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Battle in the Rospuda Valley heats up
Friday February 23, 2007 21:39 by Laure Akai - FA Praga (Warsaw)
Government collects data of anarchists and try to portray themselves as the real democrats
Anarchists and ecologists are in their 12th day of a protest camp out in -20 degree weather. The proposed road through the Rospuda Valley threatens a unique wetlands but local residents have had enough of the lethal traffic problems in their town. A look at the problems facing activists in Poland with getting the word across when even the local priest tries to organize his parishoners to carry out a pogrom against the activists.
FUCK THE TRUCKS
The citizens of Augustow, Poland are facing some serious problems. Currently they are the main news in Poland as the battle over the Augustow bypass continues. This is the story of how the economy of supermarkets and agrobusiness has been the unseen player in a tale of local struggles to live in a safe environment.
It is a sad fact that Poland has the worst incidence of fatal car accidents in all of Europe. There are many reasons for this, but motorists and politicians mainly blame the problem on “bad roads”.
It has to be said that it’s true – roads here are in bad condition and are badly organized. Despite this fact, little has been done to promote policies that would both promote road safety and more environmentally friendly transport.
Augustow is a beautiful town in the lake region of Poland. Nearby are lots of important natural areas which are unique in all of Europe. Many eco-tourists spend their vacations in the area exactly for this reason. But it has a great problem. It is near the border of Lithuania and trucks go right through the town. And they tend to kill people on the way.
This problem has been going on for years. Despite this, the town amazingly has only one traffic light. Much of the area is poorly lit or has no light at all. And the trucks go through the town at amazing speed. It would seem like an issue that could be dealt with effectively.
The situation has gotten worse and worse as more and more trucks speed through Poland, many carrying agricultural products from one country to another. A quick observance of this can tell you that something is wrong when you can see German and Austrian trucks carrying potatoes to sell in Lithuania and Lithuanian trucks carrying their products to sell abroad – amongst them potatoes.
The mechanisms of supermarket logistics has been the subject of many articles and books so I can assume that readers can easily find more information on this issue should they require. Critics of this status quo speak of “food miles”; this is the distance food must travel according to the model used by agrobusiness and large supermarkets. Food is exported tremendous distances as production becomes more and more centralized by large producers which use a combination economies of scale and exploitation of low costs to corner markets and maximize profits. As a result, local food production and distribution often proves “uncompetitive” and is undermined or destroyed, increasing demand for agrofoods trucked hundreds or thousands of miles to their destination.
We pay for this in many ways. In order to be shipped, fresh vegetables must be picked before they are ripe, thus undermining their nutritional value. Supermarkets also have a tendency only to order certain durable varieties of fruit and vegetable, undermining food diversity. Where possible, GMOs are also introduced. Finally, processed food is subject to heavy doses of chemical preservatives.
Besides the problems with our food quality, we also see other problems such as the displacement of local agricultural communities, emissions and the politics of subsidized road building.
Ecologists in Poland, like their counterparts around the world, have been proposing alternatives for a long time. One of their campaigns is called “Trucks to the Rails” which calls for such transport to be done on existing rail lines instead of trucks. The rail lines in that part of Poland are underused and good be used to transport freight. If necessary, the rails could be modernized. This would be a great bonus for residents too, in both Poland and the Baltics; currently there are no direct trains from Warsaw to Vilnius for example, the overnight train being cut. As a result of this, more and more buses have to run these routes to service people.
THE BYPASS, THE CITIZENS AND THE BULLSHIT
Augustow residents are right to want the trucks out of their city; over 800 people have died in road accidents there in recent years, many of them killed by these trucks. There are plans to build a bypass – but it’s the controversy around it which is in the headlines all over Poland and which have caused a serious conflict among different segments of society.
The proposed bypass, part of the Via Baltica, would cut through the Rospuda Valley, a unique natural wetlands area protected by Nature 2000. There is an alternative route. According to EU law, if there is an alternative route which is less invasive, it should be chosen. Failure to do so will result in huge fines taken directly out of EU funds destined for Poland. In other words, building the road when there is an alternative is not only stupid, but it will be costly.
This would seem like a good enough argument, if people were sensible. The proposed alternative route can also be co-financed by the EU and would serve two cities – Augustow and Suwalki – at the same time. But the politicians are against especially the local ones. A huge number of people in Poland seem intent on exercising what they see as their “sovreignty” – in other words, no Eurocrats (or even Varsovians) should tell us what to do. But it doesn’t explain it fully. It is suspected that some economic interests are really at play.
The government approved the building, despite the fact that the European Commission asked them to explain themselves and wait for approval. So ecologists decided to make a camp in the –20 degree weather and block the bulldozers.
Some locals support the campaign but many are against. We already know that because we visited the place a number of time, including with a large group of people who rented a train and organized a public debate. Unfortunately, we found that a lot of people are misinformed. This misinformation is continuing and is being aided by a number of forces. The local press talks about professional activists who are paid by unknown sources to camp in the valley. The government orders the state-controlled press to cover the issue in a certain way and try to get scientific information about the valley removed from the internet. False information is spread in the media about 13 villages having to be resettled for the alternative route. The state orders an “invigilation” of environmental groups and, when some high-ranking police official got angry and leaked the document, they claimed that really they just wanna invigilate the anarchists who are going there to make riots.
The last trick is seen as an attempt to get more “law-abiding” ecologists to distance themselves from the anarchists, but that’s not too likely to happen – except for maybe the Green Party who would be happy to take the movement over from the rank and file ecologists and anarchists who have been working together on this and do everything together with a couple of respectable NGOs and numerous celebrities.
But that wasn’t the most clever thing the state thought of. They decided that people should decide the issue in a local referendum.
As anarchists from FA Praga noted in their statement to the press on the whole matter, requested by the media after news of the invigilation came out, this confirms our view that the government is interested in the vox populi only when it can be used to confirm their own policies. They suppose that the people probably will vote for the route they want - especially if they continue their media campaign which includes accusing ecologists of terrorizing local people. We compared this to the situation with the US missile base which will be located in Poland. The Anarchist Federation is one of several groups collecting signatures to force a referendum on this issue. About 70% of the people are against it. So in response to the idea that we could have a referendum, the rulers tell us that “people don’t have enough information to decide” or that issues of “national defense” cannot be decided in a referendum. As it turns out, most legal experts are of the opinion that there cannot be a local referendum on this issue anyway for two reasons: first, it is a national road and construction project, not a local one and second because whatever the outcome, we would still be bound by the decision of the European Union.
We have to admit, a smart move by the government to pretend to have trust in the people. Unfortunately, some people fell in the trap set for them: if you say anything against the referendum, then you are against the will of the people.
For us, the most important challenge now is to get people engaged in real dialogue based on facts and in the interest of the people. But it’s an uphill battle.
One last note: after the camp started, some of the locals blocked the road. It was an action against the camp. One school director was one of the leaders of the demo: he let the kids out of school to do to the action and was heard telling people about how the valley was environmentally worthless. It’s interesting: for the last 15 years since these problems got bad, the local residents not once took radical action to demand that the traffic problem be solved. For 15 years they waited as politicians stalled and promised them a bypass. Over 800 people in a city of 30,000 died. And only now they are furious enough to organize themselves and take action. But their action isn’t really against the trucks or the politicians for fucked them by developing a stupid plan for the road which is against EU policy. It turns out that their action is against other citizens, many of whom are also very active in trying to deal with traffic problems in a real way.
It’s truly sad. There is a lot of work to be done.
MORE INFO ON THE SITUATION CAN BE FOUND ON WWW.CIA.BZZZ.NET in the English section.
Emergency protest at the Presidential Palace
Activist sets up tent
Picket at Budimex which will build the road
Serene Rospuda Valley