Protest #5: June 27th, Mars der Beschaving.
On the 27th of June at 11pm I took the bus that the Rietveld Academy facilitated for students to attend the so called March of Civilization (Mars der Beschaving).
What follows is a rather prosaic and clinical description of what I saw that day. I started writing this text a few hours after the fact, so this is a rather fresh account of my recollections.
We arrived in the Malieveld in The Hague, when it was still pretty barren. Some time later the organizers of the flip-card flashmob action started gathering volunteers to take part. The flip-card flashmob was one of the many actions that took place there to produce images of dissent. I decided to join in and help to complete the message that would later appear in the media. After that me and my companions stayed around adding to the mass that had come to concentrate in the Malieveld. The atmosphere was peaceful and creative, a group was giving out white balloons and everyone was friendly and in a playful mood. The sense of companionship prevailed in an audience, that in less than one hour, had built up to the many thousands. What before was mumbling turned to roar. Everyone I met in this demonstration was articulate enough to explain why they were there. Performances and statements followed one another and the March continued in a celebration not too different from a music festival.
After a while, me and some of my friends started getting restless. We knew that the decision was being made in the Tweede Kammer, not far from where we stood. But far enough that our roar could be ignored safely by politicians. Dressed in full demonstrator paraphernalia, flag in hand, we decided to leave the Malieveld and walk in a small group peacefully towards the Binnenhof. It must have been around 1pm or so. We knew that the Mars der Beschaving was officially confined to the Malieveld, and that we were not allowed to demonstrate beyond that confinement. Yet we decided to try and see what would happen. On a side street, just next to the KABK (Royal Academy of Arts in The Hague) we were stopped on our feet by police, and told that we could not cross that line. Demonstrators were not allowed past that point.
Seeing that other citizens had no problem in crossing the police lines we figured that the problem was not the police, but our Mars der Beschaving stickers and our flag. Apart from being demonstrators we are also citizens and our cameras made it possible to pass as tourists if it came to that. So after little debating we decided to remove all our Mars der Beschaving logos and any signs that might give us away as demonstrators. We went back through the same police lines and this time they let us through without any objection, not as much as a look was cast. We passed through as we would any other Monday.
Within five minutes on foot we were in the Buitenhof, it was easy, almost too easy. The entrance to the Binnenhof was heavily guarded and no one with logos of the March were allowed in. Tourists were still allowed in though. Within minutes we entered the Binnenhof, we simply continued our trail as any normal tourist would.
Once there we hanged around for a while without knowing quite what to do. We thought of protesting in a symbolic and silent way by trying to make an image. One of my friends and I, being white males thought of removing our shirts and doing a cross in front of the parliament building as a kind of stealth protest. We figured that even if the police figured out our intentions their puzzlement would give us a short time to cover up and merge with the tourists.
I soon realized that there were a number of people that, like us, seemed to walk around aimlessly though they were clearly not tourists. They were paying close attention to any spontaneous gatherings that were happening in the Binnenhof. We saw two ladies walking in, one of which had remains of white tape in her knee and a mark on her arm. We recognized a fellow marcher immediately. We engaged in conversation and I asked if I could take a picture of them. They agreed proudly and took out their March stickers.
Shortly after, another gentleman appeared with a circumspect attitude. I approached him and asked, he seemed to be on his own. I also took his picture.
On the bench next to ours another three people sat next to the ice-cream man, all of them came from the Malieveld protests and were doing the exact same thing we did. Waiting for the other shoe to drop. Would there be a protest in the Houses of parliament?
All of us there, expectant, knowing that the reason why we were there, the voting on Zijlstra’s measures, was taking place a few meters away from us. Knowing all the while that any attempt at open dissent would be thwarted by the police that guarded the area rather heavily. None of us knew what to do, but we knew we were a bunch. There is a boost of energy in not feeling alone in this kind of situation that is hard to describe. This went on for about forty minutes.
It was clear that all of us felt that demonstrating at the Malieveld was great, but at the same time understood that being confined there was yet another sign of the arrogance of this cabinet, that would grant a democratic right but ignore its actual meaning. We all felt that the right place to be at the time the decision was being made was somewhere where we could not be so easily ignored. This feeling was generalized and more and more people kept coming. Soon after the Binnenhof was totally sealed off by police, the demonstrations in the Malieveld were about to finish and police was perhaps preparing for a possible attempt at taking the square. Larger groups started to gather around the Hof, circling it. We stopped in the entrance of the Tweede Kammer and asked around, we soon learned that the hearing was open to the public and two people from our group decided to go in and see what was happening inside. The rest of us remained outside. Rumours of a “flashmob” circulated, but location and time were not very clear. There was a generalized complicity in this that made the whole situation quite exhilarating.
A while later a largish group of people gathered in front of the Mauritshuis, next to one of the entrances to the Binnenhof and the “other demonstration” began. Spontaneously and without any clear objective we gathered there, mobile phones were fuming and soon, what started being a few dozens turned into a few hundreds. Clapping and yapping the atmosphere was festive and non-violent. A lot of frustration but also a lot of good intentions. Not allowed into the Binnenhof we all yelled at the back of a building whose function no one seemed to know. After a while of protesting at a rather indeterminate location, a few of us started moving while still clapping and went to the entrance of the Tweede Kammer. Perhaps we could be heard from there. By now the entrance had been secured, access to the public hearing was no longer allowed and riot police started making themselves noticed.
Much of what happened after this point in time is abundantly documented by dozens of videos on youtube. I will however continue with my personal account.
We chanted and clapped in front of the Tweede Kammer for about half an hour while police presence was building up. At some point the police issued a warning in Dutch. The crowd stormed enraged and it was not possible to hear what the policeman with the megaphone was saying. The ME (anti-riot police) made a first move. The reaction of all of us in front was to sit down immediately and raise our hands, signaling that we were there in peace. There were a few struggles in the front line with a couple of policemen, quickly everyone was back in their positions and the first dozen rows of demonstrators were mostly sitting with their hands raised. The police stood there stayed at their positions. The demonstration continued while the police watched. We chanted, we screamed, we clapped, we even sang lullaby’s to put the policemen to sleep. The police issued a second warning in Dutch that they never completed because the crowd started booing them. The ME officers seemed restless and they talked amongst themselves. One of the demonstrators yelled “they are not enough, they need back-up, they can’t take us”. Chanting continued. The atmosphere was festive and even though there were some taunts in the front lines the general feeling was peaceful and respectful.
After perhaps an hour of sitting in front of the Tweede Kammer a great many policemen wearing jeans and police jackets arrived. They split in two groups. They put some gloves on, talked to a few of the ME officers in the front lines and formed a few bunches behind the MEs. Some MEs started moving towards the crowd and two people were snatched from the front lines by the policemen in jeans. A woman and shortly after, a man. The man was taken down quite violently and beaten to the ground, twice. The crowd started booing and the atmosphere started to get more tense. The siege had begun.
Olof van Winden is taken down on the ground by ME officers.
Shortly after I was grabbed from behind by two men that locked my arms. I understood that I was being taken and I did not offer any resistance, knowing that any resistance would make them violent. I was handled quite roughly. On our way to the police van a man charged towards us, yelling and leaping towards us. The police on my left, let my arm go and pushed him quite violently into a bunch of bikes standing by the curb. I identified this man as Frank, an artist and teacher that I happen to know from school. The ME swiftly grabbed my arm again, after this display of violence, and pushed me around aggressively. When we arrived near the van, they placed a tag with a number on my hand wrist. They stripped me of all my possessions: rucksack, camera, phone, keys, all the contents of my pockets. My ID was taken. A policewoman in plain clothes took a picture of us (both police men and me) and she asked the policemen to fill some forms.
I didn’t follow their conversation but the policemen seemed rather irritated by the woman’s request to complete and sign the forms. The ME officer on my right asked “What’s the date today?”, I told him it was the 27th, the date that the Cabinet would pass Zijlstra’s proposal for reforms. He dully wrote it down. At this point I had one of them pushing my hand against the van and the other on my right filling the form. Both rather belligerent and impatient. I asked for water several times and the first few times, they denied it explicitly, they simply ignored me thereafter. At some point the man on my left said “we already told you that you are not getting any water, you are not a child anymore you know?”. I took that as a No. After some confusion at which some policemen seemed to get upset at some other policemen, I was pushed into a little cabin in the police van. They gave the impression of being badly organized and improvising much of what was going on. The cabin fits two people rather tightly, shoulder to shoulder. The name of my companion was Olof. He had a breach on his forehead and was bleeding profusely, the blood was still fresh when I met him. He was a pleasant man that seemed to be taking the whole thing rather stoically. Neither of us felt scared or angry. We were just indignant and shared our stories with a sense of humour.
Olof van Winden, after the arrest when the blood was probably already dry.
We were taken to the police station where a whole lot of policemen seemed to be waiting for us. One by one we were taken out of the van. This was the last time I saw Olof, the whole procedure in the police station prevented us from ever seeing each other. There was very little tension at the station, the policemen and women in there treated me politely. I was first taken to the hall where a man body-searched me thoroughly. I was asked to take my shoes and belt off. I was guided to another room where all my possessions were meticulously inventoried and noted down in a form. I was asked a few questions, including if I wanted to have a lawyer at the hearing. Because I didn’t know what the hearing would be, I said that I didn’t feel ready to answer that question. They then asked me to sign the list of my items and a short declaration. I read everything carefully, taking what appeared to be much too much time for the officer at the makeshift desk. I was then escorted to another room, a large room, looked like an indoors basketball court. A row of policemen were standing in line just past the door, as if they had been waiting for me. A policewoman carrying my belongings in a carton box asked me in English “are you Mister Fernandez?”, I said that I was, and she pointed me towards a large door that gave way to an inner patio. Another police officer escorted me from the door to a huge white bus, that emitted a hissing noise. On the way, the policeman asked me where I was from, I said I was from Spain. He asked me if I had driven all the way to The Hague to protest and I said that I was a resident in Amsterdam. He took me into the big white bus and after a few checks I was put in a cell, where I remained for some time. I asked for water before they locked the door, the policeman gave me a 25cl bottle of Spa blauw for which I was very thankful. I stood inside for quite some time, it was very hot, I was soaking in my own sweat. I was alone in the tiny cell, it was the size of a chemical toilet. To my surprise the cells had air conditioning and it was on. After a while I got tired of sitting and started doing some stretching exercises, to relax and prepare for a long day ahead of me. All the while I could hear policemen going up an down the corridor, asking questions to the guys in the other cells. From the narrow window I had, I saw a few more police vans arriving, presumably bringing in more demonstrators. I tried to keep myself entertained as best as I could in the time that I was there. Suddenly my door was opened, a policeman and a woman in plain clothes addressed me from the short distance. They seemed to be taken aback because I was standing up inside the cells, the policeman ordered me to sit down. The woman then approached me and explained that I was going to get a fine, that the amount to be fined was undetermined and that I would get a court citation in which the amount would be ascertained after due process. She informed me that I was accused of not obeying the police when the police asked me to move. She asked if I wanted to make a statement and I said that indeed I would like to. My statement was something like “I was never addressed personally by any officer. The only time in which the police addressed the crowd they did so through a megaphone, and only in Dutch, the megaphone was quickly deafened by the booing of the protesters. I was in the first row and I couldn’t hear anything at all. I was sitting with my hands up the moment when I was taken forcefully. I never resisted the police and when I was taken, I was fully cooperative at all times. I was at no time conscious that I was breaching any law.” She took note of my statement, repeated it back to me to make sure she got it all correctly and then asked me to sign it. They both left and I was left inside for a little longer, perhaps another half-hour or so. My name was then called and I was taken out. They presented me with a box containing my belongings and asked me to sign a paper confirming that I got everything back. I first opened the box and made sure that everything was indeed there, item by item I took it all out. One of the officers seemed annoyed at the fact that I would double check everything. Perhaps he thought I was taking too long. I then signed the form. I was explained about the court citation and later escorted by a rather corteous policeman towards the exit gate. I was released there. I asked him the way back to the Tweede Kammer and he told me to keep straight then turn left and then maybe ask again as I was about twenty minutes away from there.
This is to the best of my recollection the sequence of events as it happened last Monday 27th of June from the moment I left Amsterdam, to the moment I was released from detention. I publish this record here for myself to remember and for others to learn the details of what could happen to them.