Interview with an activist; The New University of Amsterdam

Utropia went to Amsterdam to cover the recent events in which Dutch students and employees at UvA are opposing the university board’s proposed budget cuts. In the heart of Amsterdam at the University’s main administrative building Maagdenhuis, we met one of the activists currently occupying the building.

Text and photo: Rasmus W. Olsen

Hi, may I ask you, what is going on here? We have seen a lot of demonstrations over the last few days.

– So the board of the University has continuously been ignoring the concerns of both students and staff, and they even went as far as to propose the same bill twice, just in a different wrapping. There was a merger between two universities, and a lot of students were against that. So they first tried to do this through the normal channels, and it was voted against. A lot of scholars did not feel comfortable with the merger, and refrained from voting, and thus the merger didn’t pass. Then they proposed the exact same plan, just with a different name, and applied it in a way where it couldn’t be voted on.

Will you call this an undemocratic process, since universities historically are considered to be independent?

– It was a really undemocratic process, and this was only one example. If you speak to different people, they will give you different reasons of how the board screwed them over. So one month ago, we occupied the Maagdenhuis, and people were like ‘what’s going on?’ There was an awakening amongst students and they said ‘this isn’t good, and we can do something about it.’ Our numbers grew enormously, there was a demonstration and then we basically stormed the door. We have been organizing lectures, workshops, movie screenings, debates and discussions. So Maagdenhuis has become sort of a cultural center for the movement.

I understand, so you are occupying…

– Well, we prefer the term liberated. The correct term is appropriated since the door is open and we haven’t barricaded. In other words we have marked that this is our space now (Red. anm. The New University), and by rallying thousands to demonstrate. During the demonstration a couple of us were arrested, so we went to make noise at the police station, and they started beating on us. I am still pretty shocked about that part in particular.

That sounds terrible. Are the politicians listening?

– No. Well, we have opened a dialogue with the board now, which is really something. Their first response was to ask for a fine of € 100.000 per day, per student for every day we were occupying.

That sounds like something way out of proportion, what do you think?

– Yeah right! ‘Laughs’. It was completely out of proportion and a lot of people felt that way about it. So I think that was one of the major turning points when people said ‘Hey, wait a second. What are these people doing’?

So what do you hope to gain from it?

– Ok well, realistically speaking, we can talk about new rules with the board. This is really a sign of a bigger underlying problem in society, where the only focus is on efficiency, and output of numbers, which we hope to change.

So a mindset – in economical liberal terms – revolving around educating people who can help add to ‘the big machine’, instead of focusing on intellectual progress?

– Yes, and as cheaply as possible. The same thing is happening in the health care system, and we hope that more people will wake up and see that these are systematic problems that needs to be addressed.

It is great to see that students are rising up against injustice by telling the power to fuck off.

– ‘Laughs’, at least we are. Keep up the activist mentality!