Police Evict Warehouse Squatters in Violent Clashes
Published: February 6, 2013 (Issue # 1745)
SPASI I SOKHRANI COLLECTIVE
Activists line up outside the 19th-century warehouse building to protect it Monday as police officers arrive on the scene.
The Investigative Committee said Tuesday it had opened an investigation into alleged attacks on policemen who stormed a historic building belonging to the now-defunct Warsaw Railway Station.
The 19th-century warehouse had been occupied by activists, who had turned it into a cultural center in the hope of saving it from impending demolition.
Two of the activists face up to 10 years in prison on charges of violent assault of a police officer.
The OMON special-task police stormed the building late Monday, arresting 22 activists. The activists, mostly anarchists and preservationists who had given themselves the name Spasi i Sokhrani (Save and Protect) Collective, said they were beaten, some badly.
The police said Tuesday that three officers had sustained injuries, two of whom have been hospitalized.
Fontanka.ru news website cited a police source who said that one officer had sustained a “closed head injury, concussion and lacerations” as the result of “several blows to his head with a crowbar,” while another had a “punctured lip and broken teeth” and the third a “contused laceration” of his hand or arm.
An activist who identified himself only as Alexander said Tuesday that the OMON special-task force — summoned after the regular police had failed to get the activists out of the building — broke in, beating and arresting people.
“They did not let anybody out, they simply flew in and started beating everybody with truncheons, and forced them onto the ground,” Alexander said.
“Some of our guys shouted out loudly that they were being beaten. Several defenders sustained serious injuries. One had a concussion, one young woman who was defending the squat from the outside repeatedly had her head bashed against an iron grid and ended up in the hospital later that day, and several more people called us from the police precinct saying they felt very unwell after being hit really hard.”
He said he did not witness any attacks on police officers.
According to Alexander, about 45 activists gathered in and near the warehouse to defend the building after the police first attempted to seize it on Monday. A number of activists stood in a line, preventing the police from entering the warehouse.
He said that the police were called by the developer’s security guards after the latter came in the morning and started breaking the warehouse’s wall with sledgehammers, before retreating after a conversation with the activists. The building’s electricity was cut off on Saturday.
“We spoke to the Admiralty district’s deputy police chief, who insisted on entering the building to check it for drugs or whatever,” Alexander said.
“The preservationists who were with us tried to explain to him that the building had a historical value, and he said he had received a report from the owners about the building being illegally seized, although he did not present any documents.”
The police spokesman said Tuesday that 20 activists who were detained Monday had been charged with arbitrariness, or taking the law into their own hands, as well as failure to obey a police officer’s orders and disorderly conduct. He added that not all of the activists have been charged with all three crimes.
A number of detained activists were held in police precincts overnight and were expected to appear in court Tuesday, but according to Alexander, no hearings were held, and some activists were yet to find out their official charges. He said 17 people remained at different police precincts by the evening.
The activists occupied a 19th-century warehouse in November, soon after another historic warehouse was demolished on the site by a developer. According to the activists, the developer is set to tear down the buildings to make way for elite apartment buildings.
“They destroyed several warehouses; they either demolished them with machinery or set fire to them, and they stand burnt and in ruins,” Alexander said.
“Only two or three of them are left, with the ruins of destroyed warehouses right next to them.”
The activists turned the building into a cultural center — complete with an art gallery and a bar — that had been open to the public since early January. According to Alexander, a music concert and a few disco nights had been held at the location, with more being planned.
Several attempts by the developer’s security guards to drive the activists out last month failed.
Dating back to the 1850s, the Warsaw Railway Station was closed in 2001 to be reconstructed into a retail and entertainment complex. The historic warehouse buildings belonging to the station were stripped of their protected status in 2007. The preservationists said that decision was illegal, and demanded that the buildings be put back under state protection.