Interview with Rozbrat activists

Interview with Rozbrat activists

  • środa, 12 listopad 2008
This interview was published in 31st issue of "Abolishing the Borders from Below" (2008), anarchist journal from Eastern Europe.1. ABB: What do you think Rozbrat means for the anarchist movement from Poland and from Poznan?D.: Actually, when you think about anarchist movement in Poznan, you think exactly about Rozbrat, as a place that gathers free-thinking and anarchist milieus. For now it is quite difficult to imagine the anarchist movement without Rozbrat. Most of the activists from - what you call today - the anarchist movement in Poland became active when Rozbrat already existed. It means that they somehow had to refer to this active centre in Poznan. During those years hundreds of anarchist meetings, discussions and congresses took place here. There are not many anarchists in Poland who haven't had any relation to this place. I think it wouldn't be an exaggeration if I said that the anarchist milieu that is active around Rozbrat is today the oldest continuously active and the most diverse milieu in Poland. For the anarchist movement in Poland, relatively young and undermined by plagues of evanescence, such experience is a value itself.

R.: Rozbrat is a great starting point for people who haven't had any possibility to meet with the anarchist ideas before. A lot of people come here and first they are inspired by the place itself (the library, community living or just d.i.y. parties) and then they start to ask about idealogical reasons why people live that way or are politically active.

What is more, I think that thanks to Rozbrat the members of Anarchist Federation are rooted in this existing place that somehow constitutes us as a group and gives a feeling of support from the community. Thanks to that we feel stronger while dealing with different campaigns outside Rozbrat. As a part of the community we take care of the place, renovate it, keep it clean, prepare it for all the events, eat together or just have fun - thanks to that we don't become "apparatchiks"* of the anarchist movement.

And finally, thanks to Rozbrat and the activity of Anarchist Federation anarchist ideas have had a chance to be spread and we can say that for some people living in Poznan anarchism is not only associated with bombs and chaos or utopia anymore, but with real alternatives that can be realized in real life (e.g. idea of self-organization, direct democracy, collectivism).

S.: But also Rozbrat is still somehow a so-called safety-valve and the space has taken up our energy and a lot of activities which we could have been spent with people outside in the streets. Instead of going outside, we focus on our autonomist oasis, on our own "village". The movement was strong when Rozbrat was founded, but today, taking into consideration more mature forms of our activity, self-organization, deeper analysis and constructive criticism of reality that surrounds us, we can be sure that the loss of this place is going to be like a catalyst for our activities on different levels. Something like pulling out a safety pin from a grenade of our city.

2. Without a doubt, the end of Rozbrat would be a huge loss. But can you describe more precisiely what, apart from some activists losing their home, would be the impact of that loss on social, political or moral grounds if Rozbrat would really disappear?

D.: First we would have to decide what Rozbrat really is. If you think of the few houses and the space itself, they are for sure really important tools, but still just tools. Rozbrat is a base for dozens of initiatives and it would be a big problem for them if Rozbrat one day would disapear. Here you can find the Anarchist Library and archive, the biggest anarchist distribution and publishing house, it is a place for congresses, meetings and conferences of syndicalist and anarchist organizations. In Poland it is not common for local anarchist groups to have their own space (legal or not, even small). And what more, thanks to Rozbrat we are sometimes able to collect funds to support the movement, not only in Poznan.

K.: If you think of Poznan, Rozbrat is one of the few places where a real political debate is continuously ongoing which goes beyond the mainstream: through discussions, lectures, film screenings and so on.

At Rozbrat there is quite a big community living and managing the place using rules of direct democracy. This is an important experience in Polish reality, it doesn't have a lot of equivalents in other Polish cities.

D.: Going back to the question of Rozbrat as a living place, we should mention that although Rozbrat is quite a nice place to live for 20 people, some of those people have no other choice. When Poland have joined the EU the prices of real estate have risen by a few hundred percent. Today a small flat (40m2) costs around 55-70 thousand euros, to rent such a flat you would have to spend 250-300 euro monthly, when an average monthly salary is 270-400 euro. So for many people such costs are beyond their possibilities.

K.: I hope that if it wouldn't be possible for us to stay at Rozbrat, we will be able to keep the dynamics of the activities we run here at the moment. But for sure it would require more effort.

R.: Well, if Rozbrat disappears, first of all some anarchists from Poland would lose the place that they visit to 'charge their batteries'. But to be serious, although there is a lot of things that Rozbrat Collective has difficulties with, we still learn how to live and act together and this attempt to build a non-hierarchical community is really exceptional in our reality. You still have to remember that we talk about Poland, in Poznan for example, with 700 000 inhabitants, there are no other groups that are based on the idea of horizontal organisation, trying to create collectives, or economical co-operations that print books, run a pub or something else.

3. ABB: We know that the discussion about the strategy of defence of Rozbrat is still going on and that you are not ready to speak out in the name of all the community. But maybe you are able to tell us what options are discussed in Poznan now. What kind of strategy of defence of Rozbrat can you imagine?

D.: Discussions always bring a wide spectrum of different ideas. We could point out two different attitudes towards Rozbrat - one of them suggests that Rozbrat is a value and a goal in itself, the second one claims to perceive Rozbrat as an instrument. And of course there are many positions in-between. The second point of view understands Rozbrat as one of the tools for a social change we strive for. On the contrary, first attitude leads to a declaration that there is no other alternative to Rozbrat, the struggle must go on regardless of any circumstances. The second option takes into consideration a withdrawal from Rozbrat if only alternatives appear. But for now there is no alternative, so we are decided to fight for Rozbrat as it is now. At the moment we consider all ways of defence - including legal and not legal ones. We also analyse campaigns that were organized in defence of squats in other countries, which helps us a lot.

R.: Exactly, especially for example the legal situation of Köpi in Berlin was/is similar. But when you analyse ups and downs of the squatting movement in the last few years you can draw some conclusions - first of all that it is easier to overcome problems when a ground belongs to the city. A lot of squats have survived thanks to different kinds of agreements with the city administration (Christiania in Denmark, Hausmania in Norway, a lot of "house projects" in Berlin or CRK in Wroclaw, Poland). What the movement doesn't have are weapons to save a squat or land when they belong to capital (also violence and direct actions, which were used for example in defence of Ungdomshuset in Copenhagen, don't bring positive results). And Rozbrat is considered to be a private property, although now in fact there is no owner. The court is legally obliged to organize the auction and sell the ground in order to give back the money to the bank for the mortgage, we still don't know who is the potential investor. The struggle against capital is particularly difficult in such semi-periphery country like Poland, where private property is a holy thing, where semi-wild capitalism makes it possible to use for example private security guards against legal workers' strike or to build shopping malls in city parks.

Localization of Rozbrat is very attractive, its almost centre of Poznan and is quite a big land (around 2 hectares). It may cost 5,5M euro. Although one of the economists has said that because of the existence of Rozbrat on this land it may cost five times less, it is very difficult for us to imagine that we would be able to collect such an amount of money. The Polish squat movement is too weak and too poor to create funds that would help to buy empty buildings or give unrepayable credits (or even credits without profits), there are no such possibilities that exist for example in Switzerland or in Germany.

The struggle for Rozbrat has also a symbolic meaning (of course not first and foremost). It creates a good opportunity to speak out about already mentioned problems of the lack of houses in Poland, about evictions, catastrophical policy of developers in the centres of Polish cities, lack of cheap available rooms/offices for groups running social activity and lack of space for alternative artists to show their art etc. That's also why we are decided to fight for Rozbrat, although the situation of the squat seems to be difficult.

4. Let's say there is a need for mass acions in defence of Rozbrat like demos, blockades etc. How many people from Poland would actively take part in such actions?

R.: Some of us took part in the demonstartion in defence of Kopi in Berlin last May. We were impressed by number of people who participated (5,000). We still have to remember that we talk about the Polish reality. The biggest protest organized by anarchist movement (but not only) was able to gather 5,000 - it was the anti-summit against European Economic Forum in Warsaw in 2004 - and it was after many months of preparation and with international support.

We believe we could count on squatters from other Polish cities (we have almost always organized solidarity demos when some of them were threatened with eviction, we have also tried to suppport them financially). Probably also a lot of anarchist activists would come, or people from the so-called scene. I think if we would gather 800 - 1,000 people it would be a big success but also a very important event in Poznan (two years ago our trade union co-organized one demonstartion that gathered 1,000 people and it was one of the biggest demonstartions in Poznan since 1989).

D.: This is kind of a difficult question, because at the moment the anarchist movement doesn't exist anymore in the form it used to be in the 90's. That movement was closer related to sub- and countercultural motions, it resembled much of what is called the "autonomous scene" in Western Europe. It was less ideologically grounded and more closed in its own environment, but also much bigger, quantitatively. Rozbrat is one of the offsprings of this movement. But the people who would have been the base of it in the past, now have left their political attitude and the so called "alternative scene" is not as powerful as before and reduces itself mainly to having fun. And the anarchist movement itself is now in a process of change, yet the shift of tactics and of the scope of activity creates a situation in which the new forms are still in their immaturity and the old ones don't work anymore. Mobilisation capabilities of most of the groups in Poland are quite low now, though we still hope, that during all these years Rozbrat has become an important place to such extent, that this situation will activate the recently inactive groups. Such support is very important for us, it would be very difficult for us to defend this place without it. It's quite impossible for us now to estimate the extent of this support and - referring to the previous question - it is one of the reasons why it is difficult to talk now about the tactics of the defence.

5. To what extent does Rozbrat exist in the consciousness of the common inhabitians of Poznan and what importance can this fact have for the campaign? Which other milieus apart from the anarchist movement and subcultural groups sympathise presently with Rozbrat?

K.: In Poznan there are practically no cultural, political or social events of alternative or underground character that are not really related to Rozbrat. Things that happen here are often commented in the local media and activists from Rozbrat are asked to comment on different issues in Poznan. I think that Rozbrat has been accepted as a place with a clear political and social profile.

D.: After the announcement of threatening information and the first visit of the bailiff, there were many voices of support. All friendly groups offered help: ecologists, feminists, local neighbourhood organizations, with whom we organized protests together, the activists of the Workers' Union (IP) syndicate from factories in which we are active, the music scene, independent theaters and friendly bars.

R.: You forgot to mention the hip-hop and graffiti painters' groups, which have also offered their support. I think, we can also expect support from some of the people around the university, who sometimes refer to our publications or are interested in Rozbrat as a sociological phenomenon. Rozbrat is situated in a green area, there are not many houses or tenement houses around, so, although we have good relations with the closest neighbours, we can't count on mass support in the district.

S.: It's true that during all these years there have been lots of people who somehow went through Rozbrat and then partially left the movement. Today, in a critical moment, there are people supporting Rozbrat who nobody would have of expected to have any relations with this place before. If the struggle would be kept long enough, then the fire will burn with much more power. I'm sure of that.

D.: An interesting situation has emerged in relation to the local media. The journalists themselves began to put pressure on the city council to help Rozbrat. Although we, as the collective, haven't led any talks with the city governors. During some time there has been a weird situation in which the city council, pressed to the wall by the journalists, had to explain why it isn't trying to help us.

Still, as in the answer to the previous question, it is difficult to estimate, to what extent all these signs of sympathy and friendly attitude would change to any kind of activity. Stagnation and lack of belief in the possibility of any kind of change in Poland creates a kind of a particular situation where people don't want to be involved politically. As an example I could mention the protests against the American attack on Iraq. The polls show that the disagreement with the war in Polish society was one of the highest in Europe (75-80% of the people were against it), though the anti-war protests were only able to gather from a few hundred up to 3,000 participants.

6. How is the present attitude (atmosphere) in the movement in Poznan? Have the "dark clouds" over Rozbrat already somehow influenced the activities of the Poznan section of Anarchist Federation and other anarchist, syndicalist and free-thinking groups inside Rozbrat?

K.: Direct activities related to the threats are the organisation of benefit events under the slogan "Rozbrat stays!" in order to gather some money which we need for defence activities - legal support and technical protection of the space.

S.: Usually there are many things happening here and many impulses are sent out from this place. It seems that this situation helps to activate the whole movement and to unite it. We are trying to gather our full power and to get the best ideas.

D.: We are trying to reduce the impact of the present situation of Rozbrat on our usual activities. Presently we are engaged in struggles in a few factories, soon there will be some actions inside the factory H.Cegielski lead by the Workers' Union. We spread the flyers in other workplaces, we cooperate all the time with local protest committees demanding participation in political decisions in the city, we publish books and magazines, there is a library, we make lectures and concerts, we are preparing the autumn anarchist conference... As you see there is a lot of work and the defence of Rozbrat is only one of the issues we deal with and as far as it's possible we will try not to let it dominate the other ones.

7. Support from abroad - do you think it is important in your situation? If yes, what forms of direct or indirect actions would you suggest?

D.: Of course it's important for us. We count on support from other countries. As well as support in the media, demonstrations or petitions, the financial support would be appreciated. When it gets hot here every visit and support here locally will be of great value for us. Mass protests are the biggest chance to win. We are already thankful for all the voices of solidarity, support and help.

S.: For now one of the most important elements of support is the active collaboration, to keep Rozbrat always full of culture and free thought. So, just pack your stuff and come here with your performances, exhibitions, lectures, movies or other projects. While the opportunity is still there...

R.: We swear that in the critical moment we will send a clear message that we need you here in Poznan. Solidarity is our weapon!

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