Housing activist found dead in Warsaw

Housing activist found dead in Warsaw

On March 7 we learned that one of the most active members of the tenants' movement, Jolanta Brzeska, was found dead in the woods.

Her body had been burnt beyond recognition and it is unclear whether she was alive or dead when it happened.

Jola was 64 years old. She was one of the founders of the Warsaw Tenants' Association, a good speaker and committed activist who went to all demonstrations, who blocked evictions and advised other tenants. She herself was involved in a battle with Warsaw's most notorious slumlord, Marek Mossokowski, and was the last tenant left in a valuable piece of real estate at the time of her death.

Jola lived in a building which had been public housing but became privatized. The area she lived in was attractive to developers, who built luxury housing next to her building, where apartments cost 5000 euros per sq.m. Jola's ordeal began on April 27, 2006 when a group of 10 people banged on her door. This is how she found out that her flat, which had been public housing, had fallen into private hands.

This type of shocking news has been received by thousands in Warsaw since it is the politics of the city not to inform its tenants that claims have been made against their houses or even to inform them that they have been privatized. Many, if not most tenants learn about this after the fact. (1)

Among the people in this group was Marek Mossakowski, a landlord so notorious that even the neoliberal architects of privatization condemn him. Mossakowski's hobby is and was buying claims in real estate. A few years ago, it was quite hard for pre-war owners or their heirs to get back property which was communalized after the war. It is still quite difficult for ordinary people without connections. This is why some people with claims who have no legal saavy were selling them. Mossakowski has been known to have bought real estate claims for 50 zloty (12.5 euros) for property he later tried to get 1.25 million euros for. [2] A specialist in antiques, he could also get all sorts of old papers and documents. He acquired claims in many properties under unclear circumstances. [3]

This slumlord is known for his unscrupulous tactics for driving people out of their flats. If they are not scared by his initial, often illegal attempts to imposed huge rents and „fees” on them, other methods begin. In the case of Jola's house, a few days after his initial visit, the tenants received a letter. In it he claimed that, since the property was transfered, all of them were „illegal” inhabitants of the building. (This is a direct violation of the law as, even if he wanted to kick them out, he would have to give them 3 years notice, or provide them with replacement housing.) Since he considered them „illegal”, he demanded that they pay additional „damages” to him, amounting to almost 500 euros a month.

Jola knew that this was illegal and refused to pay. Like many people in her situation, her rent now was much higher than her income. (Most recently she received about 350 euros a month.) This is when all sorts of harrassment started. Mossakowski even tried to break into her house and to register her flat as his place of living.

Unlike Jola, who could not get a replacement flat from the city, the millionaire Mossakowski, owner of real estate all over town, is a tenant in municipal housing. (Nobody knows if he really lives there, but he has the flat.)

While the city is privatizing housing, they rarely provide the old tenants with replacement flats. (Last year only 90 were given.) When people are in such a situation, the city looks at their income and, since the criteria is much too low, many people, even retired, are not entitled to get replacement public housing. The bureaucrats in charge of destroying the public housing system look for any reason to deny housing, often breaking all rules. In the case of Jola, she was denied the right because her daughter had a flat. Even though this should play no role, we know that the city sometimes tells people who have lost their flats and apply for a replacement that they can go live with parents or children – even in other cities.

Jola was angered by her situation and decided to fight back. In the tenants' movement, she fought for a change in policy, so that other people would not have to go through what she was experiencing.

Despite the fact that her case was still in court, Mossakowski said she was her debtor and owed over 20,000 euros. At the time of her death, she was the last tenant remaining in that house.

Jola's daughter reported that she had disappeared in very mysterious circumstances. After a few days she was told that a burnt body was found in the woods on the same date Jola went missing. It was burnt beyond recognition but a few objects she had on her had not been destroyed, including her house keys, glasses and hearing aid.

Nobody is sure that the police are interested in investigating this case. Although everything indicates that Jola was murdered in an unusually brutal manner, the police tried to pose „alternative theories” such a suicide or that maybe Jola was a „member of a cult”. It is unclear whether there is any special motivation for generating these „alternative theories”.

One thing is for sure: people involved in the tenant movement blame the situation on bad housing politics that leave public housing tenants at the mercy of unscrupulous speculators and slumlords. We vow not to forget Jola's ordeal and her contribution to the struggle which we will continue with more resolve than ever.

We will not forget, we will not forgive!

1. This is why we have got and published internal documentation compiled by the city and have been notifying and gathering those who might be affected.

2. See: http://warszawa.gazeta.pl/warszawa/1,34889,7958665,Mial_tylko_50_zl__teraz_ma_kamienice.html#ixzz1G1OpNKlu

3. We managed for the first time in Warsaw to block an illegal privatization attempt. Mossakowski was also a figure in this story.

Comments

akai
Mar 8 2011 22:36

Sorry, mistake. It should be that he tried to get 1.25 MILLION euros for the property he got for the 12.5 euro claim.

Joseph Kay
Mar 8 2011 22:40

holy shit sad

Red Marriott
Mar 8 2011 22:51

Property developers are ruthless; http://libcom.org/library/spatial-deconcentration-d-c

Valeriano Orobó...
Mar 8 2011 23:20

I hope the fucking bastard is killed. These kind of news outrage me big time.

Steven.
Mar 9 2011 08:45

Absolutely disgusting - my condolences to her family.

Has this story got a lot of media attention in Poland, or is this sort of thing quite common?

communal_pie
Mar 9 2011 09:47

That's horrifying, good luck to all involved in the movement.

gypsy
Mar 9 2011 11:28

Hopefully they catch the person/people that done this to her. Is there much chance of that akai?

akai
Mar 9 2011 19:37

About the questions, as I said before, the police and the prosecutor's office were offering up their alternative theories about what happened. As usual, part of the press bought that at first. Today we had a protest, interrupted a meeting with the politicians and went to Jola's house. Everybody who knew her had the same opinion - even the local police in her neighbourhood said it. So it's the same situation as the Maxwell Itoya case - that at first the media listen to the prosecutor's office and then if they talk to people they see the situation is different. Is it a big story? We are trying to make it big. I just came back and haven't searched all the TV stations yet, but here are some report. We want people to know about this and will try to call attention to it. If anybody reads Polish, they can see what they wrote and there are videos and photos and I'll put something on ZSP Warsaw blog later in English:

http://warszawa.gazeta.pl/warszawa/1,95190,9222882,Protest_lokatorow_na_Pradze___Wszystkich_nas_nie_spalicie_.html
http://warszawa.gazeta.pl/warszawa/51,95190,9222882.html?i=0
http://www.tvp.pl/warszawa/aktualnosci-z-regionu/spoleczne/protest-mieszkancow-pragi-polnoc/4119025
http://www.tvnwarszawa.pl/informacje,news,protest-dla-jolanty-brzeskiej-quot-to-ofiara-polityki-miasta-quot-,129211.html
http://www.fakt.pl/Walczyla-z-kamienicznikami-Znalezli-jej-spalone-cialo,artykuly,98153,1.html
http://www.tvp.pl/warszawa/informacyjne/kurier-warszawski/wideo/09032011/4119722

Dano
Mar 9 2011 21:01

A member of a cult?? eek Next thing, they will start claiming it was the boogieman!! Fucking ridiculous!!

Good luck to everyone, solidarity to her daughter and friends!

akai
Mar 10 2011 08:04

Thank you all who sent messages of solidarity and condolences.

If anybody understands Polish, here is a video with some of the speeches made yesterday:

http://cia.bzzz.net/warszawa_demonstracja_lokatorow_na_pradze_polnoc

akai
Mar 10 2011 08:59

There is one horrible piece of news from the coroner - that she was burnt alive.

gypsy
Mar 10 2011 09:13

=(

Steven.
Mar 10 2011 10:13

Holy shit…

gypsy
Mar 10 2011 10:28

I think we should organise a donation on here for her family. Is there any way of doing that?

akai
Mar 10 2011 11:31

I will propose it.

Just another comment is that some new articles appeared in the press. It was very good yesterday that one journalist came the whole time yesterday and talked to people who knew this woman and is writng what they think about the whole situation (in light of the prosecutors' outrageous suggestions!).

The whole system and approach towards housing and to the fate of human beings in capitalism is the problem. There are a lot of people who don't want stories like this to be in the news and certainly the city does not like people confronting them, like Jola's daughter did yesterday. There were various speeches condemning the situation at a confrontation with them yesterday. People pointed out that Jola was very actively trying to resolve this problem, caused by the politics of the city handing over their tenants to private landlords, since 2006. The city did not move an inch. All of her life, she and her family had been municipal tenants, had paid their rent to the city, and the city considers it fine that they privatize her flat, not even informing her, and end their obligations, with no compensation, no replacement housing, nothing. And what was the only answer that the head of the housing department said? "Her case is still pending". !!!!!!

As people said at the rally yesterday, we have an obligation to continue on and we can only hope that this tragedy at least brings a little more attention to the larger human tragedy that is going on in our city.

robot
Mar 10 2011 13:11

Translation into German can be found here.

Mark.
Mar 10 2011 13:13

Spanish translation here

georgestapleton
Mar 10 2011 15:42

God, I literally feel sick reading this. Fucked up.

akai
Mar 10 2011 20:10

My comrade talked to Jola's daughter. As you can imagine, she is still very upset but she thanks people very much for their sympathy and support. She said she would think about the collection idea, but that is not the most important thing. She said that the most important thing is that she wants people to know about this and also to know about the problem her mother faced. She said she would like this case to get widespread attention, but that if the mainstream media wants to write about it, she would like to be contacted. I think that, this is because the first time when this story was in the news, there was some speculation about her mother, due to the ridiculous (even scandalous) ideas of the prosecutor's office.

Jola was a good person, a good activist, a hard woman. Everybody who met her knew this. She also was not the type of person who just was interested in her own matter. She cared about others and that they were not evicted or treated unjustly and she dedicated her time to trying to change the system. One thing that all of us, her family most of all, is sure of is that she would have wanted her story to inspire people to fight.

Our situation here is very bad. It is not only Jola's story. People come to us every week with stories like hers. Many times they are desperate and crying. People react differently to such situations. Some people who are strong are fighting, they are on rent strike. Most of those people are in situations like Jola's, that their rent went up to the point they simply cannot pay it and no help is offered to them. The ownership of their houses was transferred in many of these cases. This is a situation which is hitting the elderly the hardest. It hits older, single or widowed women the most.

If we wanna to talk about being sickened, I have to tell you that this sickening tragedy is repeated to us so many times, we are really furious! We are often talking about older women who are not rich, getting kicked out of the place they have lived all their lives. Sometimes these places didn't even exist after the war and they or their parents helped rebuild the houses destroyed by the nazis, to get a place to live. Do not forget what Warsaw was like after the war! And what did these people do to deserve to be treated like garbage? They or their parents did the hard work of literally rebuilding the city. If they were sent to some older, or abandoned or damaged house to live, they usually did all the work themselves to make it liveable. They worked, paid their rent... and then just get handed over to private owners in the end! I was particularly upset once when we had a protest in the City Council and a group of nazi work camp survivors came. These people are mostly in their 80s or even 90s, in frail condition. It was really heartbreaking that some of them are also victims of this problem, and other economic ones. For example, they cannot afford proper medical care or medicine and have to choose between eating or buying medicine. And they were saying openly that what the nazis didn't manage to do (kill them), the neoliberal government would finally accomplish.

And the sad truth is that the scale of this problem is enormous, and too big for us! We all managed to build up something, but it is too small to fight this battle. We have very weak social movements in Poland and the so-called left is dominated by a sickening bunch of opportunist sleazebags that only try to get money from European leftist parties and do nothing to build grassroots movements.

So we are thinking also about how to make more international pressure and hopefully will come up with some ideas. Then, we would REALLY APPRECIATE support from people who are angered by this situation like us!

Sorry for the rant, I am pissed off beyond belief today. But it is not a digression. Let us remember that we have a political, systematic problem here!

Samotnaf
Mar 10 2011 20:33

Shouldn't apologise for the "rant": there"s nothing at all wrong with getting emotional - people should "rant" like this more (like the original Ranters). Not getting emotional is something people should apologise for.

gypsy
Mar 10 2011 20:56

akai sorry to hear about the situation in Warsaw, it is very depressing.

thegonzokid
Mar 12 2011 11:27

My condolences to the family, Akai. Please let us know if there's anything we can do to help. We will try to inform members of the Polish community in Liverpool.

In solidarity.

MT
Mar 12 2011 16:46

perhaps actions in twin cities could offer one of the opportunities to put the problem on the international field:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Warsaw#Twin_towns_-_Sister_cities

Spikymike
Mar 13 2011 13:19

Not sure how useful this might be for some kind of information leaflet-lobbying but the 'Chartered Institute of Housing' is having it's high profile and very political Welsh conference and exibition at Cardiff City Hall starting at 9am Tuesday 22nd of March and continuing Wednesday 23rd with a slap up dinner etc at the Hilton from 7.30pm on the Tuesday.

Details for verification on their Web site if anyone down that way is interested.