Protesting Shell: What came next

Protesting Shell: What came next

Protests are by no means new to Amsterdam, a city deeply marked by civic actions from its bike lanes to its law books. But where there are crowds with banners and demands for change, there are often cops in riot gear. The police’s equipment may have evolved since their clashes with hippies in the 70’, but their methods seem to have a depressing consistency about them, as UvA student protesters found out this Monday night. Now we are left with many brutal videos, some detached official statements, and many questions. In this article, we hope to offer you any details missing from official statements, as well as provide a glimpse into the aftermath of Monday’s protest. 

While the meeting with the UvA Executive Board was already scheduled to take place on the 17th, the previous night’s events were given the top spot on the agenda, and the previously private CSR session became open to any students who wished to attend. Also present were two UvA security guards, keeping careful watch over the proceedings from respective corners of the room.

Throughout the session, the assembled CvB members answered all questions and calls to action with calm and coherence but were hesitant to even name a specific deadline for their promises when pressed to do so by CSR representatives. Although they emphasized their shared concerns about growing environmental issues, it appears that Monday’s protests have not convinced the CvB to commit to any future changes in policy, as they stood by all previous statements on the issue. 

When pressed about their reasons to contact the police despite the precedent of violence against demonstrators, the members of the CvB claimed that one of their main concerns was that other activist groups were entering the building alongside student protesters. “If you look at the images you can see that there is a very careful handling of police of the people who are resisting” was vice-president Jan Linstsen’s answer to questions about police brutality. The Executive Board declined to make a statement outright condemning the police’s actions or requesting an inquiry into the methods used to evict protesters. “It might come as a surprise” the Vice President joked, “but we don’t want buildings of the UvA occupied”. Here, it may be pertinent to mention that the former Academische Club building does not host any classes and was vacant at the time the protesters entered with permission from UvA officials. 

Another issue were the 30 students arrested on Monday night, 24 of whom were still under police custody at the time of the CvB meeting. The CvB was adamant that the UvA was not pressing charges, but that the incarcerated students were being held for breaking and entering, a public offense the university had no jurisdiction over. Still, the UvA was not inclined to intercede with police on behalf of its students, or offer an apology. Now, after their release, the CSR is still unsure whether the UVA will make any attempt to discourage further prosecution, but is strongly urging action in this direction.

The end of the meeting was perhaps also its most organically informal moment. When asked whether the CvB would be willing to condemn Shell’s actions in a public statement Rector Magnificus Peter-Paul Verbeek scoffed, saying something beginning with the term “Cancel culture”. Before he could continue he was interrupted by the audible amusement of the gathered observers, who were in turn quickly brought back to silence by the CSR Chair. The Rector did not continue. Whether this lapse in decorum was a glimpse into the feelings of older UvA staff members on the issue or merely a slip of the tongue is a trivial point best left unexplored but not unacknowledged. 

Ultimately, the issue of the extent of UvA’s collaboration with Shell and other fossil fuel companies remains open-ended, a conversation that has moved beyond the boardrooms to the streets of Amsterdam. While it is still unclear when a compromise between the activists, the CSR, and the Executive Board will be reached or what such an agreement might look like, it is beyond doubt that the events of this past week represent a crucial turning point in the ongoing struggle.

Following the meeting, YOUvAToday spoke to Carlos van Eck, a member of the Activiste Partij and the CSR about his hopes for the future of the movement. “While the CvB has refused to actually concede to anything concrete, I am very hopeful that students will see that the mask is off and that the executive board would rather send riot police to their own students rather than tackle fossil fuel corporations.” 

In case you would like to review the events that took place at the beginning of the week, this is our timeline (link here).

Read our live coverage of the protest here