On 4th February, at around 10pm local time, riot police brutally evicted
a group of anarchists, community activists and local history enthusiasts
who had been occupying a disused railway station, Warsaw station, in St
Hearing that the site would soon be demolished to make way for a
multi-storey housing complex, the activists had turned one of the last
warehouses attached to the historic train station into a community
centre, hosting concerts, poetry readings and a photo-exhibition of the
history of the station.
The neo-renaissance-style building was built in the middle of the
nineteenth century, linking St Petersburg directly with Warsaw, then
part of the Russian Empire. Closed as a station in 2001, it was briefly
transformed into a train museum, before falling empty. Developers had
submitted plans to develop the area in October, despite the fact that
parts of the building are protected by conservation law. Furthermore,
the city’s unique status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site means that the
construction of buildings in the city centre that are out of keeping
with the imperial style should be carefully monitored by the government.
In fact, the difficulties of the on-going preservation of historic
buildings in St Petersburg became a focus for civic activism in 2006
when one of the country’s largest oil and gas companies, GazProm,
announced plans to build a 395-metre skyscraper opposite the historic
Smolny complex, once the first seat of the Bolshevik government.
Demonstrations were held, a new grass-roots social movement was founded,
‘Living City’, public figures joined the campaign and, in 2010, the
project was moved to a less controversial site. Protecting public space
from the encroachment of capital runs deep in the veins of this city.
Warsaw Station lies on the edge of the historic city centre and its
status as a site of historical and cultural significance had been
labeled ‘disputed’ by the city administration. In 2007, however, this
status was changed, enabling developers to submit proposals for the
site. Currently the non-governmental organisation, the All-Russian
Society for the Protection of Monuments of History and Culture (VOOPiK)
is investigating the historical value of the buildings. According to the
group, 15 historic buildings have historic or cultural significance.
However, many fear that the developers themselves could demolish the
buildings before the examination is finished: an unexplained incidence
So, in early January, activists occupied the last surviving warehouse of
the Warsaw station complex. At first its owner appeared not to mind
their presence and did not switch off electricity and other amenities
for more than a month. However, on the 4th February things changed: at
around 4pm activists found security guards ordered by the warehouse
owner were attempting to use a sledgehammer to break down the inner wall
of the warehouse. A fight broke out between the activists and the guards
who then called the police claiming that the activists had been
threatening them. Upon the arrival of the police some activists
barricaded themselves in the building while others organized a human
chain around the building trying to block police access to the door. The
final stand-off between squatters and police and riot police lasted more
than 6 hours.
Nineteen activists were arrested, with several hospitalized for
concussion. The police also sustained injuries during the eviction, with
two needing medical treatment for lost teeth and a fractured skull.
Sixteen squatters received fines of around €40, but the remaining three
are being charged for violence against police officers, an offence which
could see them jailed for up to ten years. In fact the speed with which
this has been rushed to the courts speaks for the probability of the
Solidarity with the arrested squatters! Please publicize their bravery
as widely as possible! They urgently need funds for legal assistance: to
enquire about making a donation or to help get a fundraising action
together please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Finally, although it is unlikely that the penetration of Warsaw station
by private capital will evoke such a huge public outcry as the GazProm
project, the battle to save it has certainly put the site on the map.
Videos, articles and photo reports of the eviction have flooded Russian
media over the past day – both at local and national level – and,
although the squat itself might be gone, the snug relationship between
city capitalists and local government is once again in the spotlight.
The developers will no doubt have a long, hard road in front of them. It
is a crime that three individuals may have to pay such a high price for
their defence of social justice.
Photo reportage of the eviction: http://lenta.ru/photo/2013/02/05/squat/#0
Squat blog (in Russian): http://spasisohrani.livejournal.com/
video (in Russian) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hAcslamlh4U