GB No. 12, winter 1994


The forest is dying out, but at least one can build a house there.

"Previously, dust used to fall mostly at night," says Eugeniusz Tomczyk. "While coming back from the field after sunset, I used to see the dust in the tractor's lights, falling down like snow or rain."

In the village of Branice, which has 90 households, there are now only eight farmers who, like Mr. Tomczyk, are trying to make a living just from farming. It is surprising that there are still as many as there are. Just after War World II the land in villages around Kraków was raised to a higher class, so that the local farmers had to pay higher taxes, and more food was taken from them during requisitions. Then, after the construction of the Nowa Huta steelworks started, the class of the land was rapidly lowered, so that those forced to sell their land were sometimes paid per one square meter of land the equivalent of a pack of cigarettes. Some of the farmers refused to accept these humiliating "compensations." The others bought either wardrobes (bright, three-door wardrobes had recently become available in stores) or "Doxa" watches -- such was the price for three hectares of soil at that time. Eugeniusz Tomczyk remembers that for his six hectares he bought a "Canadian" overcoat and a pair of trousers. However, the land that remained in his possession after that allowed him --and he stresses it proudly -- "not to work for the 'smoky monster' even for a single day."

Władysław Gajoch from Pleszów does not complain about his work in the steelworks, because "the wages there were not so bad." On the seven hectares of land which he used to own, there are now large blast-furnaces and a coking plant. Former meadows are covered by a cinder dump, and the land once owned by his wife is now the Ruszcza railway station. On the one hectare of land which was left to him, he used to plant cereals, but then he shifted to planting vegetables. He even thought about building a greenhouse, but in the contaminated air the glass panels would not last very long.

Yet people somehow succeeded in bearing it. When asked how they were doing, a housewife from Pleszów, passengers travelling by bus to Cha3upki, or by-passers from Wyci1? all gave the same answer: "they continue to poison us." And, although the air in Kraków is not so fragrant, near the steelworks the smell of those "poisons" is much easier to recognize. This is supported by the results of measurements conducted by the Bureau of Environmental Protection at the Nowa Huta steelworks -- they show that the pollution standard is significantly exceeded at all six monitoring points. The vegetables growing in Pleszów, C3o, and other settlements around the Nowa Huta steelworks contain unacceptably high levels of lead, cadmium, and other heavy metals. The reservoir in Przylasek Rusiecki, in which fish had begun to die, turned out to be contaminated -- not by sewage, because no sewage is being discharged there, but by airborne pollutants. The inhabitants of the '"protection zone" surrounding the Nowa Huta steelworks are not very interested in this data, and their health does not seem to be interesting to anyone, because no health control has been conducted there until now. The local people say that recently the situation has gotten slightly better. The channel from the coking plant, which crosses the remnants of Mr. Gajoch's farm, does not smell any more. On Mr. Tomczyk's fields, there is no longer enough dust to see footprints on the surface of the soil in the morning, and the cinder-dump, surrounding the houses of Branice like a gloomy wall, has stopped growing.

Water supply systems in the villages of Branice and Pleszów have not been planned. These villages are located in the area included in what was called the "first part of the realization of the protection zone for the Nowa Huta steelworks," which should have resulted in the evacuation of all the inhabitants and the afforestation of an area of about 1100 hectares. The second part of the project should include halting all building activity within an area of 2100 ha and shifting the agriculture to several selected crops. Although from the very beginning it could have been expected that evacuating thousands of people, building houses for them, purchasing all the land, and then managing that area would cause significant financial and social costs, for the authorities in 1980 such things seemed like trifles and were not considered serious obstacles. So this odd thing called the "protection zone" was created. Ironically, it has not protected anyone from anything. Nevertheless, it has caused some trouble for the steelworks: the steelworks administration purchased 360 hectares of land and provided housing for several tens of evacuated families. However, the trouble to the steelworks was not big enough to force pro-ecological changes. The recent improvement has been caused by the decline in steel production to 2.38 million tons, and by the firm attitude of the local authorities, which forced the steelworks to close the most polluting parts of the plant.

On the other hand, the declaration of the "protection zone" has turned the life of its inhabitants into a nightmare. All community works have been stopped, and only in a few cases have the water supply systems been completed after many years of struggle of the people from settlements deprived of drinkable water. Installing gas lines or a telephone network is impossible. In 1985 the Branice town council sold a part of their communal land to the Nowa Huta steelworks, and they decided to invest the 10 million zlotys they got for it in building gas installations for their settlement. They were not given permission; instead, the authorities from the Nowa Huta District reproached them for trying to increase the value of their properties in order to make the steelworks pay more for the rest of their land. Until now the inhabitants of Branice have not been able to get back the money which their town council paid into the bank account of the Nowa Huta District Council -- during the municipal reform, local town councils have been dissolved.

However, the most important hindrance for the inhabitants of the ten settlements within the protection zone is the ban on building new houses and repairing old ones. It has been twelve years since the implementation of this ban, and one might expect that all the buildings within the zone would be in ruins. The fact that the buildings still look all right (some of them even quite good) indicates that their owners have followed their instinct for survival rather than the rules and regulations of the protection zone. Houses have been repaired, and additions and garages have been built. A fine has usually been included in the cost of repair. Several tens of new houses have miraculously appeared, and many new inhabitants have been registered. This means that there are new candidates to get housing in case the land and the buildings are purchased by the steelworks.

There have always been quite a number of people who consider the existence of the protection zone to be advantageous for them. The compensations paid by the steelworks for the losses in crops have been not too bad, especially if the sale of at least a part of the crop could be hidden. There has been more land offered by people willing to sell and to settle in town than the steelworks could actually buy. The opportunity to get housing in the town has been very profitable. And when, in 1990, some of the inhabitants demanded the liquidation of the protection zone, the majority of people from Branice voted for "modifying the scope and aim of regulations concerning the special zone." This would mean simply accepting the above-mentioned advantages and eliminating the obstacles to the existence of the zone. People would then be free to choose between moving to the city (with the help of the steelworks), or staying in their own house and cultivating their own land.

Nevertheless, is life in the zone possible? During a gathering of inhabitants of Branice, Ryszard Geyer from the Polish Ecological Club said, "This is not a protection zone for people, but a place which is contaminated, where people should not be allowed to live." People still live there, however, and they will probably continue to live there.

For Eugeniusz Tomczyk, who paid the fine and rebuilt his father's old hut into a neat, two-story house, the existence or liquidation of the protection zone makes no difference. He is more concerned about the game animals which have settled in the area afforested by the steelworks. These animals continue to feed in his fields which are surrounded by the new woodlands. "In the autumn, the pheasants harvested the wheat along with me," he complains, "and the deer ate half of my beets." Until now he has not thought about selling his land, but these two hectares he would willingly sell to the steelworks. On the other hand, some of the owners of houses and orchards in Pleszów (although they admit it reluctantly) regret having once sold their property. It is said that there are more and more people who want to buy land around there, and the prices are rising.

Today the protection zone is losing its supporters. The compensations are decreasing along with the levels of air pollution (there has been never any compensation for the soil contamination), and housing in the city is expensive, so people tend to build their own houses. The steelworks, which never liked the idea of the protection zone, has a lot of financial and organizational problems managing it. The Kraków City Council is also concerned about the future of the area. "We cannot allow it to become a wasteland," says Kazimierz Trafas from the City Office. In August, 1992, the City Council voted to include the problems of the protection zone into the city development project. The costs of the preparation of the project concerning the protection zone -- 1 billion, 250 million zlotys -- shall be paid by the firms operating in the area, especially the Tadeusz Sendzimir Steelworks. According to director Trafas, this plan is the first step towards the liquidation of the zone, which would be possible when the toxic emissions from the steelworks no longer cross the fence built around it. The plan to modernize the Tadeusz Sendzimir Steelworks claims that this can be achieved by 1996.

In the resolution of the City Council, as well as in the program prepared by the Institute of Land Management, there is virtually nothing about the liquidation of the zone. There is a lot about improving the quality of life of the inhabitants of the zone, and about the reclamation and rational use of the land. The document prepared by the Institute of Land Management indicates that the reclamation of this area, abandoned years ago, would be an enormous amount of work, including -- among other things -- efforts to settle the legal status of the ownership of the land and to activate the economy of the area. According to different sources of information, the so-called "enterprise centers" are to be located there, along with non-polluting industrial plants and wholesale firms. Agriculture will shift to special crops, producing fiber rather than food.

The management plan for the zone is to be completed in June (1993). Right now, people living in the vicinity of the steelworks continue to visit all kinds of offices, asking "When can we start to live normal lives?" One inhabitant of Branice lost his faith that any changes will take place -- he built a house for his daughter in Niepołomice. Over there the air and the soil are contaminated as well, the forest is dying out, but at least one can build a house there.

Barbara Matoga
translation from Dziennik Polski nr 51 3.3.93

GB No. 12, winter 1994 | Contents