GB No. 1(20)/96
Pessimists foresaw that the Third Polish Republic would "develop" according to the South American model. As often, life exceeded the imagination of our "elites" and a different scheme was followed - an African one.
The situation that occurred on the multiple-block condominium "Tysiąclecia" in Katowice, larger than many a Polish town, was strikingly similar to the events that took place in Nigeria: on one side there is a local community and on the other - a huge international oil concern. The only difference is that in the Polish case it is not oil exploitation that matters but selling of oil, perhaps the very one that was stolen from the Ogoni tribe. For a selling place the Shell concern picked green protective zones separating the condo from a fast road. A fast and busy one, which for the oil giant means raking it in. One must only cut down trees and build a petrol station located 3 meters from a super market and 40 meters from one of five blocks inhabited by over a thousand families.
The affair started on 1st April 1994, when the management of the co-operative "PIAST", who is in charge of the condo, decided to lease the area assigned for parks and green protective zones to Shell. Two months later chairman of the co-operative Kazimierz Dorf, asked about the planned Shell station by a journalist, said that journalists lend their ears to gossip. However, a few weeks earlier ads appeared in Głos Tysiąclecia, a paper issued by the co-operative, concerning areas between the Ułańska and Chorzowska Streets. Not a single word was mentioned that the place had been planned to form a green protective belt or that the company to lease it had already been picked.
Meanwhile, the local community learned about the affair. Unluckily for Shell and the officials, the people were very well integrated and organised, as they had already established a committee to deal with the cable TV installation. Moreover, they had an excellent leader, Kazimierz Mirkowski, one of those who had never got enthralled by money and the so-called "progress" ideology. The residents made appropriate annotations in the development plan for the area forestalling any attempts of changing it and they legalised an association named the Social Committee for the Self-Government Alternative of Tysiąclecie. Also, they started publishing their own paper Nasze Tysiąclecie and, in hope that Poland was really a democratic country, they furthered relevant petitions. The best sign of the stir in the Katowice officials' spheres caused by the community's movements was the remark on one of the Committee's petitions. Here follows its copy:
"Mr. Chairman, please take documentation of Mr. Mirkowski's 'action' and show it to the President. The situation goes out of hand."
The residents were bound to meet with fierce retaliation. The co-operative allied its forces. The next number of Głos Tysiąclecia, the paper of 10 thousand edition, was devoted almost entirely to proving that Shell might mean a chance of a lifetime for the condo and the shortsightedness of the residents might end with raising the rent. One question should be posed: who benefited from the situation and who lost. - as E. Klosa concluded his article. That we know his name is quite exceptional: other texts were signed only with initials. An expertise was also included, among others by Director of the Institute for Industrialised Areas Ecology Ewa Marchwińska, PhD. Moreover, "unidentified offenders" launched an attack and the Committee's notice board was stolen. Although the residents wrote in their paper: we know that the stolen board is in the condominium administration office the police confined their duties to making a report. Before the meeting of the cooperative members the Committee intended to summon the residents: again, their posters kept vanishing and silent phones occurred. Nonetheless the people arrived, even though the room assigned for the meeting was intentionally too small, and all the actual problems were discussed. Soon after the event the co-operative administration punished the disobedient with raising the rent and taking over the residents' club. There were also attempts to set the residents on the idea of building a college of art nearby: we do not need hooligans, drug edicts, HIV positives here, etc. If the plan would end in success, the residents could have been labeled as freaks. But the plan failed.
At the same time the battle was on at the Town and Voivodship Offices. Director of the Municipal Health and Environment Department Zofia Kuc resisted the pressure and did not pass a positive opinion about the Shell application. Therefore her opinion was "reinterpreted", which in Newspeak stands for "twisting the truth". Director of the Ecology Institute at the Warsaw University Andrzej Jeżewski behaved differently. In November 1994 he wrote about Shell's undertaking as defying the assumptions of the development plan for the discussed area, whereas in June of the following year he issued a permit for building the Shell station. As it usually happens in similar situations, he justified his decision presenting opinions of experts, namely the Central Mining Institute, the Design Bureau for Non-Ferrous Metals Industry "Bipromet" and the assessment by Ms Mieczysława Bojko, M.A. The Shell supporting club was also joined by the local Sanepid (the Sanitary Anti-Epidemiological Station).
In the whole foul play one thing can be definitely called a serious breach of law, that is falsehood. It was committed by the Municipal Office for Green Areas or, more accurately, its Vice Director Jadwiga Bojdoł who made a register of trees to be felled by Shell. Excerpts from the text are accompanied by the photographs included.
The above mentioned trees are poplars, 85% of which are dead, with ill-shaped tops and boughs growing all in one direction. They grow too close to one another, in two rows. The trees pose danger to pedestrians because of dead boughs falling down.
The sentences are by no means taken out of their context: this is the very description. The residents obtained an utterly contrary opinion by Mr. Leszek Trząstka Ph.D. from the Plant Anatomy and Cytology Department of the Biology and Environment Protection Institute at the Silesian University. However, Katowice authorities did not respond to the opinion and the Prosecutor who supervised the case did not indict Ms Bojdoł for falsehood. Perhaps issuing false opinions by public officers is perceived as a deed of minor noxiousness for the society.
Seeing that the officers in Katowice suffered from a kind of selective blindness the Tysiąclecie residents decided to appeal to the public and informed the media about the situation. A journalist took interest in the affair and a television program was to be made. The residents' Committee summoned a rally protected by the police, waiting for TV men to come. In vain. There was a phone from the TV station that, quoting after the Dziennik Zachodni, THERE WAS NO CAMERAS LEFT. There was a film by Andrzej Wajda, The Man of Iron, describing a strikingly similar situation in the times of the communist regime. But this time no one dared to make a film about the affair. Well, everybody cares about his own business. All in all, the TV journalist stopped to answer letters from Tysiąclecie residents.
Nevertheless, the residents were determined not to give up and applied to two Ministers for an opinion. Minister Żelichowski, who defends the standpoint adopted by the officials, and businessmen who rejected the residents' complaint, stating: the investment in question stays in concord with the development plan and it will not impact the environment in any way. On behalf of Mr Żelichowski the letter was signed by Ms Irena Mazur, the Director of Administrative Jurisdiction Bureau.
Minister of Building Barbara Blida behaved in a totally different way. She presented the highest honesty, politeness and professionalism. To quote her words: "In the development plans sites for future transport facilities, i.e. parking lots, service and washing stations, were marked with KS. Therefore a fuel station can be located only in these places. If in a given development plan there are sites appointed for fuel stations marked KS (there are such places - O.S.) this means that other areas, also these marked UH (trade and services, e.g. the existing super market - O.S.) certainly cannot be used for building the station. Any other interpretations of the plan are illegal, especially in the case of areas in which the already existing state has been adapted". A few days later, asked by the residents Minister confirmed the above opinion in a fax sent by herself in which she stated that "The controversial fuel station was located on the area that had been planned for a park and a green belt. Therefore it cannot be deemed compliant with the local development plan." Both the letters, unlike all the other writings, are short and sweet and, what is important, clear. They can be quoted as they do not exemplify the quasi processional jargon that covers dishonesty and lies. However, despite such an attitude of the Ministry of Building, on the 28th of December 1995 President of Katowice Henryk Dziewior issued a decision favorable for Shell. The decision was justified, on behalf of the President, by an architect, Bogumiła Jakiełek-Ljubkovic. In her report she made the well-known "reinterpretation" of Minister Blida's statement. The fact that the area in question had been assigned for a park and a green belt on the development plan was commented by her in the following way: "Marking of the development plan, which in itself raises doubts, is only symbolic. It enables correlation between the plan and its key." This actually means that the President of such a great town as Katowice treats marking on the development plan as a bunch of meaningless symbols. At this point we seem to surpass even Nigeria.
The residents have repealed the President's decision and now they are waiting for the outcome. If again what is clear and simple will appear to be ambiguous and complex they will turn to the Highest Administrative Court. Even if they will not find justice there they are determined to struggle on. The case is just a beginning of huge concerns' appetites for surroundings of condos and green areas. For the Polish ecological movement, if there is any, it is a chance to participate in the action that is a model one. On one side there stands a local community and the welfare of nature, and on the other red tape allied with a blood-stained oil giant. Our attitude in this case will be a perfect test whether we can fight only with invisible enemies from the other hemisphere who is morally correct and whether we are capable of doing something important here and now. The latter is always as tough as it is real. Whatever the result of the test, we should be glad: the truth will make us free.
Contact address of the Committee:
The Social Committee
for the Self-Government Alternative of Tysiąclecie
reprinted from Zielone Brygady 4/96
translated by M. Maciejewska
On the 17th of April the local vision took place. It was made in a very partial way by the representatives of the Local Administrative Court. Shell was represented by Mr. Tomasz Perkowski and Mr. Christiansen. They were not able to point out which trees were going to be cut, even when taking the false analysis and description in hand. The local citizens were furious. They asked to have the people in the Court changed. The Local people obtained help from the Cracow PKE, which sent the lawyer - Jarek Kotas. They were also assisted by the Ecological Transportation Association (ETA) which helped them financially and brought the case to the public's attention. The result was a success. The local administrative court, in its sentence from the 23rd of May, said that the decision of Mr. president was illegal and contradictory to the Master plan. The Shell lawyers did not make an appeal. The combination of people's determination and professional aid gave success in this case. The reaction of the local press was very typical - they expressed their fear that foreign investment capital - a kind of God in contemporary Poland - will stay away from Katowice. We hope they are right - as far as Shell and similar enterprises are concerned.