An Anarchist View on Recalling the President of Warsaw


On Oct. 13, residents of Warsaw will have the chance to recall the despotic neoliberal President of the city. This raises many questions from the anarchist point of view. In general, we often face a situation where a politician is unpopular and there is a misconception promoted amongst proponents of government that if a bad politician is gotten rid of, a better one can go in its place and the situation will be improved. As anti-capitalists and anti-statists, we see that this is not necessarily the case. However, as members of society and of social movements that have fought this President for years, we see what this vote really means for many people around us.

For the last few years, we have fought together with tenants and working class people against the city's policies, which are causing homelessness and misery on a wide scale. These people hate the President of the city as she was in charge of spearheading drastic price hikes - for rent, transport and utilities (after a suspicious privatization). At the same time, she is known for political cronyism, appointing friends and relatives to various positions and awarding them huge bonuses. My neighbourhood has not had a democratically elected mayor for years, only a „commissar” appointed by the President. The city is a place where those in power make money, spend money, give contracts for useless things to private firms (which are often politically connected) and where people are paying for this and suffering from budget cuts.

These things have been felt particularly hard in my neighbourhood, which has many poor people and many struggling against displacement and homelessness caused by privatization of housing and gentfication. Being treated like trash by the President, not being even able to elect local representatives for the neighbourhood council, but being subjected to the rule of heartless neoliberal yuppies has just raised hatred. This is clearly a class hatred, although many people are not fully aware of this. We are ruled by the President's team which, when walking the neighbourhood talk about „low-lives” and how the block should be „levelled to the ground”. We all understand this is to make place for yuppies who are to „revitalize” the area. They even write in the papers all the time that we need „life” in the area, as if the local residents, not being young yuppies sitting in nightclubs, were the living dead.

Many times the tenants and our neighbours have wanted to confront the President about what is happening in the City. At every public meeting she was to appear at, if we went, she cancelled or ran away. We occupied her office. We chased her around. People from tenants organizations who acted more like social partners tried to act very calmly and meet. Nothing. At most she sent us various representatives who wasted our time by talking in circles in the most arrogant way, without doing anything about the dire situation of thousands of people who were subject to housing privatization.

We were at war with the city and their policies. Each time the politicians would act in a terrible way, people would shout that it would be the end of them! But how to bring this about?

Obviously, as anarchists and anti-capitalists, we see capitalism and representative power as the main problem. Getting rid of one politician, without changing the system, just means a new one in its place. But the people want revenge on the politicians who have harmed them so much and want to send a message that, if you do not deal with us directly and our problems, you are gone.

And during our war with the city, in fact, we caused some politicians to lose their jobs. Although this was not a systematic change, it was something that made the people in struggle quite happy. Because in most situations, people are fucked over and the people who fuck them over, just stay in power and continue to do so. Most politicians in our society are so completely sure that they will remain in some position forever and that nobody will hold them accountable for anything, that they do what they want. They break the law constantly, but nobody can do anything about it. The administrative courts will often protect them. And in the rare cases they do not, the politicians ignore court decisions. Such is the case of the President, who withholds public information about some expenditures and was ordered not to do this. She hasn't complied with the decision of the Court and does so with a sense of impugnity.

Our colleagues from the movement and neighbours have been saying for years: we need to recall the President. Just to show her that she cannot act like that and to show all the other politicians that people do not agree to be governed in such a way. Hundreds of thousands of signatures were gathered and now the President is subject to recall.

In the meanwhile, the idea to recall the President was taken over by all sorts of politicians looking to make political capital. So it cannot be seen entirely as a civic movement. This is also used as an argument by the neoliberals since they tell people that the referendum is just a game for somebody else to get into power. And essentially, that's how politicians are using it. For politicians, the whole thing is just about power and money. We cannot have any illusions about it.

But as anarchists, we also cannot have too many illusions. The ZSP is spreading its analysis, calling for the destruction of representative government and saying that all politicians need to be recalled. Many people like it, but in the end, few can really imagine how society could be organized differently, at least not in the present conditions. We answer that we have to work on building up grassroots movements, on building local structures which can start managing affairs in a different way – but this work is not only going slowly, but is constantly being subverted by those who coopt such initiatives into support of political parties or leaders. We try to explain to people why they should keep away from this, but people get attracted by easy solutions and political avantgardes who organize things for them, in their name. In the absence of these alternatives on a more widespread scale, people rather put their hopes into symbolic actions, like the recall of the President.

In the end, we decided that it is better to recall than not. Especially when we saw the propaganda campaign made after the signatures were gathered and the referendum was announced. The Prime Minister threatened that, if the President was recalled, he would just make her the „Commissar” of Warsaw until new elections were held and the Party made her the head of the Party in the city, which means she still controls the votes of the City Council (since the Party all votes the same). Those in power are conducting a PR campaign to change the image of the President, telling people not to go to the referendum (to make it invalid by low turnout), are trying to scare people in various ways, have threatened City employees by letting it be known that the bosses can check if they voted and have basically been telling Varsovians that even if they recall the President, they will find a way to keep her in power. The President of Poland also tries to change the law about local referendums. It is clear that these people have no humility and feel so untouchable that they try to undermine even the little democracy afforded to people under the law. It makes people even angrier that despite the fact that hundreds of thousands of people have shown their intent to recall the President, they are acting as if society has given them a mandate for their inhuman neoliberal policies.

Given all the circumstances, a successful recall would be something encouraging for people, because it can show that, despite the great power on the other side, if they get together and fight for something, they can have a result. At least a symbolic victory. Whether or not this result does everything they want is another story. It won't. It is more of a bit of organizational training. On the other hand, a failed referendum or lack of belief in the fact that it could succeed, which may cause many people not to participate, can only be negative. Right now we are fighting desperately against mass passivity – against the feeling had by most people that there is no reason to fight or protest anything, because they cannot win anyway. Any person who has been working in any social movement in Poland knows that this is currently our biggest challenge. Being able to win something, even if it is not exactly what we want, would mean the world for hundreds of thousands of ordinary citizens who otherwise feel rather powerless.

We hope on Sunday that all the people who were harmed by the policies of the city will at least record their dissatisfaction. But at the same time, we know that this is simply not enough and the main struggle is the one of building up a real alternative to statism. One step at a time.

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