Noi siamo la città
In Warsaw, the right to the city belongs to whoever pays the most. The city’s authorities represent not the people but the interests of speculators, whose money speaks louder than the needs of the city’s residents. Thus, Warsaw’s most important element, its people, struggle for their basic rights: to live in dignity, to co-create the city, to make decisions about it. This tragedy unfolds itself in the story of Jolanta Brzeska, tenants rights activist, who’s fight against rent increases ended abruptly: on March 1, 2011 her burning body was discovered in the forest on the outskirts of Warsaw. Like thousands of the city’s tenants, Jola Brzeska’s building was reprivatized.
For the past 20 years, buying up titles to the city’s tenement buildings, parks and squares has proven especially lucrative thanks to the good grace of the highest ranking authorities: to this day, no legal regulation managing the process of reprivatization and guaranteeing protections for the people who’s homes are reprivatized exists in Poland.
Jola Brzeska knew from her own experiences that Warsaw authorities manage the city like a corporation, in utter ignorance of the rights of residents. Her building given away by the city to the aristocrat duo Mossakowski/Massalski- the first antiquary, the second lawyer, both infamous for tormenting their ‘acquired’ tenants across Warsaw- Jola quickly fell into the hole of suddenly rising rent and soaring debt. Despite her hopeless situation, she fought battles in the courts with Mossakowski and was the last remaining tenant in her building, that the developer couldn’t remove.
Jola also fought for systemic change in Poland – the only postcommunist country, in which tenants have been literally thrown into a shark pool; nowhere else are real estate ownership claims settled at the cost of tenants. Instead, rather than paying compensations to expropriated owners or their descendants (in other countries 10-20 percent is compensated), “poor” Warsaw drains its budget paying 100 percent of the property market value, or as occurs more often, simply gives away real estate worth millions along with people living inside, as if they were meat stuffing with a tag, “do with them what you want”. Jola realized that changing this situation would require solidarity and initiated the Warsaw Tennant’s Association (Warszawskie Stowarzyszenie Lokatorów).
Jola’s situation was similar. Mossakowski and Massalski broke into her apartment by cutting the door hinges with an angle grinder. They would come to harass her late at night, they would threaten her, often in the presence of police officers. Such stories are countless, but the authorities’ reaction is always the same: “That’s private property, it doesn’t concern us.”
Officially, Jola’s case remains ‘unsolved’, although the truth about her death is no mystery: Jola’s murder was a hired job, paid by those with the biggest interest in her removal. Mossakowski is not under investigation by the prosecution and takes special care to make sure that neither his name nor face are associated with Jola’s murder.
The dramatic call raised in March 2011 by Jola Brzeska’s friends, “You can’t burn us all!”, is today turned into practice. Reducing the city to a ‘limited liability company’, and its residents to ‘human capital’ paves the road to social darwinism, not democracy. To reclaim the city, we must reclaim its meaning.
Human capital says enough!
We are the city.
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