Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Housing activist found dead in Warsaw

Mar 8 2011

On March 7 we learned that one of the most active members of the tenants'
movement, Jolanta Brzeska, was found dead in the woods.

Her body had been burnt beyond recognition and it is unclear whether she
was alive or dead when it happened.

Jola was 64 years old. She was one of the founders of the Warsaw Tenants'
Association, a good speaker and committed activist who went to all
demonstrations, who blocked evictions and advised other tenants. She
herself was involved in a battle with Warsaw's most notorious slumlord,
Marek Mossokowski, and was the last tenant left in a valuable piece of
real estate at the time of her death.

Jola lived in a building which had been public housing but became
privatized. The area she lived in was attractive to developers, who built
luxury housing next to her building, where apartments cost 5000 euros per
sq.m. Jola's ordeal began on April 27, 2006 when a group of 10 people
banged on her door. This is how she found out that her flat, which had
been public housing, had fallen into private hands.

This type of shocking news has been received by thousands in Warsaw since
it is the politics of the city not to inform its tenants that claims have
been made against their houses or even to inform them that they have been
privatized. Many, if not most tenants learn about this after the fact. (1)

Among the people in this group was Marek Mossakowski, a landlord so
notorious that even the neoliberal architects of privatization condemn
him. Mossakowski's hobby is and was buying claims in real estate. A few
years ago, it was quite hard for pre-war owners or their heirs to get back
property which was communalized after the war. It is still quite difficult
for ordinary people without connections. This is why some people with
claims who have no legal saavy were selling them. Mossakowski has been
known to have bought real estate claims for 50 zloty (12.5 euros) for
property he later tried to get 1.25 million euros for. [2] A specialist in
antiques, he could also get all sorts of old papers and documents. He
acquired claims in many properties under unclear circumstances. [3]

This slumlord is known for his unscrupulous tactics for driving people out
of their flats. If they are not scared by his initial, often illegal
attempts to imposed huge rents and „fees” on them, other methods begin. In
the case of Jola's house, a few days after his initial visit, the tenants
received a letter. In it he claimed that, since the property was
transfered, all of them were „illegal” inhabitants of the building. (This
is a direct violation of the law as, even if he wanted to kick them out,
he would have to give them 3 years notice, or provide them with
replacement housing.) Since he considered them „illegal”, he demanded that
they pay additional „damages” to him, amounting to almost 500 euros a

Jola knew that this was illegal and refused to pay. Like many people in
her situation, her rent now was much higher than her income. (Most
recently she received about 350 euros a month.) This is when all sorts of
harrassment started. Mossakowski even tried to break into her house and to
register her flat as his place of living.

Unlike Jola, who could not get a replacement flat from the city, the
millionaire Mossakowski, owner of real estate all over town, is a tenant
in municipal housing. (Nobody knows if he really lives there, but he has
the flat.)

While the city is privatizing housing, they rarely provide the old tenants
with replacement flats. (Last year only 90 were given.) When people are in
such a situation, the city looks at their income and, since the criteria
is much too low, many people, even retired, are not entitled to get
replacement public housing. The bureaucrats in charge of destroying the
public housing system look for any reason to deny housing, often breaking
all rules. In the case of Jola, she was denied the right because her
daughter had a flat. Even though this should play no role, we know that
the city sometimes tells people who have lost their flats and apply for a
replacement that they can go live with parents or children – even in other

Jola was angered by her situation and decided to fight back. In the
tenants' movement, she fought for a change in policy, so that other people
would not have to go through what she was experiencing.

Despite the fact that her case was still in court, Mossakowski said she
was her debtor and owed over 20,000 euros. At the time of her death, she
was the last tenant remaining in that house.

Jola's daughter reported that she had disappeared in very mysterious
circumstances. After a few days she was told that a burnt body was found
in the woods on the same date Jola went missing. It was burnt beyond
recognition but a few objects she had on her had not been destroyed,
including her house keys, glasses and hearing aid.

Nobody is sure that the police are interested in investigating this case.
Although everything indicates that Jola was murdered in an unusually
brutal manner, the police tried to pose „alternative theories” such a
suicide or that maybe Jola was a „member of a cult”. It is unclear whether
there is any special motivation for generating these „alternative

One thing is for sure: people involved in the tenant movement blame the
situation on bad housing politics that leave public housing tenants at the
mercy of unscrupulous speculators and slumlords. We vow not to forget
Jola's ordeal and her contribution to the struggle which we will continue
with more resolve than ever.

We will not forget, we will not forgive!

1. This is why we have got and published internal documentation compiled
by the city and have been notifying and gathering those who might be

2. See:,34889,7958665,Mial_tylko_50_zl__teraz_ma_kamienice.html#ixzz1G1OpNKlu

3. We managed for the first time in Warsaw to block an illegal
privatization attempt. Mossakowski was also a figure in this story.

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