Polish Roma Encampment Dwellers. History and Artistic Projects

Encampments built by Roma immigrants of Romanian extraction began to arise in Poland in the 1990s. The Roma settled far from public spaces, on the outskirts of towns, where they built encampments under bridges from boards and old furniture they had found. Sometimes they moved into vacant, abandoned buildings. Ruined buildings had to be at some remove from the city center. Concealment ensured the community a minimal level of security and was their solution to the recurring problem the community had faced of physical attacks. The invisibility of the Roma meant that the city residents had no concept of their living conditions, the causes for their extreme poverty or the status of the community. During the 1990s, when Wrocław’s Tarnogaj encampment and the one located in Warsaw under the Grota-Rowecki Bridge were the subjects of public debates, those were initiated rather from the desire to effectively get rid of the Roma than from any intention of guaranteeing immigrants opportunities to exercise their basic rights: access to the labor market, education system, lodging and the health service. The majority community’s only response to the presence of the Roma was forced resettlement and mass deportations, conducted brutally and without warning. Early in the morning, government officials, escorted by the police, arrived at the encampment areas and forced people to leave their homes. Buses were brought to take them next to Romania. Statements by witnesses to those events, documented and preserved in the archives of Gazeta Wyborcza, bear witness to the ruthlessness of the institutional solutions. In 1996, Jerzy Ficowski wrote: “On the Vistula, by the Grota-Rowecki Bridge, martial law has been declared at the local level. There was no transportation for the Gypsies’ property, which was then burned. They were allowed to take only their hand luggage. I associate this with something bad.”