I have decided to write a book about the Danish BZ Squatter movement in the eighties. The working title is ‘BZ squatter – a love story’ because many squatters quickly began to talk of family, community and love.
I made the decision after having for the last two months engaged in an intense and super interesting dialogue with members of the movement – a debate which gathered speed long before I had decided to write the book.
In fact it started as early as last summer with an anonymous letter in which a group of old BZers advised other members of the movement against participating in my possible book project.
On Thursday last week the debate was wound up provisionally, as I was called into a kind of ‘joint meeting’ of BZers, the first in almost 25 years. At the meeting that took place in the Christianshavn Citizens House, for a couple of hours I was in discussion with some thirty BZers, who like myself are in their fifties.
The atmosphere was very good (I thought). A couple of outbursts of laughter filled the premises, but most of the BZers were still extremely sceptical about my motives for writing the book, about my intensions and especially about the risk that I would give a twisted and violence-fixated version of the story.
After the meeting and particularly after the previous months’ discussions, firstly in quite harsh tones on Facebook, subsequently during my pleasanter (private) coffee meetings with a number people with BZer pasts, I spotted a thought-provoking paradox:
On the one hand, many talked of a BZer sense of community, indeed, some people referred to it simply as a family, which after 25 years still stuck together come what may, and in the opinion of some of them still can and must speak as a joint ‘We’.
On the other hand I met individuals who today reside in widely differing places in society and who, apparently, (like everybody else) disagree about certain things, including about what is of importance for the history of the BZ squatters.
Nevertheless, a number of the old BZers, especially some of the leading figures believe that in one way or another a decision about my book project is a matter for all of them as a whole, and in a closed Facebook group (to which I had no admission), the discussion has moved backwards and forwards throughout the two months. One can either view this as a need to ‘look after each other’ or as an expression of ‘social control’ – and both interpretations are current among the BZers in various blends. However, the unhappy consequence of this is that a number of old members of the group who had expressed to me a willingness to tell their stories nevertheless did not dare because in each their own way they feared being excluded from the community, ‘the family’. Until now many have been hesitant and tell me that they will just have to wait and see, how the mood in the group develops.
There are two main reasons for the fact that I NOW have decided to start researching the book;
Firstly, I find the discussion process which has been going on for the last couple of months, incredibly interesting in itself. I have never before experienced that a large group of sources meet up before I have actually started on the work, to discuss together whether they wish to tell me their stories. The actual topic concerns who has ownership and interpretation rights to historic events, and now and again I experienced the discussion as a live staging of my spring meta-book, ‘Coup de Grace’, in which I (during a writer’s block) weigh up the pros and cons of writing a documentary about reality.
Secondly, I had already met a number of people whose recollections and stories I believe to be of major importance (and which often relate to love –and longing for it). As yet I have no idea about how many old BZers will end up by deciding to talk to me, but I am already in contact with quite a few people who are already overall positively disposed towards the project. And I cannot expect them to decide whether to participate before I myself have decided to write the book… besides from ‘living sources’, I will also be able to draw upon the large volume of written sources, especially the many books, magazines, films and research reports which the BZ environment has itself produced.
At the joint meeting with the BZers I proposed a very narrow definition of a BZer, namely a person who in the eighties had lived in a squatted property for at least a couple of months. But the feeling among the BZers is rather that it would be better to widen the definition to include everybody who had been part of the BZ environment because they came to the Young People’s House or to the demos – indeed, some of them believe that a BZer can be defined as a person who believes him or herself to be a BZer, so there is no need for restraint.