.

We should also ask ourselves the following question: are squats in
danger of drowning in the tide of the new (and, for many, ephemeral)
‘movement of movements’? Calle (2004) suggests that this problem af-
fects both squatters and the alter-globalization movement. Squats have
not been perfect schools for self-management and direct democracy
and the alter-globalization movement has yet to show its capacity for
survival and consistency. In this sense, we must refer back to the most
genuine urban and constant qualities of the squatters’ movement,
namely its local focus, roots and effectiveness.

A single CSOA may be the best platform for capturing persons and
collectives with similar concerns in order to draw attention to themes
and social struggles censored by the mass media and to introduce new
activists to practices of civil and social disobedience already widely ex-
perimented within the movement over two decades, but its potential
is even greater when linked to other CSOAs, to squats in residential
buildings and to a network of groups and organizations in districts and
cities that help to gain more public legitimacy and increase the chances
of survival for the squats. The self-provision of accessible accommoda-
tion and spaces for nurturing counter-cultural creativity and forms of
socialization, freed from the shackles of dominant morals, are the real
ends of the squatting movement and also have the virtue of making
the movement’s critique of real estate speculation and the falseness of
civil participation pronounced by municipal governments all the more

Consequently, the squatter movement has faithfully adopted the
slogans of the post-1968 NSMs, ‘the personal is political’ and ‘think
globally, act locally’. This politicization of daily, reproductive and more
spatially proximate environments, and the knowledge of these local dy-
namics and public acknowledgement obtained through such experi-
ence, has ensured that the strength of, and need for, squats has been
maintained firmly as an integral part of the alter-globalization move-
ment. Therefore, the crisis in the squatters’ movement cannot be at-
tributed to either the boom of the alter-globalization movement, or,
in particular, the containment actions by local authorities (structures
of opportunities), or the management strategies of the squats them-
selves (mobilization of resources), because much of the social legitimacy
(local and global) of its autonomous practice (identity) has already been
achieved (Martınez 2004; Herreros 2004).


This paper has highlighted three aspects of the squatter movement in
Spanish cities: (1) its historical development, identifying the impor-
tance of the counter-cultural actions of CSOAs beyond squatting in
residential buildings; (2) the local roots of squats in relation to the per-
sistent conflict with local authorities and strong activist dedication to
everyday, domestic, socializing aspects and so on; (3) an incipient inno-
vation in the repertoires of political action and in the alter-globalization
objectives that have gradually spread through much of the squatters’

As can be seen, we are dealing with a typical social paradox, namely a
movement that is local and global at the same time. In order to unravel
its purpose, it was worthwhile to distinguish the origins, consequences
and mutual relationship of both dimensions (the local and the global).

As one of the movement’s slogans implies, ‘They can evict [us from]
our homes but not our ideas’. Since its creation the movement has simul-
taneously combined a local and global orientation; it aims both to satisfy
material needs for self-managed accommodation and meeting spaces and
to intervene in the social life of districts and cities, always promoting the
projects of many social movements and fostering the circulation of ideas
and persons, and protest actions, in relation to squatting, social problems
and anti-capitalist causes that affect many other countries.

The consequences of that dual attribute (local and global interlinks)
have had different effects on the local and global dimensions of the
squatters’ movement. Precisely due to the gradual increase in involve-
ment and convergence with the alter-globalization movement, incorpo-
ration of these inter-global concerns in the different groups of squatters
has occurred at different speeds, and there have even been internal divi-
sions regarding the approaches and ways of developing this participa-
tion. However, there has never been any opposition to the continuation
of local ‘restructuring’ actions and initiatives for the counter-cultural
usage of abandoned spaces. Other factors, and not increasing globaliza-
tion, are therefore responsible for the crisis of the squatters’ movement
in some cities.

We could therefore ask ourselves whether that paradox is paralys-
ing the movement and whether this has to be overcome with a leap to
conventional rationality. These questions would be particularly relevant
in the case of other urban movements that seem to be less involved in
alter-globalization dynamics.

The information referred to in this study suggests that this has actu-
ally been a fruitful paradox, not just for the movement to the extent
that it has been able to fuel its own internal creativity, providing stimuli
for activists and for the development of new squats, but mainly for
other social movements with which it has interacted, providing them
with the spaces offered by CSOAs and contributing models of radical

In contrast to traditional urban movements (e.g. the neighbourhood
movement) and more innovative movements (e.g. the environmental
movement focused on urban issues), the ‘transmission effect’ seems to
have been relatively scarce. It is difficult to predict whether these move-
ments might also be influenced by the squatters’ movement in the fu-
ture, though, according to the independent and libertarian philosophy
of this movement, each organization and movement must follow its
own path. Cooptation, institutionalization and stabilization of alliances
have always been some of the conservative perils openly challenged by


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[EN] PhD – The Ecological Economics of Urban Squatters in Barcelona

Abstract: The ecological economics of the squatting community (urban and rural) is based on self-organization, mutual aid, reciprocity, urban gathering, material recycling, renewable materials, permaculture and agro-ecology: a bio-economy beyond the market. For the satisfaction of their needs squatters employ their time to use and to develop social and personal capacities more than to sell it to the labour market and to participate in the circulation of money of capitalistic markets. This practice I might call: social ecological economics. As well, the economy of the squatting community is rooted in radical political ideals that differ widely from the average in western society; these are ideals of autonomy, freedom and respect for diverse people and for living beings; a morality that does not always need to coincide with legality. This I might call: political ecological economics.
From my analysis we find that squatters are able to satisfy their needs with a certain degree of autonomy from the money and from the system of man-made production getting free from forms of established control. Rural squatters achieve higher degrees of autonomy from the system of man-made products because they get many satisfiers directly from the surrounding natural environment.
I argue that squatters provide a micro model for local solutions to the ecological crisis: social self-organisation, a process for decision-making which is not top-down neither bottom-up.
The methodology of the thesis is the result of participative observation for several years in which I took part as an academic observer, but primarily as a member of the squatting community. 



[EN] Out now! The Squatters’ Movement in Europe: Commons and Autonomy as Alternatives to Capitalism

[EN] Out now! The Squatters’ Movement in Europe: Commons and Autonomy as Alternatives to Capitalism


The Squatters’ Movement in Europe is the first definitive guide to squatting as an alternative to capitalism. It offers a unique insider’s view on the movement – its ideals, actions and ways of life. At a time of growing crisis in Europe with high unemployment, dwindling social housing and declining living standards, squatting has become an increasingly popular option.

The book is published by Pluto. You can find it on Amazon and at all decent independent bookshops.

ISBN – 9780745333953

The book is written by an activist-scholar collective, whose members have direct experience of squatting: many are still squatters today. There are contributions from the Netherlands, Spain, the USA, France, Italy, Germany, Switzerland and the UK.

In an age of austerity and precarity this book shows what has been achieved by this resilient social movement, which holds lessons for policy-makers, activists and academics alike.


Introduction – Claudio Cattaneo and Miguel A. Martínez
Box 0.1 – Some Notes about SqEK’s Activist Research Perspective – Miguel A. Martínez
Box 0.2 – SqEK Processes as an Alternative to Capitalism – Claudio Cattaneo, Baptiste Colin, Elisabeth Lorenzi

1: Squatting as a response to social needs, the housing question and the crisis of capitalism, by Miguel A. Martínez and Claudio Cattaneo
Box 1.1 The Environmental Basis of the Political Economy of Squatting

2: The Fallow Lands of the Possible The Life Cycle of Squats in Geneva and Beyond, by Luca Pattaroni
Box 2.1 Anti-Capitalist Communes Remaining Despite Legalisation: The Case of House Projects in Berlin – Lucrezia Lennert

3: The Right to Decent Housing and A Whole Lot More Besides – Examining the Modern English Squatters Movement at its Beginnings and in the Present Day, by E.T.C. Dee
Box 3.1 Criminalisation One Year On – Needle Collective

4: The Power of the Magic Key. Scalability of squatting in the Netherlands and the US, by Hans Pruijt
Box 4.1 Provo – Alan Smart
Box 4.2 My Personal Experience as a NYC Neighbour – Frank Morales

5: Ogni sfratto sarà una barricata: squatting for housing and social conflict in Rome, by Pierpaolo Mudu
Box 5.1 The French Housing Movement: Squatting as a Mode of Action Among Other Tools – Thomas Aguilera

6: Squats in urban ecosystems: overcoming the social and ecological catastrophes of the capitalist city, by Salvatore Engels di Mauro and Claudio Cattaneo

7: Squatting and Diversity – Gender and Patriarchy: In Berlin, Madrid and Barcelona, by Azozomox
Box 7.1 Some Examples of the Great Variety and Diversity within the Berlin Squatting Environment

8: Unavoidable Dilemmas: Squatters dealing with the Law, by Miguel A. Martínez, Azozomox and Javier Gil
Box 8.1 The Interaction between Spheres of Morality and of Legality – Claudio Cattaneo
Box 8.2 ‘Your Laws are Not Ours’: Squatting in Amsterdam – Deanna Dadusc

Conclusions – Miguel A. Martínez and Claudio Cattaneo

Appendix: The story of SqEK and the production process of this book, by Claudio Cattaneo, Baptiste Colin and Elisabeth Lorenzi

Notes on contributors