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Pilot Issue

Squat in Warsaw

Editors' intro: Squatting in Eastern Europe, in its current form, is a relatively recent phenomenon. As a context to Zaczek's article, we would like to give a brief overview of the history of the squatting movement in Western Europe and the United States. The squat movement in Western Europe and North America started in the sixties, as part of a greater political and social struggle against the values and structures of bourgeois society. Squatting houses had (and has) a great potential of being linked to many political issues. Squats can be a meaningful way to struggle against real-estate speculation and exorbitant rents that ensue, and in Berlin in the eighties for instance, at a time when there were some 200 squats in the city, complete streets consisting of squats, this struggle was certainly effective. At times, the incentive for squatting was an acute lack of apartments, as towards the end of the 80ies in Zurich, where it was almost impossible to find affordable housing, since older (and thus cheaper) apartments were being turned into more profitable office space. More generally, squatting can be linked to a general criticism of the fact that ground, and the buildings on top of the ground, can be owned privately by some people, who can thus blackmail the part of the society that does not own ground, but needs it for living. The squat movements often experimented with new ways of community living, acting out a radical criticism of the family as the unit cell of the capitalist state, and seeking alternatives to the bourgeois family structure with its ideal of mother, father and two children. An important aspect of the squatters' struggle has often been the lack of space available for culture and leisure outside of consumerist society. Squatters' movements called for "free spaces" where people could autonomously organize and experiment with their own ideas of culture, music, or just hang around without being forced to buy anything -- to consume. And since such spaces were not usually freely handed over by the owners or the state, the squatters took them and used them and defended them against attempts to destroy them. Real-estate speculation tends to lead to buildings standing empty and unused for extended periods of time, since the profits of the owners are linked to buying and reselling, not to the actual use of the building. In different countries and at different times, squats have been widely accepted (as in Geneva until recently, where there are still over a hundred squats) and largely left alone by police and authorities, or have been repressed with the harshest measures, leading at times to impressive scenes of street fights between squatters defending their spaces and police forces enforcing the property status quo and the power structures and distribution of privileges in society.

(Olga & Alain)

The Old Fortress: Squat in Warsaw -- A diary

by Zaczek

Here is a brief story of a squat that was made in Warsaw by the activists of the Polish Anarchist Federation, in the building of an old Russian-made fortress from the 19th-century Tsarist times, when this part of Poland was in Russia. The story is based on an e-mail diary, which is why some things may appear contradictory, but the text reflects the way i have seen the events at the moment of writing them.

At the beginning, subtle preparations had to be made. Some of our comrades have arranged "peace" from the local thugs and hooligans living next to the building to be squatted, which is situated near a football stadium of the Polonia team (Turks might know it, it recently won with Trabzonspor). These loyalities were based on the common participation in old anti-government 80's riots where everyone from nazis to hooligans and punks participated.

On 3 October, a renovation team has stepped in, to make possible a loud opening of the squat on the next day, with a punk concert, in which there were two foreign crust/hardcore bands, OPERATION from Sweden, and DETESTATION from the US, and two Polish, SILIKONFEST and NOWY SWIAT, who moved the 300 people crowd with a classic seventies punk-rock version of "Bandera Nera". The police was observing the squat but didn't make any aggressive moves.

Interesting cross-cultural relations have taken place, local mafia people learned the pogo dance -- and seemed to enjoy it -- they were friendly because of their aquaintance with sharp skinheads at the football games. The association of friends of fortifications with whom we cooperated turned out to be really relaxed (we feared they would be militarist right-wing freaks) and marked their appreciation for our barricade work, saying they were happy that the fortress is used for defence purposes again, after 100 years of being left to fall apart.

On 8 October, our informers gave us a hint about an army attack the next morning on our squat. Meanwhile, a cosy beer bar has been arranged.

The next day, everything turned out to be fine, the officials who came didn't tell us to get out, and didn't pay much attention to the fact of the occupation. We understood it means they will leave us alone at least 3 months, until the sale offer of the fortress, but possibly much longer if they have trouble selling it. We learned with pleasure, that we don't need to let in the police, because they have no legal right to be on military ground.

On the same day, there was a punk market, with t-shirts, tapes, zines, etc., for which a new room has been adapted.

Here is a fragment of my diary from that day, named « the four elements of squatting » :

« We chose WATER as most effective at this moment in time, that means letting the enemy go through, and bridging back together as soon as he's out. We are not yet strong enough for FIRE, and the previously used strategies of EARTH (passive resistance and playing dead), and AIR (getting out and squatting something else at the first problem) are outdated. »

The squat had its first foreign visitors, from Kazakhstan and Israel. The Polish Kazakh soon disappeared, so i didn't have time to discuss about many things. He looked as if he didn't want to talk about how it is at home. The same was with Georgian alternativists a friend of mine met in Cracow.

On the 17th October, there was a sound system of something called "minimal detroit", with some industrial movies on top of it. Next week an info-shop was planned to be opened. The usual division between "squatters" and "anarchists" has taken place, with a conflict of personalities, but we thought it only means the life in the squat gets more stable.

The 4th week of existence of the squat has seen 4 nazi-skinhead attacks, all successfully repelled. The last one was quite scary, they have thrown molotovs on the defenders on the walls, and managed to come in, and fire on the windows from a signal pistol. They were repelled with rocks thrown on their boneheads, and had to run from a counter-attack sent outside the walls. The whole thing was preceded with a curse festival, and you would have difficulty in interpreting the meaning of some of the things said (going much beyond the boundaries of political correctness), so i drop that. When it was over, there was a nice drum'n'bass sound system, and a fire show (this time only artistic) of the Wroclaw squatters. There were guests from Poznan, Riga and from Oakland, California. The squatting infrastructure has developed, with the purchase of a generator and of a van, and a second squat was meant to be open. An anarcho-feminist info-shop and meeting place was installed.

On 4 November, the army has entered the fortress, and we were not yet exactly prepared to fight with them. Maybe we could have resisted more, but in the opinion of most people it wouldn't have changed much.

Currently, moves are being made to legalise a social and cultural center there. I don't know if this can work, but also illegal occupation cannot last for a long time. The period of one month when we had the squat was valuable anyway, it's not a wasted effort. On 11 November, there was an art exhibition in the fortress, and a brass-band concert, arranged legally this time.

We have received an information from common friends that Marek Piwowski, an film director who made a cult polish movie in the 60's "Rejs" ("The Cruise", i don't know if it's known outside of Poland, it's very specific, anyway everyone here has seen it dozens of times, and many sayings from that film went into colloquial language) wants to film the scene of the attack of nazi-skinheads on the squat. (I don't know who would play the nazis, maybe themselves?)

Some problems reappear again and again in our organisation, like that we at the same time exist and don't exist, because it may suddenly appear that no one is taking care of anything, but on the next day many people may be taking care with a lot of energy, but of totally different things. This might not be the most efficient way of doing things (maybe it's totally inefficient), but it's a million times better than a bureaucratic organisation where everybody's got their place. Unfortunately we were not able to find something inbetween. Maybe we are damned to make only temporary things.

Warsaw, 21 November 1998

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Last updated 1999-03-18