"Okupa" (squatter) movement in the Basque Country

The squatter movement was born between the UK and the Netherlands before spreading rapidly through the old continent. In the Basque Country and in Spain as a whole, the okupa movement emerged in the 80s as a response to the ever-increasing difficulty of housing opportunities, given that the real estate sector is the object of high speculation. In that period, housing prices shot up as unemployment and job precariousness increased. These circumstances mainly affect young people and, generally-speaking, the working classes, the unemployed and those who are in a precarious situation.

Speculative housing processes have taken place under the auspices of the right to private property, among other factors, and have contributed to the proliferation of increasing numbers of empty houses; with no social function whatsoever. This situation contrasts with the rising difficulty of access to a roof over their heads and to a life project for many individuals and families in the last 20 years, when the age of moving into their own homes has risen accordingly.

Okupación can be defined as "a preponderantly youth and urban social movement". It represents an alternative exercising of power by civil society, based on collective non-conventional actions such as non-violent civil disobedience. As well as solving the need for a home at any particular moment in time and representing for young people an alternative form of emancipation, the movement works to highlight and criticise the hegemonic economic and social model for its absolute failure to guarantee fundamental rights and for the systematic privation of the material factors required for survival.

One essential motivation behind okupación lies in finding free cultural spaces in which to go about direct participation, develop antagonistic political and cultural projects, activate life projects and generate habits typical of youth subcultures. It particularly resists the capitalist system and its domination by activating alternative mechanisms of relation, action and self-organisation as an essential part of the social transformations it seeks to achieve. We can therefore say that the okupa movement, together among others with the refusal to do military service, form part of a change of approach by the left-wing as regards their manners of social protest and organisation by turning to new methods of action in the struggle to achieve social transformation.

Okupar, to squat, is a way of thinking and acting in life. It is a social act of political, critical and radical subversion. Thus, Centros Sociales Okupados (Squatted Social Centres) tend to offer other similar groups and movements spaces in which to meet and organise themselves. This movement links up with other social movements of an anti-fascist, antimilitarist, feminist, ecologist or anti-globalisation nature.

Myriad journalistic articles have helped to socialise criminalised stereotypes among the okupa movement, making no mention of their ability to criticise, create and generate projects. Nevertheless, note should be taken that the okupación movement was not a crime in Spain until 1996, provided that the squatters could demonstrate that the building squatted was abandoned, and the good faith and own use of those squatting it. This changed with introduction of the so-called "democratic" Penal Code of 1996, under which okupación became a crime carrying a possible prison sentence. Further, this change in the penal code occurred at the same time as harsher sentences were being dished out for the refusal to do mandatory military service, in an attempt to dynamite the most active social movements by young people at the time, whose strategy was civil disobedience. However, this change in the law did not prevent both movements from gaining support and a worsening of the conflicts addressed.

Experiences with okupación have varied widely in the last 30 years. Some have received greater coverage and social backing, with a more collective dimension, whilst others have proceeded quietly, looking inwards, as a personal choice. Whatever the case, it is time to realise that this movement, with its everyday practices and methods of action, has found the cracks in the system it endeavours to change and has managed the tension of its struggle from a vulnerable position, clearly highlighting the brutality of the state apparatus, tagged with the label of "welfare".

Film: Ateak zabalduz / Abriendo puertas

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