photo: Adam Olszański/Flickr

How the law surrounding the “reprivatization” of properties in Warsaw is being exploited.

By Jakub Dymek

As with many conflicts in a country that is obsessing over its history and almost never reaches a binding conclusion as to who was right and when, the latest scandal that might blow up in the face of the Polish political class is also rooted in history. Here is how it began, what it lead to and how it might possibly end.

At the dawn of the accession of one-party rule in 1945, Warsaw was razed to the ground – becoming a city of ruins. One of the most intensive efforts of the Stalin-backed Polish Workers’ Party was then to rebuild it; a cause which was important for more than just propaganda purposes. There was a dire need for housing, edifices for newly established institutions and basic infrastructure. “The whole nation builds its capital” was the slogan, and the whole nation built it indeed. Additionally, at the expense of the Poles and foreigners alike who owned property, all land in Warsaw was nationalised by the decree of the then president, Bolesław Bierut. There is no unanimnity as to the legitimacy of such a move, but it’s legacy is still felt: Warsaw was rebuilt as planned, but in the process many came to feel like the victims of violent misappropriation. For decades there was little to no chance of proving that one’s land was taken illegally – at least that was the case until the 90s, a few years later after Poland had bid farewell to the Workers’ Party. When capitalism took sway, the ideological swing reversed and private property became a sanctity yet again. Then, as if mirroring the previous situation, buildings have started to change hands again and not always legally.

The media reported more cases of “cleaning” houses of (often lifelong) tenants – by the means of blackmail, vandalism or disproportionally rising rents – soon after the city’s magistrate permitted the reprivatization of the building.

For years the whole process went more or less unnoticed – the municipality of Warsaw gave some buildings back to their pre-war owners or their rightful ancestors. While the topic of so-called “reprivatization” was not absent from the media, neither was it a front-page issue. The matter was delicate also due to the fact that at least some of the people filing claims to locations scattered throughout city centre were Jewish. Warsaw’s pre-war Jewish population was numerous and they were forcefully deprived of many a shop or house during the war. It was easy then to stir up the fear of Jews coming back to “take away” your house – there were plenty of right-wingers willing to exploit this anti-Semitic trope to their political gain during the 90s and even later. On the other hand, nobody wanted to advertise the fact of Poland giving away valuable property and often (as it turned out later) was doing so based on dubious or invalid claims of ownership.

Events took a really dramatic turn in the early 2010s with the death of an activist, Jolanta Brzeska, who many claim was murdered. Brzeska’s charred body was found in a suburban forest in Warsaw – an unlikely way to commit suicide. It also surfaced – thanks to a terrifying piece by Cezary Łazarewicz in the weekly “Polityka” that prior to her death she had complained of threats in connection to the fact the building she lived in had been recently “reprivatized”. It seemed as if the new owner – who didn’t have any connections to the actual pre-war owners of the building – resorted to unconventional methods of emptying the building of the people who lived there. Brzeska resisted by mobilizing tenants like herself and by raising complaints about the abuse to whoever was willing to listen.

The case of Jolanta Brzeska at first only attracted the attention of activist groups, anarchist circles and the local community, but it wasn’t long before the next cases of dubious transactions surfaced. Media reported more cases of “cleaning” houses of (often lifelong) tenants – by the means of blackmail, vandalism or disproportionally rising rents – soon after the city’s magistrate permitted the reprivatization of the building. The plan of many new owners was to evict as many people as soon as possible and find others who would be willing to pay more or to sell the property altogether. Many out of the people who lived there are from the poorer parts of society and rent their flats directly from the city (who were the owners of many of the buildings built on the post-1945 ruins). The law prohibits eviction in such circumstances without the municipality providing an alternative housing option first, however this rule wasn’t respected in many instances – new owners wanted to use extreme measures to get rid of people, official were not willing or able to provide new places for people otherwise facing homelessness. For years now the Committee for the Defense of Tenants (Komitet Obrony Lokatorów) has provided legal counsel for those who are at risk of losing their flat.

It didn’t take long for the reprivatizing of buildings in Warsaw to become a lucrative business. If the law would grant the possibility of claiming compensation for land only to direct descendants and will-bearers of pre-war owners (Polish, Jewish and foreign alike) the possibility of abuse would be significantly reduced. That, unfortunately, hasn’t been the case here and the law isn’t foolproof. Many people successfully reprivatized buildings with very vague proof of actually being in any way connected to the rightful heirs of owners; for example arcane legalities and a lack of official diligence from the side of authorities enabled the reprivatization of a building in the name of a person who would have been over 130 years old at the time. The whole process reeked of corruption. Soon a specialized law firm and a friendly developer company emerged as an extremely successful duo in dealing in such cases. Grounds on which schools, recreational parks and public infrastructure had been built were threatened, which lead many people to protest, fearing that come next year their kids would lose their playgrounds. Names of those in the development business, like Marek Mossakowski and Robert Nowaczyk, attorney at law, have appeared and reappeared in several cases. The latest investigative piece by Iwona Szpala and Małgorzata Zubik in the daily “Gazeta Wyborcza” points to them being connected to cases of acquiring millions in compensations from the city for claims to buildings they previously bought for sums as little as 10 euros from elderly people. Moreover, the article points to the fact that officials who were tasked with dealing with issues of reprivatization, were often beneficiaries of the process themselves and had business ties with other people who had recently acquired buildings, among them the attorney Nowaczyk.

It wouldn’t be surprising if scandals connected to reprivatization and a 50-year old law would topple the Mayor of Warsaw and deal a deadly blow to her party just a year after they lost the general elections.

City council member Jan Śpiewak from “Miasto jest Nasze” (The city is ours), an activist group operating in Warsaw, says that the reprivatization business is no more than a mafia group. He has been saying this for a couple of years now with each new fact validating his theory. “Miasto jest Nasze” was sued by Mossakowski for a “map of reprivatization” they put online showing how much real estate is tied to a few beneficiaries of a process originally designed to give buildings back to their owners. In first instance, Śpiewak lost and the court ordered the map to be taken down, yet the Court of Appeals dismissed the ruling. The Mayor of Warsaw, Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz – a the vice-chief of the ex-governing Platforma Obywatelska party (Civic Platform) – says there’s no problem of “wild reprivatization” and everything is happening within the law. She’s willing to admit however that the law isn’t perfect and that she and her party were fighting to change it. However, in the eyes of many, it took way too much time (the party ruled for 8 years) to be considered a serious effort. After the recent government change, it took Andrzej Duda, the new president of Poland, to finally sign the new regulations into law. His party is a vehement opponent of Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz and is pinning the entire problem on her administration by suggesting that she’s a corrupted sell-out who is willing to privatize the entire city and give it away to foreign investors. In response she claimed that many of the plans for privatization and investment in real estate in Warsaw were public knowledge for years and nobody, neither from the left nor right, protested about them at the time. The controversial justice minister, Zbigniew Ziobro- who is referred to as “a Sheriff” by many for his willingness to take the lead in politically loaded cases – declared the investigation into the death of Jolanta Brzeska to be reopened. Additionally, the Central Anticorruption Bureau is probing into the affairs of the city’s officials. There are voices however that point out to shared responsibility – not only the two main parties PiS (Law and Justice) and PO (Civic Platform) are guilty of negligience if not outright bribery, but also the whole of the establishment and elites in the country turned the blind eye to the plight of Warsaw poorest tenants. The crime is not a single mistake here or there, but a more serious one: creation system that enabled the rich getting richer by evicting the poor, taking up their homes and gentryfing city’s centre, buying up real estate for dime a dozen, forging identities and exerting pressure on officials. It’s deep, endemic and arrogant corruption in every sense of the word.

Lawsuits are said to be piling up. It wouldn’t be surprising if scandals connected to reprivatization and a 50-year old law would topple the Mayor of Warsaw and deal a deadly blow to her party just a year after they lost the general elections. But again, should this issue be surprising in Warsaw? History affects politics every day here. Many hope however that this prolonged episode of corruption will become a part of history too, once and for all.

 

Jakub Dymek is a Journalist, editor and translator.

This article was originally published on Political Critique.

PoliticalCritique.org

Political Critique

Political Critique is a pan-european online magazine for democracy, equality and culture beyond the nation-state.


Would you like to share your thoughts?

Your email address will not be published.

Legal note

1.    Terms and Conditions

2.    Privacy Policy

3.    Cookies Policy

 

1.    Terms and Conditions

Contact data for the web owner

This website has been created by KATOIKOS to promote their products and services.

– Name: Katoikos, S.L

– Co. tax Code:  B87123162

– Address:  Calle Campomanes 10, 28013  Madrid (SPAIN)

Registration details: Registered in the Commercial Register of Madrid.

Intellectual and Industrial Property

The various elements of this page, and website as a whole, are protected by Spanish legislation on intellectual and industrial property. The trademarks, trade names or logos appearing on this website are the property of the company, or, where appropriate, of third parties, and are protected by Trademarks Law, and of which KATOIKOS holds the legitimate license.

The information provided may not be used for commercial or public purposes, or modified. If the user downloads materials for personal and non-commercial use, warnings shall be kept about copyright and trademarks. To download and use the company logo that appears on the website, prior authorization is required.

Any unauthorised use of the images may violate copyright laws, trademark laws, the laws of privacy and publicity, and communications regulations and statutes.

Liability for Damage

KATOIKOS assumes no liability for damages you may suffer when browsing the web or in the use of computer applications that are part of it. Neither are warranties given as to the correction of malfunctions or updating of content.

Content you share with us

We may include features on this website that allow you to share your content with us and other users of the site. Please note that by sharing content it may become publicly accessible. You grant to Katoikos a worldwide, non-exclusive, transferable, royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license, without compensation to you:

 (a) to use, reproduce, distribute, adapt (including without limitation edit, modify, translate, and reformat), derive, transmit, display and perform, publicly or otherwise, such content, in any media now known or hereafter developed, for Kaotikos’ business purposes, and

 (b) to sublicense the foregoing rights, through multiple tiers, to the maximum extent permitted by applicable law. The foregoing licenses shall survive any termination of your use of the site, as further described below.

For all of the content you share through the site, you represent and warrant that you have all rights necessary for you to grant these licenses, and that such content, and your provision or creation thereof through the site, complies with all applicable laws, rules, and regulations and does not infringe or otherwise violate the copyright, trademark, trade secret, privacy or other intellectual property or other rights of any third party, and is furthermore free from viruses and other malware.

Rules of Conduct

When using this website and/or sharing content with us, you are prohibited from posting or transmitting :

1. any unlawful, threatening, defamatory, racist, obscene, scandalous, deceptive, false, fraudulent, inflammatory or profane material or any material that could constitute or encourage conduct that would be considered a criminal offence, give rise to civil liability, or otherwise violate any law.
2. Any virus, worm, Trojan horse, Easter egg, time bomb, spyware or other computer code, file, or program that is harmful or invasive or may or is intended to damage or hijack the operation of, or to monitor the use of, any hardware, software or equipment;
3. Any unsolicited or unauthorized advertising, promotional materials, “junk mail,” “spam,” “chain letter,” “pyramid scheme” or investment opportunity, or any other form of solicitation; and
4. Any material non-public information about a person or a company without the proper authorization to do so.

In addition, you will not:

1. Use this website for any fraudulent or unlawful purpose;
2. Interfere with or disrupt the operation of the website or the servers or networks used to make the website available; or violate any requirements, procedures, policies or regulations of such networks;
3. Access or use this website through any technology or means other than those expressly designated by us.
4. Restrict or inhibit any other person from using this website (including by hacking or defacing any portion of the website);
5. Except as expressly permitted by applicable law, modify, adapt, translate, reverse engineer, decompile or disassemble any portion of this website.
6. Remove any copyright, trademark or other proprietary rights notice from this website.
7. Frame or mirror any part of the webiste without our express prior written consent;
8. Create a database by systematically downloading and storing all or any content;
9. Use any robot, spider, site search/retrieval application or other manual or automatic device to retrieve, index, “scrape,” “data mine” or in any way reproduce or circumvent the navigational structure or presentation of this website, without our express prior written consent.

Links

Kaotikos  reserves the right to remove any messages or statements or cancel any links.

This site may include hyperlinks to other web sites that are not owned or controlled by Katoikos. Katoikos has no control over, and assumes no responsibility for, the content, privacy policies, security or practices of any third party websites.

Content may be hosted on YouTube or other social media. Those operate their own set of terms and conditions and privacy policy which are separate to the ones presented on this website. Katoikos no control over and assumes no responsibility for, the content, privacy policies, security or practices on YouTube or other social media.

 The right to terminate your access

Katoikos reserves the right to terminate your access to this website at any time if you do not comply with these Terms and Conditions or you infringe Kaotikos’ rights in the content provided on this website.

Governing Law

These Terms and Conditions are governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of Spain, without regard to its choice of law provisions.  You agree to the exclusive jurisdiction by the courts of Spain.

Changes to the Terms

Katoikos reserves the right to make changes to the Terms and Conditions from time to time. You acknowledge and agree that your continued access to or use of this website will constitute your acceptance of such changes.

2.    Privacy Policy

Kaotikos takes the protection of your personal data very seriously and collects, processes and uses your data only in accordance with the standards of the legal data protection regulations.

Data is collected, processed and used with technologyes of the provider web trends for marketing and optimisation purposes and also for sending news and information you may be interested in by any electronic services, such as email or SMS.

Our website user’s database is registered at the Spanish Agency of Data Protection. You have the rights of access, rectification, deletion and opposition, regulated in articles 14 to 16 of the LOPD.

For this, please write to:

KATOIKOS (Data Protection) Calle Campomanes 10, 28013, Madrid (SPAIN)

Or send an email to info@katoikos.eu. Your ID will be requested for these issues.

3.    Cookies Policy

This site, like many others, uses small files called cookies to help us customise your experience. Find out more about cookies and how you can control them.

This page contains information on what ‘cookies’ are, the cookies used by the Kaotikos’ website and how to switch cookies off in your browser.

If it does not provide the information you were looking for, or you have any further questions about the use of cookies on the Katoikos’s website, please email info@katoikos.eu.

What are ‘cookies’?

‘Cookies’ are small text files that are stored by the browser (for example, Internet Explorer or Safari) on your computer or mobile phone. They allow websites to store things like user preferences. You can think of cookies as providing a ‘memory’ for the website, so that it can recognise you when you come back and respond appropriately.

How does the Katoikos’s website use cookies?

A visit to a page on the Kaotikos’s website may generate the following type of cookies: Anonymous analytics cookies.

This website uses Google Analytics, a web analytics service provided by Google, Inc., a Delaware company whose main office is at 1600 Amphitheatre Parkway, Mountain View (California), CA 94043, USA (“Google”).

Google Analytics uses “cookies”, which are text files placed on your computer, to help the website analyze how users use the site. The information generated by the cookie about your use of the website (including your IP address) will be transmitted to and stored by Google on servers in the United States. Google will use this information on our behalf in order to track your use of the website, compiling reports on website activity and providing other services relating to website activity and internet usage. Google may also transfer this information to third parties where required to do so by law, or where such third parties process the information on Google’s behalf. Google will not associate your IP address with any other data held by Google.

Anonymous analytics cookies

Cookier Name Origin Aim End
__utma Google Analysis 2 years since set –up or update
__utmb Google Analysis 30 minutes since set –up or update
__utmc Google Analysis When browser sesión ends
_utmt Google Analysis 10 minutes since set –up or update
__utmz Google Analysis 6 months since set –up or update

How do I turn cookies off?

It is usually possible to stop your browser accepting cookies, or to stop it accepting cookies from a particular website. All modern browsers allow you to change your cookie settings. You can usually find these settings in the ‘options’ or ‘preferences’ menu of your browser. To understand these settings, the following links may be helpful, or you can use the ‘Help’ option in your browser for more details.

Cookie settings in Internet Explorer
Cookie settings in Firefox
Cookie settings in Chrome
Cookie settings in Safari web and iOS.

 

© 2017 Katoikos, all rights are reserved. Developed by eMutation | New Media

Become a
Being up to date with Europe only takes a few seconds.
Your information will never shared with a third party.
logo
subscriber!
Get our periodical newsletter sent to your inbox!
I have read and agreed the Privacy Policy (required)
Become a
Being up to date with Europe only takes a few seconds.
logo
subscriber!
Get our periodical newsletter sent to your inbox!
Your information will never shared with a third party.
I have read and agreed the Privacy Policy (required)