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As part of the “House on Wheels” column, we are featuring Polish squatter collective Zaczyn. Zaczyn has attempted to create two more squats in Warsaw in the last two years, but these attempts were met with violent evictions by Polish security forces.

We spoke to Zaczyn about why they are squatting? How does the Polish state react to it? And what are their plans for the future?


–  What are the motivations and principles behind your activities?

– We are fueled by embodied resistance towards the capitalist system that’s trying to commodify all aspects of our lives. Through our actions, we seek to promote and support anarchist and radical leftist movements in the so-called Poland.

– What are your goals and objectives for squatting? What does squatting mean to you?

– The sheer fact that there are people living on the streets, while there are vacant houses waiting to rot sounds like a sick joke to us. With rent prices skyrocketing, more and more people simply can’t afford to survive living by the rules composed by the elites. Not to mention living a worthwhile life!

By squatting, we’re simply trying to regain what was taken from us by the shackles of the economy. A place to live while not selling our lives away. A place of social life without having to pay for each second of it. To exchange ideas and skills without turning the gears of capital.

Zaczyn, photo by Tomasz Swierzewski

–  Have you had two attempts to squat a building? Can you tell us about that? What would the emergence of a new squat mean for Poland?

– The squatting movement has had an awakening in so-called Poland throughout the last decade, yet it’s still on its way to greatness (we hope!). Unfortunately, the Polish theatre is pretty rough for squatting; there are but a few of the older and established places, and most of the new ones have met an untimely and bitter end. But we’re not about to give up! Every new beginning creates hope and a desire for more.

Here in Warsaw, the first Zaczyn was about to celebrate its first anniversary. We were actually in the process of planning the birthday when the eviction came… Yet we showed that it is in fact possible to squat in this city, and we showed it to a lot of people throughout that year.

With our second attempt, the long arm of the law grabbed us even faster. After preparing the place for the grand opening, we got fiercely evicted on the day we got official.

– How do you decide when new people join the team? What are the principles behind this?

– We are always open to new people who want to join the crew. The process itself is rather organic. There are people who want to help us from time to time, and gradually their involvement becomes greater and greater. At some point, when the fact has to be stated officially, it is brought up at the collective meeting. Then, there is a two-step trial period in the group. Usually, it is enough to verify if we share attitudes and values. We hope to bring more people to the squatting scene with our actions, either with our group or by encouraging new ones to form.

– What initiatives and projects are carried out by your squatting collective, and what initiatives were organised in squats?

– At Zaczyn we both organised our own initiatives and hosted groups that didn’t have their own place but wanted to share their things with others. As any squat does, we hosted various gigs and music events, from classical piano through punk and hip-hop to noise. We converted a huge industrial space into a gym, where we and our friends shared their skills in martial arts, parkour, busking, and general athletics. On the sports side, we also had a roofed skatepark, visited by local kids and long-time skaters. For the intellectual workout we had an ever-growing library and cinema. Our friends organised in other groups wanted to open a silkscreen workshop and a DIY photoprocessing workshop. We held talks and meetings around topics forsaken in the public sphere, such as Palestinian liberation and community care workshops, to name a few.

–  How do you interact with the local community as part of your activities? And how do the locals treat you?

– There is a whole spectrum of treatment we get from the locals. One seemingly young and open-minded person will call us a bunch of bums, and another old neighbourhood grandma will tell us that it’s good that we’re taking care of the building. We’re trying to get our message through and explain to the neighbours who we are, what we do, and why we are doing this.

Zaczyn, photo from the personal archive of the team

– There are a lot of empty buildings in Warsaw. Is it possible to squat legally, e.g.,  negotiate with the state? Is it always an illegal method?

– Theoretically, there is a way to get a place for social centres from the state, but one would have to get through a tonne of bureaucracy and be prepared for waiting a long, long time. Still, it’s not a given that there will be a place! Yet there are places like that in so-called Poland, but the process of getting them was reinforced by prior squatting and protest campaigns. Its hard to say how this process would look nowadays; there is no clear way to do it; we would have to negotiate in our case and see. But for now, we feel like it would force us to make too many compromises while dulling our political edge.

– How do you solve conflicts with external structures? Was the last squat dispersal brutal enough?

There is no way to talk on an equal footing with the apparatus of the state. The only way we can actually communicate with them is through lawyers and official statements.

– Do you plan to take further action?

– Always! We’ve been working together since before the squatting action, and we’re not about to stop now. Either by squatting or by other means of resistance, we will fight those in alienated power however we can!

Zaczyn, photo from the personal archive of the team

– What challenges and obstacles do your team  in your work, and how do you plan to overcome them?
– Right now, we’re preparing for the battles ahead of us in court. The state has brought out the guns of its legal system upon us, and it somehow successfully ties our hands and pockets. We put our lives in the hands of our friendly anarcho-feminist legal group and do what we can to repay, even to a small extent, what we owe them.

–  A final word to the readers?

– We kindly ask you to squat the world!