Thursday 1 September 2011

Six Months after Death of Jola, Tenants Protest against Legal System

September 1 marks six months since the murder of Jolanta Brzeska, tenant activist burned in the Kabaty forest. Six months later and her family still cannot bury her remains and organize the funeral they wanted, since the authorities refuse to release the body, even claiming that it is "unidentified".  Since months later and the property speculator and his band of thugs who tried to break into her apartment once and who threatened her have not even been brought in for questioning. This is how the legal system turns a blind eye to the situation and insensitively increases the pain that the murder victim's family is suffering.

People held a picket to remind the world of this situation and point out how the case is being handled. Even though it took the state a long time to do a DNA test and definitely identify the body of Jolanta Brzeska, it seems to not recognize that she is dead. Her social security is still being paid, as if she was living. Only the debt collector now takes this money each month to pay the real estate speculators who had raised her rent, harassed her and tried to drive her away from her home. Conveniently for the speculators, until the state recognize Jola as dead, they can now collect the money they say she owed them, something that she was fighting against when she was alive. And the bill is being paid by us all, since the money is coming from the public social security system.

The outrages of the state do not end. They were quoted in the press today as explaining that probably it was not a murder, but "an unintentional burning that caused death". What on earth does that mean? That somebody accidentally brought this woman to an isolated spot in the forest, accidentally doused her with gasoline, accidentally set her on fire and accidentally did nothing while she burned to death?

The state also has no shame. Asked by journalists about why the body has not been released yet, they claimed that nobody from the family asked for it. And they make pressure on the press not to write about the "ongoing investigation".

The picket was in a rather sad tone, the tenants blaming the state for its inaction and apparent participation in protecting property speculators well-known for their brutal and completely unethical methods.

The day before, tension was extremely high as there was a confrontation with one of the speculators, Hubert Massalski. Prince Hubert Massalski to be exact, since he is one of those from former royal families who make a show of their heritage, with a clan with claims to be descendants of Rurik. Massalski works together with Marek Mossakowski, taking over buildings, either as owners or adminstrators. Although they are not even heirs to most of them, they have different tricks to come into possession, some of which are infamous. As an "heir" Massalski received two buildings, including one of the most expensive properties in Warsaw, on Krakowskie Przedmiejsce, near the Royal Palace. It was there for years that Warsaw had its main tourist information office. The city, which did not want to leave the building, also experienced Massalski's tactics towards tenants. He came one day and painted the windows red, claiming that it was his property and he could do anything he wanted with it.

It should be mentioned however that the city was not really a victim here, because they were partly responsible for the whole situation. The fact of the matter was that this building which Massalski took possession of simply was not his family's. It had been, along with most of the Old Town, destroyed during the war. There can be absolutely no doubt about that, or about the fact that it was rebuilt with public money. In many cases after the war, people participated in the actual reconstruction of houses which they later would receive flats in.

How is it that this person got possession something built with public money? And how did it happen if Poland does not even have a reprivatization act?

No mystery here. It is big money, getting into the hands of a powerful speculator mafia, with the help of a range of politicians.

Massalski is the adminstrator of another Mossakowski building, on Dahlberga street in Warsaw. There lives a tenant activist, a friend of Jola's from the Warsaw Tenants' Association. Mossakowski took over possession of part of the building then raised rents almost 700%. Like he did on Hoza St. as well where he took over part of the property in a shady deal, misleading an old lady.

The activist and his family are municipal tenants. Like others, they have a contract with the city. When there is a new owner or administrator in the building, the city does not terminate the contract, nor does it guarantee replacement housing, but it just hands over the tenants. In this case, as in many others, the private owners only got a part of the building - the city still owns the rest. Although in some cases like this, it tries to sell its stake to the private owners and totally privatize the building and rid itself of its tenants.

In accordance with the law, property owners can either own a share of the whole property or, in the case of real estate like this, what is more common is that they own a particular part of the building. For example, a single flat. Or a couple of flats. However, in the case of our criminal city, they do not want to say even who is the owner of property. They claim that they cannot divulge "personal information" to third parties and tenants they claim are third parties. Quite literally, if ownership of property is transferred, the tenants do not have any right to know the name of their new landlords. Many times, the landlords try to hide this information by hiring an administrator or administrative firm which collects money. Many tenants only are informed of the name of the firm they are to pay to.

The tenant asked a very good question: since the property is partially owned by the city, which part? Mossakowski only owns a part of it - how does he thus have the right to collect rent from all the tenants. How does the city dare to hand over tenants from property they own to private owners and administrators? He demanded that the city say exactly which apartments in the building are theirs and which tenants are still in the municipal part of the building.

Although this indeed is a good question, in Poland nobody wants to answer. And the legal institutions just hold up these actions, despite the fact that they clearly are outrageous. The tenant lost his case against the rent increase, with the judge scandalously explaining in a lightening fast decision that, simply there is no basis to question this rent, since the landlord has the right to make a profit.

People have vowed to continue fighting, although the system is totally rigged against them. In the meantime, we see this whole situation as obvious proof of how the state protects the interests of a privileged few at the expense of many, and especially at the expense of those who stand in the way of their unbridled greed.