Published April 15, 2009
The occupation of two houses by a group of young squatters came to an end shortly after 8:30 this morning when police arrived on Vatnsstígur. The police made quick work of vacating the buildings, and had virtually stripped the interiors within a half-hour, leaving a pile of wood scraps and destroyed furniture in the road as journalists, photographers and civilians looked on. Twenty-two people were arrested in the altercation.
“They destroyed the whole house,” described one young woman who had been involved in collecting phone numbers on Tuesday to alert people of the police’s arrival. “They broke the walls, they broke everything to take them out, and this proves what we’ve been claiming all this time: that the owner wanted the houses to get ruined so they can tear them down and build a shopping mall or something else ugly like the block of flats over there [motioning to the unfinished high-rise buildings on the waterfront].”
“These people that were arrested, they don’t have houses, they’re all young people, they’re students. I think it’s very unfair to put them out on the streets now,” she sympathised. “Especially in Iceland, you can’t survive out in the cold if you don’t have a house, so what do homeless people do? Do they just die in the cold? And the people are going to be more and more without homes now that the banks are taking houses because of debts.”
Bystanders applauded in support of the squatters as they were removed one-by-one through the back door of the building and escorted by police to waiting vans in handcuffs. Some shouted at the officers guarding the police lines and some spat on the ground as a show of their distaste for the proceedings.
“The banks are just kicking people out of their homes”
The scene on Vatnsstígur was different Tuesday afternoon, when police were only present in the conversations of the supporters and in the rumours of their impending arrival. One young man, a philosophy student, explained yesterday that the owner of the two homes had threatened to send police to deal with the squatters if they had not vacated the premises by 4:00 p.m. However, as it grew later into the evening whether or not the police would arrive was anybody’s guess.
“Rumours quickly become facts in these situations, but I think they will come in the night or in the morning when there’s not too much media attention and there are less people here since they had horrible violence at the January/February demonstrations.”
Speaking passionately about plans to convert the homes into thriving social centres, complete with a non-profit publishing house alongside the existing free shop, the young man explained the groups initial motivation in claiming the vacant structures as their own: “There are many empty buildings in the Reykjavík area, and the banks are just kicking people out of their homes. This is just plain stupidity to have people on the streets when you have lots of empty buildings.”
“One part of this action was to show that it is possible to do this and take what is, according to Marxist doctrine, already ours as workers and the lower classes. So we would like to encourage people to do the same and show support; solidarity is the key.”
Reykjavík police officials were repeatedly contacted for this article, but declined to comment.
Photos by Páll Hilmarsson. View more of his photos here.