Students, scientists and stormtroopers

Zeger Polhuijs volgt de master ‘Christianity & Society’ aan Tilburg University. Eerder studeerde hij Culturele Antropologie aan de VU. In zowel Tilburg als Amsterdam is hij betrokken bij het initiatief voor ‘De Nieuwe Universiteit’. Komende tijd schrijft Zeger regelmatig blogs op onze site.


On Saturday morning, I was going to visit Amsterdam for the ‘festival of science and humanities’ in the Maagdenhuis, organized by students and teachers of UvA university. It was going to be an inspiring, informative, and enjoyable day, with high-quality academic lectures from professors and researchers, challenging debates and workshops, and music. On Monday, the students of ‘De Nieuwe Universiteit’ (DNU) would voluntarily leave the Maagdenhuis, after properly cleaning up. Peaceful, well-organized, and intellectually uplifting. That is what I thought when I woke up on Saturday morning. I would go there on behalf of ‘De Nieuwe Universiteit Tilburg’, and meet many people from DNU groups throughout the country. It was going to be a really good day!

But as I was leaving Tilburg, reports from Amsterdam started to flood Twitter about riot police vans making their way to Spui square, and eviction being imminent. As I made my way towards Amsterdam by train, Twitter exploded with messages about and images of police vans arriving on the square. The coverage by the local news channel AT5 as well as by people nearby was very detailed and direct. As long lines of riot police started forming up on the square, the students of the Maagdenhuis peacefully left the building voluntarily. On the pavement in front of the now empty building, they sat down for a teach-in on medieval history, given by a UvA-professor. Behind them on the wall, banners with brightly coloured letters were visible, saying ‘Science Festival’ and ‘Weg met de Angstcultuur’ (‘away with the culture of fear’). Then the stormtroopers dragged them off, arresting them and cleaning a part of the square while beating a number of people. I was still in the train, on my way to Amsterdam. As I started to reach my destination, students had gathered for a sit-in on the other side of the square. UvA staff and teachers held speeches, trying to continue the festival in some way. They stood there speaking, with students sitting in front of them and police on horseback lined up right behind them.

On the pavement in front of the now empty building, they sat down for a teach-in on medieval history

As I got out of the train and got on a tram, the images were burning in my mind, especially the image of the stormtroopers dragging away students and teachers during their teach-in, with on the background the colourful ‘science festival’ and ‘away with the culture of fear’-banners. When I arrived at Spui square, it had begun raining a bit, but the students remained sitting in the square, listening to the speeches while riot police were standing nearby. I joined the crowd. It didn’t take long until UvA professors and students started to gather in the hallway of a nearby UvA-museum for more teachings and speeches. With other representatives of DNU groups of various cities I also moved there, to start our meeting. Ten minutes into the meeting we heard that another student, who had been standing alone on the square, had been arrested, and that police vans were closing in on the building in which we had gathered in the hallway for the festival. We quickly left, walking through the city centre with police vans around us at all times.

We ended up in front of a pub right in front of the Bungehuis, the place were it all began two months ago. With a police van slowly making its way around the corner and into the street, we decided to disperse. Then, for some reason, we all poured into the pub, took off our jackets, ordered beer, and quietly sat down in groups, suddenly feeling safe, with relaxing music playing in the background. It was totally bizarre. From a tense situation with police vans and stormtroopers all over the place, we suddenly found ourselves in a peaceful, relaxing situation indoors with a beer in our hands. We exchanged our thoughts about our experiences of that day. Many were totally stupefied at the actions of the UvA executive board; the decision to evict them two days before they voluntarily would have left the place after organizing an academic festival. While drinking their beers, they slowly started to realize that the occupation, the longest student occupation in our country’s history, had ended, and in such a mind-blowing way. It was an end. Or, a new beginning? Here and there, some students of ‘de nieuwe universiteit’ took their laptops out of their backpacks and started to discuss plans in small groups at a few tables. I made my way to the bar. Time for another beer.

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