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47 Red Nijmegen

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Television and computers
On the night of Thursday February 26, 1981, fifteen thousand demonstrators marched through central Nijmegen. They were resolutely demonstrating against the council’s policy that had led to the eviction of squatters from a row of houses on Piersonstraat a few days earlier.

By squatting the squatters had attempted to prevent the demolition of the houses and the construction of a multi-storey car park. The level of force and violence used by the council (2100 policemen equipped with teargas, helicopters and tanks) to evict the squatters shocked many people and the protest march was the biggest demonstration in the history of Nijmegen.

Nijmegen had acquired the reputation of being a hotbed of political activism in earlier years. This was not extraordinary due to the presence of the university. When new opinions echoed throughout the Catholic community in the Netherlands they were often expressed at the University of Nijmegen by priest-professors H.H.M. Fortmann, W.K.M. Grossouw and E.C.F. A. Schillebeeckx. However, the students were the main reason for Nijmegen’s recalcitrant image. Rebellion against the establishment was a phenomenon seen at universities throughout the western world. In the Netherlands, students at the rapidly secularizing Catholic University were at the forefront. Ton Regtien, a student in Nijmegen, initiated the national student union, which was established in 1963. In 1967 the ‘Critical University’ was founded in Nijmegen. In May 1969 students from Nijmegen, who demanded the right to have a say in education, research and government, received national attention by occupying the university’s auditorium, using it as a ‘permanent discussion centre’. Students also set their sights on wrongs in the third world. They protested against the war in Vietnam and the regimes in Greece, Spain, Portugal and South America. They were also concerned about social wrongs in neighbourhoods such as Bottendaal.

In the seventies, when the ‘revolution’ at the university had largely died out, Nijmegen became a centre of groups, such as the women’s movement, the anti-nuclear movement, the gay rights movement and the squatter’s movement. Most of these groups originated from the students’ movement and a political sub-culture was born. Students experimented with alternative housing and an anti-authoritarian ‘creche’ where art, theatre and films were shown. Cultural centres, such as O’42, Diogenes and Doornroosje that served the young, progressive audience thrived. This all attracted new students and other young people. This is why Nijmegen became known as the city of counterculture, leftist agitation and hippies; later also punks and squatters. However, not all students took part in the actions and the indigenous population had no part in the emergence of the red image, they usually just shrugged their shoulders and got on with their lives.
Rebellion and counterculture
circa 1960-1985
Poster of the squatter movement, design by Bert Herckenrath, 1970s (RAN)

47 kraakposter.JPG

Source: Jan Brabers, in: De Canon van Nijmegen, Uitgeverij Vantilt (Nijmegen 2009)
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