2 weeks ago




Het Fort van Sjakoo Jodenbreestraat 24 1011 NK, Amsterdam Mon-Fri 11:00-18:00, Sat 11:00-17:00 (+31) 020- 625 89 79 Issue 2 Het Fort Van Sjakoo Libraries Bookshops Practices People Spaces AMSTERDAM, JANUARY 2018 ABOUT BOOK/ACTION Book/Action is a research project which seeks to highlight the hidden values and practices surrounding alternative library spaces and bookshops. By delving into people, places and practices, it aims to address their educational and cultural value, exploring questions of how the library or bookshop is used as a political tool for self-organizing, community-building and empowerment. An Interview with Jeroen Het Fort Van Sjakoo RADICAL BOOKSHOPS are a rarity these days. Itʼs particularly rare to come across an anarchist bookshop that enacts (or at least, attempts to) the very same principles it seeks to realize, without compromise. One such example is Het Fort Van Sjakoo, a not-for-profit and collectively run bookshop located in Amsterdam. The collective - with the help and support of their community, have been resiliently shaping their own economy and politics in the heart of the city for forty years. For some, the Fort is a remnant of the past - a time when political activism was still going strong on in the streets of Amsterdam. But to avoid romanticizing the past, which can often negate what we can learn from it, letʼs briefly stop to think about what itʼs doing today - not only in continuing to play a central role in the dissemination of radical and libertarian ideas, but how anarchist values of mutual-aid, reciprocity, common responsibility and cooperation are manifested in their praxis. This alone can help articulate what it might mean today to lead an ʻanti-capitalistʼ life. While capitalism likes to feed us the narrative that there is ʻno alternativeʼ, platforms like Fort van Sjakoo that experiment with self-management point to possibilities, that is with the participation and vision of everyone. For the anarcho-curious, perhaps we can begin to get a tangible glimpse of what this ʻalternativeʼ might look and feel like through the support and daily use of such bookshops. Itʼs impossible to provide a picture of their economic practice and organizational structure without first touching upon on their unique history. Volunteer Jeroen took me through an illuminating tour of the bookshop - from their origins, to their various struggles over the years, and what the bookshop stands for today. Interview What is your role in the bookshop? JEROEN: I do a lot of different things here. Because I find the function of our bookshop important, I’ve worked here for a very long time. I’ve worked here the longest out of all the people here- -30 years, right? Almost. I’ve worked here from December ’89 so that’s 28 years, I think. So, that creates a lot of experience. My main focus is always to try to share all the knowledge and the responsibilities with fellow volunteers. I don’t really want to have a position that people think that I have more to say or that I would be more important, because I work here longer than they do. Maybe I do a lot, but everybody has the same say in the collective - which doesn’t mean that all the people do as much as some others. Through all the years of working here, there has always been like a core of people – 3 to 5 people who do a lot of stuff, whereas the collective has always been ranging from 9 to 15 persons. These 3-5 people do various things which are necessary for the shop: bookkeeping, reordering of sold material, IT-matters and organizing events. A group of people who take on less responsibilities limit their work to keeping the shop open. That has always been a kind of friction, or a thing that sometimes creates disappointment. When new people come into the collective as a volunteer, we always try to motivate them in taking on responsibilities because we are open to everything and to sharing. It’s up to the people who volunteer to put their interest into the work they do here -to really participate and to add content to the shop. Part of the things that we discuss during the meetings is the picking of the new titles. There’s the core people who almost always come to the bi-weekly meetings, but there’s quite a few volunteers who come once in a while or some never show up. That’s what we try – to share, take responsibility and do suggestions for stuff that we can distribute here which we think is important for people to know about. Specifically, about my role – I do a bit of everything, let’s say. But, what I like most is looking for new books. Because I, as one of the few people here - who speaks five languages (Spanish, French, German, Dutch and English), select a lot of publications in Spanish, French or German. I always try to follow fellow bookshops and publishers in other countries, to check which new books have been published and trying to get them here if they are relevant or interesting. I’m trying to understand the political and cultural landscape here in the Netherlands. Where does a radical bookshop like the Fort situate itself within the local community? And, what does it mean for this bookshop to occupy this street? The bookshop was started in October ’77 but this house was already squatted in ’75. In this neighborhood, the municipality had plans to erase most of the living spaces and make a big motorway through this part of the inner city - lined by hotels and office buildings. Also, there was the project of the construction of the metro. There was a lot of resistance in Amsterdam against those plans to eradicate the old n e i g h b o r - hoods,especially in this neighborhood which is called Nieuwmarkt (named after the market which is further in the direction of the central station). There was a lot of squatting in the early 70s already, the municipal government had planked a lot of old houses they wanted to demolish and squatters moved in and that was more or less the early days of the squatter movement. The Nieuwmarkt area was one of the first places where this started to flourish. There were hundreds of squats in the area and in the end, it has been partly won, partly lost. The metro has been built, but the motorway stops at the end of our street. It was planned to go straight to the central station, but nowadays it suddenly turns to the right and goes into the tunnel to the north of Amsterdam. What was also won was that this whole area has not been filled with office buildings. But social housing has come back, although in the last decade there’s a new tendency for the housing corporations to sell off quite a high percentage of the social housing which are older and use that money to act as state developers which is not really what their business should be. They should facilitate social housing and not luxury apartments. In 1977, some people in the neighborhood who were active in the activist scene had a lot of contacts with like-minded groups in Paris, London, Denmark, Berlin etc. They were exchanging information about common issues like city destruction and resistance in squatting. They thought, ‘we should do something with all the information’ and give that a platform where people can find stuff from abroad and other places in the Netherlands. So, a small group was formed and in October ‘77, they started the bookshop here in the squat. It has been run by volunteers since the beginning. We’ve never had paid members of the collective, which was a principle choice of us. At the end of the 80s, a lot of squats were legalized in Amsterdam and so, the people who lived upstairs and those who ran the bookshop started to pay a relatively low rent to a housing corporation, which in those days was still run by the municipal government. In 2002, the housing corporation had been privatized and like most, they started to raise the rents of all the business spaces they had in their possession. So they sent us a letter, proposing a rent raise of 900 percent and we thought, ‘we’re not accepting that.’ There was a big fuss and we tried to get in touch with them but they didn’t want to talk with us. We, together with supporters staged various actions. There was an occupation of their offices, their managing director was pied, one of their buildings was paintbombed from top to bottom. Then, they had a court case against us (not because of the actions but because of the rent dispute). In the end, they didn’t get the 900 percent rent raise that they were hoping to get. But, the judge decided that ‘only’ 400 percent was acceptable, which we still thought was unacceptable. Almost a year passed until that verdict. We thought, ‘how are we going to do this?’. We didn’t have any guarantee because normally with a business space, you sign a renting contract for 5 years and after that, the landlord can establish a new rent for a new period of 5 years. If they say the estate value of the business space has risen, then they are ‘obliged’ to raise the rent. So, if we would have signed a renting contract for another 5 years, we would get this whole shit again. So, we thought, ‘how can we get out of this mouse trap situation?’- that every 5 years we would have like, a sword hanging above our heads. We said, ‘we want to buy the place,’ if they come up with an acceptable price. In the end, they offered us the place for 70 percent of the (then) supposed market value, which was around 200,000 euros. We had one year to collect the money which we finally managed to do, with a lot of support from private people and legalized squats which had savings accounts for the maintenance of their building and they had some left-over money for the support of our cause. There were a lot of people who knew us from the past who spent 50-100 euros or more. We also sold bonds (in Dutch called an ‘obligatie’) which is a piece of paper that says: ‘we owe you 50 euros’. These pieces of paper have a number and after 5 years, we start picking out ending numbers and then people with for example bonds with numbers ending on ‘5’ would get their money back. And so, we had from the 200 in total 225,000 euros that we had to pay. We had like 90,000 in gifts and the rest was in interest-free loans, which was really amazing. We didn’t have to use a bank whatsoever. We never thought that it was going to be such a success – that we could buy the place without having to pay a lot of interest to a bank or whatever shit institution. So, that gives a bit of an idea of the support that we have had in those days because a lot of them were older activists as well from the late 70s and 80s that spent a lot of money in gifts. If this would happen today, I don’t know if we would manage again to raise all that money because the former activists from the late 70s and 80s have become much older, their connection with us has for most become something from quite some time ago and some have died. However, we managed it in 2003 and at the moment, we try to be a platform for people in horizontal movements. Sometimes, we collaborate with places here in town or in other towns, like bookshops - these stores or distros we try to help. Some new people come in from time to time, sometimes in waves, like two years ago with all the student protests. There were a lot of students coming in, who had never seen the shop but because some of the students in the movement were more ‘radical’, and they told people, ‘if you’re interested in radical ideas, you should have a look here, they have a really nice and inspiring collection’. Can you talk about some of these collaborations with other initiatives? We sell zines by Paper Jam Collective which are always for sale for a donation price. They also do a lot of printing work for us lately. In the past, we always had a section with all kinds of pamphlets and we used to import them from all kinds of places but from time to time they turned out very expensive. So, what we did was try and find PDF files of those pamphlets and then we started to do the copying ourselves. If we couldn’t find a PDF we just kept an original and reproduced it. That we did for a long time ourselves, and Paper Jam offered us that if we have printing work they would be glad to do that. So lately, they are really stocking our shop. Because it’s a lot of work, you have to go to a printing shop and you have to stay there 3-4 hours at the photocopying machine, changing the sheets every time, and making the covers, and then afterwards you have to take them back, fold them and staple them. It’s really a lot of work. So, we’re very happy that they now do that for us. We also collaborate with Boekhandel Rosa in Groningen - one of the older radical bookshops which still remain together with us. They are very small - they mainly do secondhand books and they have a small section for new books. Since 20 years ago, we have been making a jointly published catalogue with them 3 or 4 times a year. We take care of the new books section. There’s a secondhand section which is themed differently with each issue and Rosa puts in their selection. They order most of the non-Dutch new books through us because we do quite a lot of direct importing ourselves. Opstand in The Hague orders sometimes through us and the same accounts for the Anarchist Group in Nijmegen. We always offer fellow bookstores or distros, ‘if you want to order stuff, you can order through us’ and we will order it with one of our own orders and they‘ll get it with almost the same discount as what we get. We have to get a small compensation for the shipping costs etc. That way, we try to expand the amount of places where people can get their stuff, because we think it’s a pity that there are so few places left where people can find their radical revolutionary information. The bookshop, as I understand, is a meeting point for various people such the activist community. Can you talk about how the bookshop functions? In different ways it’s a meeting place. It’s a place for coincidental meetings of people who are just visiting the bookshop and who meet each other – like people from abroad and people from the Netherlands. Sometimes, people from an anarchist group abroad and somebody from an anarchist group or another initiative from Amsterdam meet. We always have some maps of the city with alternative spaces, and we try to show people where they can find like-minded people and activists. Sometimes, we organize meetings which can be a presentation of a new book or it can be a theoretical discussion. About two years ago, we had a theoretical discussion on Anarchism and Revolution by Gabriel Kuhn, an Austrian anarchist writer based in Sweden. We thought maybe 10 people would show up but 45 people turned up. On the other hand, sometimes we have a book presentation and we think, ‘this is really interesting!’ and only five people show up. It’s really unpredictable how much attention things attract. People from abroad who are traveling and staying a couple of days in Amsterdam – for example, to visit the International Institute of Social History, they sometimes like to do an event in Amsterdam and we try to organize something, either here or in the Anarchist Library. We organize things together sometimes. A lot of people who are new to the city and want to know something more about what is going on in town - drop in here, to have a chat and hear about places and things that are going on, for possibilities to become active in some kind of way. What is Fort van Sjakoo’s collective vision? It’s because we are a group of such different individuals with such different backgrounds, I can’t really give one description. We want to be a platform for all kinds of anti-authoritarian, horizontally-organized movements, ideas, people, to question authority, to question myths from our own movement that have been created through the time, be critical about our own ideas, and that's why we’re always trying to find new material from people criticizing previous thoughts or ideas. What is your personal vision? I try to give as much to the shop, the work that I do here and all the other volunteers is to get people motivated to do something, to change this world… maybe I sound like an old sod *laugh*. If I compare it to thirty years ago, there was a very thriving activist community in the Netherlands. There was a lot of direct action and it has almost vanished. Nowadays, it’s on a very small scale, it’s almost invisible. I would really like to see that flourish again and that people have some critical conscience. I earn my living with a job four days a week at a university bookshop. If I look around and see what young people are concerned about: they are not concerned about anything apart from their own egos, or their smartphones and their screen community. Even issues that are related to the university community and how things are being run over there, they are not interested at all, except for a very small minority who wants to question things and who wants to change things. I’m a bit pessimistic about that, but that motivates me even more to keep on working here and to try to give people new ideas and a handhold to change society in a radical and revolutionary way. Jeroen is an active volunteer at het Fort van Sjakoo, a non-commercial and collectively run bookshop with a focus on critical and insurgent literature. Published Titles Every once in a while, Fort van Sjakoo publishes their own books through profits generated from the bookshop. In an attempt to illuminate some of the ways in which the bookshop plays an active role in supporting the local community, I asked Jeroen to write about their published titles. Wat niet mag kan nog steeds Kraakhandleiding 2015/2016 Author: Anonymous Year: 2015 This book is a manual for how to prepare a squatting action in the Netherlands. It tells about the practical side: searching an empty space, checking whether it’s really empty, who the owner is, building plans, how to prepare the squatting action itself etc. As squatting has been illegal since 2010, the book tells your legal rights and the possible risks you run. Furthermore, it tells about security, barricading the house, good locks, legal support from squatters’ advice collectives and legal aid from a lawyer. Anarchisme breekt door in de kunst Kunst en anarchisme in Nederland tussen 1880-1930 Author: Andrea Galova Year: 2012 Andrea (a volunteer at Fort van Sjakoo) wrote her masters thesis on the interaction between graphical artists and the anarchist movement in the period between 1880-1930. She describes the early years of Dutch anarchism until the start of World War Two, and the role which graphical artists played in its propaganda and publishing. Presented in this thesis are the works of following artists: Chris Lebeau, Herman J. Schuurman, Luc Kisjes, JJ Voskuil, Meile Oldeboerrigter, Nico de Haas and more. She also tries to analyze the visual language and recurring patterns and symbolism illustrated with original material from the period. Met Emmer En Kwast Veertig Jaar Nederlandse Actieaffiches 1965-2005 Author: Eric Duivenvoorden Year: 2005 Eric, a former squatter and sociologist, describes the trends in poster-making in the Dutch radical social movements from 1965 to 2005. He selected various posters from the archives of the International Institute of Social History and categorized them according to theme. He describes trends in layout, text-use, trending issues through the passage of time. The book includes a CD-ROM with high-resolution scans of 7500 posters. -Text written by Jeroen Acknowledgements Thank you to Jeroen (and members of Het Fort van Sjakoo) for your time and allowing me to share your unique history and experiences. Next Issue: An interview with Robin, a former history teacher who is volunteering at het Fort van Sjakoo. Book/Action is a research project initiated by Yoshiko Teraoka. For enquiries, please email

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