How do you now look back on the protest, the eviction and the arrests?
“This was the first occupation I’ve witnessed here. I must say that the occupiers’ behaviour was quite reasonable. They made some ‘nice’ posters about us [featuring phrases such as ‘Shame on you, Ed Brinksma’, ed.] which, to be quite honest, I didn’t regard as an ideal invitation to start a dialogue. And although we did intend to enter into a dialogue with them, in the end that attempt failed. From an administrator’s point of view it all ended in an orderly fashion, but I’m disappointed that we’ve not been able to hold this dialogue.”
Why did you decide in the end not to start a dialogue?
“The protesters themselves had a clear time schedule according to which that dialogue was to be held in the evening. In the course of the afternoon, we received indications from confidential sources that the situation might escalate because people from elsewhere were on their way here. We then faced a tough decision, but the information available to us made it clear that we simply had to act. You can then ask people to leave voluntarily, but that in itself can also trigger an escalation, so you need to coordinate your steps with the police. Then it’s safety first. Due to the location, guaranteeing safety was a complicated affair. In the Sanders Building, there’s no way you can prevent occupiers from entering the offices and walking in and out of the building. And you also have to deal with groups of occupiers from elsewhere, meaning that you’re not in fact having a dialogue with your own students at all. We then received signals that the group was planning to stay in the building overnight, so it was clear we had to put an end to all this.”
Did you also have indications that the people from elsewhere were intending to provoke an escalation?
“We had information about people from elsewhere who were planning to come and we had no clear view of their intentions.”
What sort of groups are you talking about?
“Occupy was also staging protests elsewhere in the country. It had to do with that.”
Nobody from the Executive Board came to visit the protesters on Monday. Why is that?
“That’s true, but our spokespersons did keep us posted and there were signs that the protesters wanted to talk with us in the evening, so that’s why we didn’t go any earlier.”
A spokesperson of the Rotterdam police told EM that the university had asked the police to assist in the event of an eviction. The spokesperson also said that the university normally should first try to solve issues like that itself. Did the university do that and if so, how?
“Yes, we followed our protocol for that. So initially the spokespersons kindly asked the leaders of the protesters to leave. Several police officers had arrived on site by that time, though. Five or ten minutes later, EUR security staff repeated the request in two languages: ‘Please leave the building’. I’m not sure whether the message got through to everyone, because they were eating soup and lots of people were walking around. Then the police arrived, followed by the riot police. A group of ten demonstrators refused to leave. They were eventually removed by the riot police.”
Do you know if any EUR staff and EUR students were arrested?
“No, I don’t. All I know is that some fifty people left. And that ten people offered passive resistance by linking arms, and were then remove by the riot police.”
OccupyEUR claims that all those arrested were EUR students. EM was able to establish the identity of four of them, and they indeed turned out to be EUR students.
What about these groups who were said to be on their way? Did they turn up?
“I have no information that they did. However, I don’t know whether that had anything to do with the protests here being ended. But let me say this: as regards the timing of our decision to evict the protesters, of course this didn’t make any difference. At a certain moment, you have the option to act in order to prevent something from happening. It was never confirmed nor denied as far as I am aware; I can only note that for the rest nothing happened.”
Where do we go from here? I assume that the relationship with OccupyEUR is less than perfect at the moment.
“In that sense, I myself have mixed feelings about this, because in fact we had a very clear plan to start a dialogue. And it may sound strange, but I actually agree that our energy and climate transition process lacks the required sense of urgency. So at that level we may actually agree. That’s why we’ve sent out another invitation.1
I would like to add one more thing. We’re talking about approximately sixty people, and that includes external people from Extinction Rebellion and Occupy. And I also note with some amazement that this group, which arrived here in the morning, failed to attract any significant amount of attention in the course of the day. I suppose it is fair to wonder how exactly this group that we’re dealing with relates to the EUR. Incidentally, there are also people who have openly expressed intense irritation with actions like this. But apart from that, the Executive Board believes it is important for the dialogue on sustainability to be continued.”
Did you feel irritation yourself?
“No, in fact I didn’t. Which is not to say that regular occupations like this would not be problematic; they are quite disruptive. We are responsible for the continuity of education and research. Even so, I doubt whether Monday’s events really posed a major threat… Within certain limits, this too is part of academic life. At the same time, I must say I have doubts about their tactics. If you want to make progress, you should take care not to distance people from your movement. So one might wonder whether an action like that at EUR will work.”
You say that you want to enter into dialogue and that you agree that sometimes the transition is not fast enough. If you manage to start a dialogue with OccupyEUR, is there anything concrete that you can offer them?
“Our priority is to continue the dialogue about energy and the climate. I think that in our research and education, we can speed up our efforts on those themes. I see a multitude of plans, but it is very difficult to formulate a concrete proposal at this stage. It is true however that a movement such as Occupy can provide the extra pressure required for that purpose.
But on the issue of fossil fuels, for instance, Occupy not only wants us to phase out their use, they also want us to cut all our ties with companies that have any connection with fossil fuels. That’s not a very helpful demand; after all, if those companies are in the process of transitioning, we should try to help them. We need to get society as a whole moving, and if you take the moral high ground and separate the good people from the bad, I’m not sure we are going to achieve our goal. I’ve had it checked: we are no longer actively involved in any way whatsoever in fossil fuels in terms of contributing to their extraction. We do however collaborate with parties including Shell in the field of transition. I see no reason at all to discourage that, because it is the very thing we want. It is better to stop half-way than to persevere in error.”
Watch EM TV about the occupation
EM TV: ‘One activist was dragged away by the nose’
The arrival of a large police force caught the members of OccupyEUR completely by…
- Later, OccupyEUR said they will not accept the invitation. ↩︎