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The end of an era in Warsaw

The government evicts traders from the city's first post-Communist market.

When the current mayor, Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz, came to power in 2006, she backed away from the previous generous offers to the traders, instead offering them alternative locations further from downtown. The city decided that the site would be better suited for a subway station and a new modern art museum — part of an effort to redevelop the area around the Palace of Culture.

At that point, the state's inability to move the traders was seen as a sign of its weakness. Although Polish bureaucracy is fierce, officials often have great difficulty in promptly enforcing administrative decisions. In one case, it took 20 years to expropriate a family house that was blocking the widening of one of Warsaw’s most important roads. In another, the operator of a small, and illegal, kiosk selling lottery tickets held up the construction of Warsaw’s subway because officials were unable to force him to move.

The same thing happened with the trading hall. Despite pressure and blandishments, the stall owners refused to leave.

Finally, the mayor’s patience ran out and she sent security guards and police to evict the traders last week. The stall owners locked themselves inside, and tried to defend the building by spraying security guards with fire hoses and tear gas.

As the confrontation spiraled out of control, gangs of soccer hooligans showed up to support the traders, and to have a bit of fun hurling rocks at the police. They were egged on by right-wingers yelling anti-Semitic slogans.

In the end, police cleared the building, arresting 22 people.

Outside, the traders who had been evicted sat disconsolate, watching the police cordon off the corrugated iron building, known as “the sausage.”

“I’ve been here since the beginning, where am I supposed to go now,” said Wioletta Paseczna, who had a stall selling women’s underwear, wiping away her tears.

Others were angrier. “I’m simply going to be unemployed. The city just doesn’t have decent places for us to move,” complained Dariusz Glos, a heavyset man wearing a black T-shirt who had sold mobile phones inside the bazaar.

Their prospects look fairly bleak. “We talked to them for two-and-a-half years. They didn’t accept our offer. There will be no more talks,” said Gronkiewicz-Waltz.

Robert Kulczycki, who had sold women’s clothing in the bazaar, said he thinks that Poles window shop in the city’s new malls, “but they come to us to buy.”

But judging from the reaction of ordinary Warsaw residents, support for Gronkiewicz-Waltz is overwhelming. It seems the bazaar’s past role as the leading edge of Polish capitalism has now been superseded by modern malls where Poland’s increasingly wealthy people don’t just gaze through the windows, they also shop.

“They finally got rid of that mess. Now we’ll have a decent city center,” muttered an elderly passer-by as he looked at the aftermath of the confrontation.

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