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Dispatch from Poland - Green Resistance for Rospudy

category international | environment | feature author Monday November 20, 2006 14:21author by Damien Moran - Catholic Worker Report this post to the editors

featured image

'He summed it up succintly with these vicious words:
It's your pay cheque or your planet, the loggers or the birds!'

Listening to the lyrics of great songs by revolutionary U.S. singer/songwriter and poet David Rovics help one understand the brutal conflicts bred by capitalist powerhouses against those concerned about environmental degradation throughout the world. On November 18th I happened to learn what these lyrics meant in a bit more depth when it came to Polish environmental campaigners 15 year struggle to save the Rospudy river valley. Rovic's words encapsulate in part the scene I recently witnessed in a small town of 30,000, close to the Belarussian border where the Baltic Highway promises to leave a concrete-laden, vehicle-polluting hell in it's wake, destroying the beautiful natural habitat in the nearby Augustow forest.

One eco-system, many colours
The following article will be a little bit light on analysis as a) it is the first time I have been to this area and to find out about the issues involved b) there will be others who can do more justice to the ins and outs of the current political context in Poland that is facilitating this infrastructural development c) my Polish is still at pre-intermediate level. Nevertheless, I hope it can help the international English speaking community to keep in mind and provide solidarity with those in Poland who are attempting to prevent another instance of humanity's blind habit of killing that which it proclaims to love – the environment, upon which our very existence depends. In the area we visited today, another micro eco-system may very well be facing an early headstone due to our obsession with cars and concrete, speed, capitalist convenience, and our inability to think about future generations' needs. An injury to one is an injury to all.

In order to highlight concerns about the officially planned route, Greenpeace joined forces with Obywatel (Citizen), Zielona Mazowsze (Green Mazowia) and Koalicja Lanckoronska to organise a 'Pociag dla Rospudy' ('Train for Rospudy'). On arriving from Warsaw at 13:30, approximately 220 people disembarked from the train and walked 3 kilometres towards the big town of Augustowa, in north-eastern Poland's chilly corner. A vast array of folks and a good gender balance from a number of NGO's, the anarchist federation, ('Jedzenia Zamiast Bombs') Food Not Bombs, Tiry Na Tory (Trucks on Tracks) and assorted individuals with great hairstyles, pleasant smiles and enviable piercings, accompanied the organisers to voice their concerns with their feet and their rational ability to argue against deceitful politics.

Deconstructing the lies
Creative banners and catchy slogans, aswell as a very convincing glossy newsletter published by the abovementioned facilitators of the manifestation outlined the key issues of concern. The topography of the area was charted clearly in this publication with a detailed map, including the route suggested by the Road Authority, which would pass through the Rospudy river valley, and the more environmentally-sensible and ameniable passage, which would bypass the valley and thus cause minimal disruption to the unique wildlife of the area. This publication had a number of other contributions from environmental campaigners and surprisingly (well at least for me) carried a quote made by the Conservative Polish president Lech Kaczyinski, where he uttered support for saving the ecology of the valley saying the 'ecologists in this case were sensible'. Famous film director Andrzej Wajda was also amongst those quoted as supporting the ecological perspective, 'Wajrak ( reference to the famous Polish journalist and environmental campaigner once knighted European hero by that bastion of goodness, 'Time' magazine) chains himself to the trees so I will chain myself aswell........nature is sacred. If we raise our hands against it what will stop us from committing worse actions''. Breaching the barriers of language I was able to send my own message to the powers in government who don't care about the environment by wearing a redecorated t-shirt carrying the slogan, 'PiSs Off from Dolina Rospuda' – the right-wing PiS (Law and Justice) party are the main powerbrokers in Poland at the moment.

Poor Economics
By all accounts, it certainly seems that the alternative route proposed by environmentalists is more economically viable, environmentally-friendly, and respectfully addresses the citizens of Augustowa's concerns. First of all, according to the report prepared and published in the newsletter, 'Pociag dla Rospudy', the alternative highway would amount to savings of 124 million zl. (U.S. $42 million) Obviously this money could and should be invested in this deprived region to deal with other pressing concerns, e.g. high unemployment, tenancy health and safety conditions, general public health and education issues, amongst others. The Polish government as we all know are not alone in their continuous ability to line their own pockets and bleed the pockets of the taxpayer.

Greenpeace Involvement
Poland's Greenpeace co-ordinator, Maciej Muskat, introduced himself to me after noticing that I was reading Clive Ponting's book. 'A Green History of the World – The Environmental Collapse of Great Civilisations' – a book I cannot highly enough recommend. According to Maciej, at the end of the 90's a number of organisations convened logistics in order to stop the possible destruction of the planned bypass of Augustow city. He informed me that the Rospudy river valley, in the Augustowa forest, is one of the most unique ecosystems in Poland. 'All our legal efforts and alternative efforts were not listened to.' Maciek claims, however, that the efforts of Greenpeace have succeeded since 2004, in the sense that the authorities have not begun their destruction of the river valley, although they claim they are going to start next month. 'The citizens have been lied to by local officals that we are against any route being developed', he vociferously stated, 'and this has to stop'. When I asked him whether Greenpeace envision a potential campaign of nonviolent direct action once the bulldozers move in, he commented that ' from the beginning Greenpeace's contribution from the start has been one centred around facilitating actions and if they commence work the authorities will meet resistance from our side'.

Anarchist points of view
In order to get an anarchist perspective I interviewed Laure and Jacek from the Praga, Warsaw section of the Polish Anarchist Federation. Jacek voiced his concerns about 'stupid government investment and ideas which are destroying the government and not creating any good alternatives for people'. He also expressed his intention to try and engage the local people in conversation about the topic 'as they have been misled by local politicians.........that destroying the environment is the only way to protect their safety from cars, which is a lie'. He certainly lived up to his words, as I saw him at various junctures debating hot-headed locals in a calm and collected manner, helping to decapitate the myths they had been sold about the project by corrupt officials
My thoughts sprung back to comrades in Rossport when I spoke with Laure, who was able to remind us about the underlying politics of corruption that determine what is built in which region. Moreover, she stressed the international tactics of resistance employed by various movements over the ages in their attempts to stop the loggers and roadbuilders from carrying out their overlord's plans.. 'We believe that they have chosen this route because people have done some property speculation..... actions have involved sitting in, tying yourself up to or spiking trees. There have have also been some citizens initiatives which have been for the conservation of natural spaces......and of course against highways, there were been many actions in Great Britain some years back. It is very much in this tradition, that all over the world there are similar movements'. Images of Rossport, Tara-Skryne valley, Carrickmines, Glen of the Downs and others flood the Irish resister's memory.

The global anti-capitalist jigsaw
For the capitalist and it's apologists, supporters, voters, one could viably say all is expendible when it comes to fulfilling the profit motive. Therefore, the inextricable links between war, poverty, unfair trade, strings-attached aid, pseudo-debt relief, collapsing environments through unsustainable progress, braindead consumerism, cut-throat corporate politics, arms trading, homelessness, putrid investment in public health, education and transportation need to be tied up with every opportunity. That's why Laure and Jacek's connecting the dots with 'Buy Nothing Day' ( next Monday, November 26th) flyers was a very welcome concept; to 'Think – Not Shop', and to proclaim the good news of anti-consumerism on the Pociag dla Rospudy. This weekend has also experienced the annual School of the Americas www.soawatch.org nonviolent resistance weekend at Fort Benning, Georgia in the U.S. As the largest regular event of nonviolent direct action in the U.S. it can teach us a lot about the importance of hanging in with lengthy campaigns in order to wear down and ultimately defeat our foes. A solidarity vigil was held by friends of mine in Dublin, Ireland – mutual aid and international remembrance is an important component to energise those putting their freedom and health on the line and facing imprisonement for challenging the State.

Though not widely-known 'Buy Nothing Day' is an occasion worthwhile celebrating, in a non-consumerist fashion of course, to remind ourselves and others that the 600 million cars and 200 heavy goods vehicles on the planet alongside our daily foods, drinks, gadgets and clothing don't grow on trees. I guess if they did people would be less inclined to cut them down so often. To remember, on the other hand, that they come from areas where systematic expolitation ensures that wages remain terrible, deaths from malnutrition are as frequent as we shop – once every three seconds (to co-opt that catchphrase, from the now thankfully dead and buried ineffective Make Poverty History campaign), infant mortality – and the list goes on and on. So as Warsaw activists begin preparing to host counter-G8 summit organising meetings due to take place in February next year, I hope this piece has given the potential visiting delegates and other interested activists a pathway to connect with Polish activists struggles. Where international solidarity exists there also will reside an increasing hope in Poland that when the construction of the Baltic Highway does start (if it has a chance to;) it can be successfully and effectively resisted.

More information:
In English
In Polish

Related Link: http://www.rospuda.zm.org.pl/

Critical Mass: On your marks, get set - Go!
Critical Mass: On your marks, get set - Go!

Bringing Traffic Lights to Augustow
Bringing Traffic Lights to Augustow

Slow down - No more killing people or the environment
Slow down - No more killing people or the environment

Rospudy river
Rospudy river

author by Justin Morahan - Peace Peoplepublication date Mon Nov 20, 2006 13:53author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Thanks for this very informative report, Damien. Good to see you still working away on important issues. The movement in Poland seems to be well-organized, unified and effective. What with all our new Polish friends here, it's good too to hear news from Poland, especially alternative news. Keep up the good work.

author by Tymek Houriganskipublication date Mon Nov 20, 2006 16:29author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Czesc! Thanks for the update. What few parts of Poland I have seen are beautiful, and the rail network is quite extensive (and of course less disruptive than roads).
Good to see you're keeping up the good work. Thanks for the links, will check this out.

Dbaj o ciebie!

author by Akai 47 via Damopublication date Mon Nov 20, 2006 23:28author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Train for Rospuda Valley

Radical ecologists organized a train trip to Augustow to speak to local
people about the Augustow bypass. A large number of anarchists also
went on this trip to agitate for an alternative route for the bypass, which is
to be part of the Via Baltica highway from Warsaw to Helsinki. The currently
planned bypass would cut through the Rospuda Valley, a rare natural
area which is a Natura 2000 protected site. (In April, the EU started
proceedings against Poland for damaging protected ecological areas.) Some of the
rarer wildlife in the area, which is part of a national park which includes
primieval forest, are lynx and different type of eagles.

Besides the ecological issue, there are other interesting social issues
which compelled people to go there. The city of Augustow has an awful
problem that trucks go through it and, since there is only one traffic
light in the whole city, and since people routinely speed, people are
constantly being killed. Despite this, the mayor refuses to even consider putting
up traffic lights. Yesterday was a conference with ecologists: the mayor
refused to come, saying he won't speak with ecologists. He gave his own
press conference and when asked why he won't put up traffic lights, he
answered "because it would slow down the flow of traffic". Ironically,
after the demo and hyde park, one of the policemen who escorted people to the
trains got killed when he was hit by a truck.

So as it turns out, the building plans have some classic elements of
corruption involved, especially land speculation. If that route through
the valley is chosen, it will be ineligible for structural funds from the
EU and local taxpayers will have to pay 100% of the cost. Poland will probably
also be fined, which means more costs for taxpayers.

So far, more than 200,000 people have signed petitions against this
route and for an alternative route that would not only avoid going through
the valley, but would also serve as a bypass for the next city, Suwalki.

Despite all this, the mayor of the city has done an amazing job of
convincing some, if not most, of the city that the only reason that
people get killed in Augustow is because the ecologists care more about birds
than people and are blocking the building of the bypass.

About 300 people went to the city to hold an open meeting with
residents and do hand out information and try to talk to the mayor. Some of the more
hostile residents came and it was even quite disheartening to see how
strong the misinformation from some politicians can be. For example, the
residents had been told that Greenpeace had been blocking the road for 15 years,
which is even impossible because Greenpeace started in Poland only 2 years

Despite this, the action was quite interesting and is probably the
first time that local residents even engaged in any discussion on the topic.

Some information about the problem in English:

author by Dave Dpublication date Sat Nov 25, 2006 23:09author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Good article Damo! Interesting how the familiar themes of land speculation and corruption travel across borders.

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