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The Kabouters Are Coming! The Kabouters Are Coming

Good Scenes and Bad in the Amsterdam Summer

Dam Square Amterdam

Aaerial view of the Dam Square in Amsterdam.

Hollandluchtfoto/Getty

After three nights of rioting and hard police action in the Town Square and in the streets surrounding it (box score: at least three shot, scores hurt, dozens arrested), Bram de Swaan, a Dutch filmmaker, reports:

“One thing is clear in all this mess. The Damslappers, the foreign hippies, had no part in the action. The greatest part of the rioting has been made by the Dutch kids from high-rise apartment buildings on the outskirts of Amsterdam. They seem to be bored and came pouring into the center for some action.

“An important point here is that despite what the city government says, most of the shopkeepers — especially the operators of big stores — say now that they were against stopping the kids from crashing in the center of Amsterdam. Everybody is aghast at the results of the mayor’s order.

“Nobody — except perhaps the mayor and his advisors — knows where the impetus for the anti-Damslappers order came from. Some speculate that it came from the central government in The Hague. President Suharto of Indonesia is due to come to Amsterdam soon, and that has resulted in a build-up of conflicting political pressures.

“As it now stands, the pimps have occupied their streets in the red-light district as a gesture of self-defense, and the rest of the center of the city belong to motorbikers who have flocked in to ride the streets and threaten people.

“What the city has got now is far worse than at the worst level of Damslapper occupation.”

When the Amsterdam burgermeister ruled suddenly late in August that international hippies could no longer crash on the Dam, the town square, a VPRO radio announcer responded:

“Let’s hear it for the mayor!”

And out over the Dutch airwaves rolled Country Joe McDonald’s famous F-U-C-K cheer.

The Kabouters, Holland’s newest and stroppiest political party, have the same message for the mayor. The Kabouters (Dutch for elves or pixies) seated five members on the 45-member town council early this month, and they reckon they’ve got enough strength to make the mayor regret banning the hippies and then turning the police and Army on them. The result was three nights of rioting with the police firing on stone-throwing youths.

Though fierce, the fighting was not widespread – never getting beyond a halfmile radius of the Dam, a large cement plaza dominated by the National Monument, a phallic tribute to the dead of War II. Windows of some of the surrounding stores, stuffed with jewelry, linen, glassware, cheeses and other goods calculated to attract tourists, were broken, and then there was some looting, but it never became epidemic.

The rioting was put down by several elements: the city police, the Queen’s police, a federal force kept near the city due to its riot-prone character, and sailors, marines and pimps from the red light district in the center of town, who just wanted in on a little of the action.

Two days later, in the town council, a Kabouter councilman demanded that Mayor Ivo Samkalden rescind his order and resign. “The bullets and stones are aimed at you, burgermeister,” said the councilman.

But the Kabouters, spiritual descendants of the Provos — the predecessors of the Kabouters who were active five years ago with such campaigns as White Bicycles (free transportation); White Women, an educational campaign on VD, contraception and abortion, and White Chimneys, protests against pollution —  have bigger game in mind than the mayor’s skin. Among their immediate goals are:

• Abolishing the Dutch Army and disarming Holland.

• Pulling Holland out of NATO.

• Splitting every other political faction in and reducing the town council to anarchy.

• Giving ultimate political power directly to the people.

This is not just talk. Since the party was formed in February, the Kabouters have:

• Won 12 city council seats throughout Holland in the May elections.

• “Cracked” scores of empty buildings and installed homeless people in them.

• Replaced sidewalks with trees and stone playground pavements with rubber bricks or sand.

• Stopped city traffic in anti-pollution actions, and forced the city to face the problem.

Although the Kabouters received but 11 percent of the city vote making them the fourth biggest party in the city after the Socialists, Communists and Catholics, a post-election survey showed that 65 percent of the people approve of their actions.

There have been confrontations with the police and arrests, but throughout the Kabouters’ actions runs a typically Dutch ludiak (gentle, playful) spirit which avoids a lot of headbusting from the police. When they “cracked” a building owned by an English insurance company, the Kabouters unfurled a banner from the window: “LONG LIVE ABBEY LIFE.”

“The image of a Kabouter in Dutch mythology is very lovely,” says Kabouter city councilman Guy Kilian, 31. “It has much to do with nature and youth.”

The aim of the Kabouters is a worldwide “alternative community,” which they call the Orange Free State (after Holland’s ruling House of Orange). Amsterdam has been hailed as the first unit of the Orange Free State. The Kabouters claim more than forty more, with inroads into Sweden, Belgium, England and Denmark. They fully expect the Orange Free State to encompass the world eventually.

How?

“Like a toadstool upon a rotting trunk. Out of the subculture of the existing order grows the alternative community … the revolution is taking place now,” declares the Staats Courant, the Kabouters’ declaration of intention.

Although the anarchistic Kabouters don’t like the idea of leaders, the chief theoretician and best brain behind the Orange Free State is considered to be 27-year-old Roel van Duyn, a softspoken, bearded former Provo who was re-elected to the city council as a Kabouter. The father of the Staats Courant, van Duyn lives in a small book and paper-strewn apartment in the drab Noordermarket section of Amsterdam. A girl one-finger-types a document, the telephone rings continually, and on the doorstep is a team of French journalists.

Van Duyn, a much-interviewed man and sick of it, tends to be vague and rhetorical like the Staats Courant. “We want to build an international free state of Kabouters in every highly-developed society,” he says. “We’re against dropping out; we’re in favor of jumping over. We’re not the underground, but the superground. The Orange Free State will serve as a laboratory of the new society.”

He doesn’t see much chance of reconciling the goals of the Orange Free State with those of existing government. He says: “Our goals are only possible through making a total (peaceful) revolution.”

One major weapon of this revolution, van Duyn says, will be further infiltration of town councils. Until now, he has been alone, but he has been able to attempt his share of “sabotage” and get some support, too. His recent proposal to disarm the Dutch Army and turn it into a ludiak force of merry pranksters got the votes of four council members from the pacifist socialist party.

The Kabouters figure they can drum up much more support on hardcore reformist proposals now that there are five of them on the council. “On reform issues,” says Frans van Bommel, a lean, blond, 31-year-old painter who was elected on the Kabouter ticket, “we should be able to form a bloc of 20 to 25 votes around us. And on revolutionary proposals, we should be able to get 10 or 11 votes.” This they figure will give them a basis of power to get action in the council.

The Kabouters claim they will take no part in the technical governing of Amsterdam, preferring to concentrate on trying to sabotage the other parties by sucking them into Orange Free State issues and actions. “Our goal,” says Connie Bos, a pretty, reddish-haired 23 year-old, the only woman Kabouter on the council, “is to get to the point that when we call an action, the councilmen will be in the streets instead of at the council.”

Another Kabouter goal is to put the Amsterdam Communist party on the spot. They want a Communist named assistant mayor. He’ll control the police when the mayor is out of town. “Then we’ll hold a big street action,” says van Bommel, “and force the Communists to prove which side they are on.”

The Kabouter councilmen consider themselves ambassadors to the council from the Orange Free State. As such they intend to leak information to their constituents. “Everything we learn,” says Connie Bos, “we’ll pass along to the people.”

Not all Kabouters believe anything good will come from having members on the town council. “I don’t think an anarchistic group can fight the system from within,” says Andre Schmidt, a Kabouter with special interest in house cracking.

A youthful 45, despite his wild greying beard and hair, Schmidt is the Rip Van Winkle of the Orange Free State. He came to it after 20 years as a marketing and advertising executive. But once radicalized in 1968 — he says it was due to witnessing the student occupation of the London School of Economics — Schmidt came roaring into radical action with both money and energy. He still drives a red Jaguar and lives in a fine house, but he devotes full time to the Kabouters. He’s been able to overcome much of the mistrust which come from being both middle-aged and wealthy. Not shy of the limelight, he’s been in the forefront of a number of street actions and had himself arrested to test the city law against distributing pamphlets on the street.

Schmidt complains that the “parliamentary” Kabouters have sacrificed much of the rest of the movement to getting elected. Since the election, he says, “much of the Kabouter activities have dropped dead and we’ve had more and more meetings and less action.”

A non-Kabouter agrees with Schmidt: “The Provos were less lovable,” he says, “but they did more.”

Comparing the Kabouters to the Provos, Frans van Bommel says: “The Provos were anti-authoritarian; we’re non-authoritarian. They protested; we protest and present alternatives. They asked for change; we make change.”

Another difference is that the Kabouters take themselves less seriously. They know much of their program is just propaganda. But there is a hook in most of it. Take their plan for the 1971 national elections. They claim they’ll run a candidate for Minister of Defense. The catch is that the Minister is not elected, but appointed by the premier. Nonetheless, the Kabouters say they’ll change the title to Minister of Offense, make the Army voluntary and then give one-fourth of it to U Thant for a peace force. The rest, they say, will be kept as an action pool to be used by the Kabouters or others against the police.

“Wow,” says Connie Bos with a laugh. “Can you imagine putting the Army up against the police in a Kabouter action?”

It’s a laugh, but the issues involved — Holland’s support of Portugal, Greece and the U.S. through NATO, and the immense waste of money which could go for social improvements — are dead serious.

This is typical of the Kabouters – a ludiak means of getting across a serious protest.

Much of the Kabouters’ popularity comes from their well-publicized house-cracking efforts, a vital issue in Amsterdam where many houses sit empty while thousands are homeless. Due to laws which make legal eviction very difficult, many owners prefer to leave their buildings empty and wait for a rise in rents. They didn’t invent house cracking, but they did it well, often, openly and with publicity.

Also, the Kabouters are careful to work from within the Amsterdam neighborhoods rather than come in from outside. This way they know what the local problems are and can” attack them with full support of the people. “Never go farther than the people” is a Kabouter maxim.

* * *

The Kabouters came to life last February. Many post-Provo action groups found themselves drawn together over the idea of subverting the Army, and at a general meeting the Orange Free State was proposed, supposedly by an anonymous 19 year-old youth. The first elfin city was born, and the Staats Courant was issued.

“The revolution is now taking place,” it proclaimed. “This is the end of the underground of protest and of demonstration. From now on we’re investing our energy in constructing an anti-authoritarian society.”

No one can say for sure, at any one lime, how many Kabouters there are. The core is small; the potential number of followers is great depending on the issue and action involved.

Nor can anyone be sure how long it will last. Kabouter leaders say they wouldn’t be concerned if it dissolved next year. “We don’t want an organization,” says Frans van Bommel, “which would survive the idea. The components of the Orange Free State are autonomous; they would go on to form what ever comes next.”

A movement like the Kabouters is consistent with the tough, independent, action-oriented Dutch spirit. There is a strong strain of the vigilante which moves Dutchmen of all kinds to take action against injustice. Commuters and schoolchildren dressed as cowboys stopped a train to protest the dropping of a train stop. Dutch soldiers went on an orgy of saluting recently when a soldier was jailed for not saluting an officer.

The contrast between Holland and its capital city is almost total. Holland, for the most part, fits the tourist-brochure cliches. A green, billiard-table flatland laced with canals and rivers and well-stocked with grazing cattle, picturesque villages and gentle, friendly people. The people in the rural areas tend to be conservative, if free-thinking. A majority of Holland’s nearly 13 million people are spread over some 13,500 square miles.

But Amsterdam, although beautiful and ancient, a collection of 70 small islands connected by 50 miles of canals, is an international crossroads, constantly stirring, relatively easy to bring to a riotous state. Cut in two by the canalized Amstel River, Amsterdam is a close-packed clot of some 900,000 citizens.

The most striking thing about Amsterdam is its contrats. Side by side are historical 17th century buildings and ultra-explicit, wide-open sex shops. Across the street is a youth center teeming with activity. Pudgy, middle-aged tourists have to elbow their way through flocks of stranded or near-stranded American youths in front of the American Express office on the Damrak.

The Dam is right in the center of profit-making downtown Amsterdam. The windows of one of the city’s largest business clubs look right down on the Dam, giving the solid burghers a free show they didn’t ask for. Crowds of locals and curious tourists usually provide an outer circle to the mob on the Dam, gawking and standing in silent but not hostile wonder.

Says Abram de Swaan, a young Amsterdam filmmaker: “You’d better start reckoning with people who begin to realize their nuisance value.”

Many Kabouters doubt that the Orange Free State could flourish in the United States. “It’s possible,” says a leader, “but the anti-authoritarian groups — the Black Panthers, the SDS and others — which are now isolated would have to get past theoretical hang-ups and get together on concrete actions supported by a broad base of people.”

And Frans van Bommel warns: “The level of violence of a Kabouter-type action in the States would have to be higher because that’s what you find on the other side.”

For a young organization, the Orange Free State has a large number of on-going activities. These include a farm for growing “biologically dynamic” (organic) food, stores to sell it in, centers for pre-school children, a clothes-making project and centers for old people.

The center for Kabouter activities right now is the K.A.K., or Critical Alternative Pub, a ramshackle, student-owned building not far from both the U.S. consulate and the police training school. In the labyrinthine confines of the K.A.K. are a crashing place (42 cents a night) a 70-cent “biological dynamic” food restaurant, a bar, quarters for homeless families and offices. The atmosphere is underlit and overreverberated with good rock, and the spirit is free. Anybody can come in except the cops.

Recently the Kabouters issued from the K.A.K. a mimeographed warning to Amsterdam policemen to stop hassling foreign longhairs on threat of instant dismissal. They signed it “P.A. de Jong, Chief of Police.”

Also often to be found are the heads of the Kabouters’ autonomous departments – education, housing, public works, etc. These meet once a week to exchange information and plan actions. Later in the week, a Kabouter general meeting is held, and information is passed along to the rank and file Kabouters who also make their wishes known to the leaders.

Although the Kabouters are so loosely organized as to be nearly amorphous, their major actions are tightly controlled, and strict security is maintained. “Actions are not democratic,” says van Bommel. “On a big action, perhaps only 10 people will know the dates and objectives until the day before. These are people we know and who have been tried in the field for years.”

The Orange Free State has no dearth of channels of communication. Aloha, a music and underground newspaper with a section in English, has been declared the Kabouters’ official journal. And the Orange Free State itself publishes Kabouterkrant, an all-Dutch tabloid. Kabouterkrant is a typically ludiak ripoff for outsiders who buy it. Said an early issue: “You are fucked … by giving us one guilder (28 cents) you help us undermine your own society. You shouldn’t have bought this paper.” The Kabouters also plan a third “action” paper to inform of skirmishes against the establishment.

Another “official” organ of the Kabouters is VPRO radio, the most radical of Holland’s subscriber-supported stations. For a time, the Kabouters did a weekly 15-minute segment on VPRO, but now they use the station when specific issues arise.

VPRO’s style of radio has to be heard — and seen — to be believed.

It’s about eight o’clock, the tail-end of the weekly, five-hour VPRO Friday show. The English hour has just begun. In a small studio, announcers and technicians are hard at work. But they’re not alone. Blithely ignoring the red on-the-air warning light, freaks, both local and imported, are wandering in and out. Around the studio they sprawl on chairs and on the floor, some listening, some talking none too quietly. A hash bomber is making the rounds, as are copies of ZAP! and Motor City comics. A German in a long red robe tunes a 12-string guitar.

Over the noise, an announcer is making a public-service announcement: “Pakistani is going at four guilders a gram, red Leb at 3.75, Turkish at 2.75 guilders and Moroccan at 2.25. Nepalese hash is sold out and so are Dutch and foreign grass. And those are the weekly soft drug prices.”

VPRO works on the principle that the airwaves belong to the people. Anyone in the room could grab a mike and have his say. It often happens, and VPRO occasionally finds itself under scrutiny from the police. Last December, an Amsterdam radical went on VPRO to give detailed instructions on how to sabotage Dutch military installations. The police investigated, but no charges were placed. The police also got hot when VPRO suggested sit-ins at department stores in downtown Amsterdam which allowed the police to place “spy” cameras trained at the Dam on their roofs.

“We try to come close to complete freedom on VPRO,” says Philippe Scheltema, a member of the 20-man team which operates VPRO. The members of the team rotate in all of the jobs on the station.

During VPRO Friday, seven telephone lines are kept open so that listeners may go on the air immediately with their opinions. There is no censorship. “Obscenity is no problem,” says Scheltema. “We don’t care what people say.” But callers must beware. “We like to fuck up calls,” says a VPRO staffer, “just to keep things interesting.”

VPRO’s pop programming is mostly progressive or soft rock with very little Top 40. To beat the long time-lag between release of a record in the States and its arrival in Holland, the station has an underground network of people who keep new releases coming.

Irreverence is a keynote on the station. A record is interrupted by a loud, angry voice demanding: “Enough of this shit! What about Frank Sinatra?” and then the show segues into a weekly feature, “The Bob Dylan Story,” which features unreleased Dylan material.

Oddly enough, VPRO started out as the voice of Holland’s liberal protestants. Broadcasting facilities and airwaves are owned by the government and alloted to foundations organized by the major political and religious groups. As a “C” foundation with about 100,000 subscribers, VPRO has 10 hours of radio broadcasting and five hours of television broadcasting each week.

Until 1968, VPRO was best known for avant garde classical music and drama, but its programming was heavily influenced by religion. Pop and rock were unheard of on VPRO. But that year, in an internal revolt which would have done credit to the Kabouters, young and restless staff members and their supporters staged a revolution. They ended up winning control of the station despite the alarmed conservative faction’s bussing of old people to the general meeting in an attempt to stop the takeover.

But it succeeded, and VPRO hasn’t looked back since. Membership is once more climbing, and the average age of subscribers has dropped considerably. VPRO has established links with the Pacifica Foundation’s four subscriber-supported stations in the States. The two foundation’s exchange programs, and will swap staff members in the future.

Although allowed only five hours of broadcasting a week, VPRO television has made a definite name for itself since 1968. One of its most famous offerings was an hour-long show featuring a nude girl sitting in a chair reading a newspaper. The reaction from the viewers was a riot of outrage and disapproval. Last year, the station roused the Catholics with a broadcast of a celebration for a noted homosexual Dutch writer. The celebration was held in a Catholic church and featured, among other outrages, acrobats and a less than reverent attitude. Both shows have been rerun periodically.

The current pride of VPRO-TV is Piknik, a bi-weekly show which broadcasts a live three-and-a-half hour pop concert from locations around Holland.

Piknik has to be the least structured television show on the air. About 400 Hollanders ranging from infants to senior citizens, but most of them between 15 and 24, are bussed to a secret location where stage and facilities are set up. The audience spreads itself across the terrain, talking, eating, sleeping, cooking on provided fires, making out and playing instruments. A certain amount of dope is smoked. At 7 PM, the cameras are turned on, and Piknik is on the air.

“Whatever happens, we film,” says Roelof Kiers, executive director and creator of Piknik. “The performers and the audience are equal parts of the show. We’re just here to communicate them to the viewers. No one is herded about or told what to do on Piknik. The five cameras just record without interfering. As on VPRO Friday, the Piknik microphones and cameras are open to individuals and groups who think they have something to say.

Piknik has attracted some of pop’s top talent. On the last show of the season (September 10), the first Piknik in color, Sly and the Family Stone, Canned Heat and Daddy Longlegs were featured. Frank Zappa made a big hit in June, and ended up playing overtime. With Piknik’s flexible structure, this was no problem, but when Traffic had to bow out after the show had started — their organ was broken — they had to ask another act to do a second set. The cameras keep grinding no matter what. In July, a freak cold front and rain storm hit the show, but audience, musicians and crew gritted their teeth and struggled through.

Some two million viewers, happy to escape from reruns, watch Piknik, and not all of them are young. The second biggest group of viewers are between 35 and 64 years old. Predictably, the biggest group are the teenagers.

And there are signs that Piknik viewers are fairly hip. On a recent show, a local topless dancer joined Doctor John in his act, but there was only one call of protest from a viewer. A couple of years ago there would have been a deluge.

One good aspect of Piknik is that performers mix with the audience before and after they perform. There are no dressing rooms. “Performers are not treated as stars,” says Kiers, “they’re treated as people.”

According to director Charles Leeuwenkamp, Piknik is designed to be the kind of show you don’t have to watch every moment. “The viewer can walk away from it, read a book, or just listen and not watch, and then come back to it,” he says. “We’ve purposely kept the show loose to allow the viewers freedom.”

* * *

Before Mayor Samkalden banned public crashing and brought on the end-of-summer riots, Amsterdam was a beautiful place for the international brigade of hippies, freaks and students. It was one of the few places on the continent where you felt welcome with long hair, a backpack and no money. After the uptightness and downright harassment of Paris and the big-city neutrality of London, Amsterdam was like coming home. The Dam, with its National Monument (also called the national penis), was everybody’s livingroom, and bedroom to anybody who didn’t have 70 cents or who would rather spend it on hash. Crashers in sleeping bags were epidemic on the Dam and in adjacent areas such as the C&A department store arcade off the Damrak, Amsterdam’s main street.

“Together,” the newspaper issued by the VVV, the city tourist bureau, suggested that people not crash on the Dam “because it might lead to situations which could result in prohibitive measures at short notice.” But the police, usually a cool lot, stood by unobtrusively most of the summer while a lot of people ignored this advice.

And everything seemed good. At Paradiso and Fantasio, state-supported youth clubs, and on the street, dope, music and atmosphere were cheap and abundant. For the most part it was minimum burn. For those who did fall, to the law, to bad dope or to crotch rot, Release, the Youth Advisory Center and other public-spirited volunteer agencies were there to help. Amsterdam was the most relaxed place anybody knew.

But then, with August two-thirds gone, somebody up there pushed the harass button and Head City began to disintegrate. Generally speaking, Amsterdamers are a tolerant lot. Although not wildly enthusiastic about the hippie invasion, they usually restrain themselves to curious stares.

But on the same night the mayor banned crashing, knots of not-so-tolerant citizens gathered on the sidewalk outside the C&A arcade. Occasionally one of the citizens would detach himself from the group to go over and give a crasher a little nudge with his foot. “You couldn’t exactly call it a kick,” says an Australian, “but it wasn’t a friendly pat.”

And the police took this opportunity to run amuck a bit, too. Usually, plain-clothes fuzz only bother big dealers, but a Canadian who calls himself Sak from Saskatoon tells of a chilling experience on a canal bank.

“I was making a little buy of Nepalese black,” says Sak, “from a Gambian I met, when a plainclothesman came at us waving a gun yelling: ‘Hands up!’ I threw the dope in the canal, so he stuck the gun in my stomach and said he was going to blow a hole in me.”

Sak says the cop refused to show identification or notify the Canadian consulate, and ended up taking them both to the police station near the Dam. They were stripped, searched, questioned and finally rleased after about an hour.

“The cop was joking,” says Sak. “He said he was going to blow my head off. Some joke.”

“This is the end of an era of tolerance,” says a Dutch writer. “Tolerance only goes so far, and I think Amsterdam has found its limit.”

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