Leave the bunkers to the rats
Built by the Germans on their pre-war eastern border at the Odra and Warta rivers, the Miedzyrzecz (Mezeritz) Fortified Region (MFR) was ranked as one of the main fortifications in Europe apart from the Maginot Line. The MFR was to be the basic defensive position on the road to Berlin defensive because initially the Germans expected the war to be initiated in the west. The eastern fortifications were designed to prevent Poland from coming to the aid of her ally, France. When Hitler ordered construction halted on eastern fortifications in April 1938, having changed his mind for one last time, the basic structure of the MFR was almost finished.
Several dozen bunkers equipped with heavy machine guns, walls of reinforced concrete two-and-a-half meters thick, and topped by three-ton armored cupolas, were connected 35 meters underground by more than ten kilometers of main tunnels. These had a ten-meter-square cross-section and could accommodate mechanical vehicles, as well as a narrow-gauge electric railway. Several kilometers of auxiliary tunnels led to underground halls, warehouses, technical-maintenance rooms, and control centers for directing artillery fire. This was the central section of the MFR. The southern and northern wings of the complex were relatively less developed. The region’ s sophisticated water system was also intended for military purposes. Various hydro-technical installations were constructed: dams, reservoirs, and easily-disassembled drawbridges. Contingency plans were made to flood large sections of territory.
16 Magazine – WiP, No. 1 Across Frontiers, vol. 4, Berkeley. First published in English in No. 2-~, Spring-summer 1987, Completing the fortifications were ditches, traps, and mine fields. In the middle years of the war, when battles were being fought thousands of miles to the east of the MFR, same mechanical equipment was removed to the Atlantic coast fortifications and the underground areas we re turned to „civilian” purposes. Airplane motor repair shops and a warehouse for Luftwaffe women’s uniforms were set up. Work was performed by forced labor and Soviet prisoners of war.
The German General Staff turned their attention to the MFR once again in the summer of 1944. Construction was hastily completed and armaments and crews were assembled. However, due to the speed of the Soviet Army’s movements and to the element of surprise, the fortifications were breached relatively easily at the end of January 1945. In peacetime, the vacant underground complex, which was now on Polish territory, became a tourist attraction and a habitat for bats. In winter thousands and thousands of them congregate he re from alI over Europe. In August 1980, sections of the underground network were declared a „bat-preserve.”
All of the above information was drawn from a pamphlet by Andrzej Toczewski titled The Miedzyrzecz Fortified Region and published by the Miedzyrzecz Museum. Today, the distribution of this pamphlet is forbidden. The Reich’s Central Security Service did not forbid the distribution of the pamphlet (it has be en over forty years since Miedzyrzecz was cal led Mezeritz). Disapproval of the pamphlet, which describes in a straightforward way the construction of the MFR and its overpowering by the Red Army, came from the security police of the polish People’s Republic.
The bats will not be allowed to sleep in peace. A few years ago rumors began to circulate that the government was planning to use the Miedzyrzecz bunkers as a Central Depository for Radioactive Waste. stories were circulating that some West European countries, e.g. Switzerland, would like to deposit their own nuclear waste in Miedzyrzecz–naturally for an appropriate fee.
Nobody likes nuclear waste. In the last several years, public protest prevented the construction of nuclear dumps in Great Britain, the united States, and many other countries. The world press carries increasing numbers of reports about nuclear waste containers that technocrats claim will last for centuries.
Meanwhile, under stress from high radiation, the containers start to leak after only a dozen or so years. Nobody has so far devised a completely safe method for storing waste from nuclear reactors. Usually, they are deposited at the bottom of deep inactive mines in geologically stable formations. Poland barely manages to take care of storing the waste from the experimental reactors in Swierk (near Warsaw) , whose total power does not even equal that of one block of a nuclear power station. Therefore, it seems foolish to store an incomparably greater amount of nuclear waste in ex-German bunkers, buried barely 35 meters underground. Since there are many rivers in the Miedzyrzecz region, the slightest leak would contaminate a very large area.
At first, local residents resigned themselves to their fate. Perhaps they lacked sufficient information; perhaps they did not believe that any complaint could be successful against decisions made in far-off Warsaw. Things did not begin to move until the spring of 1987. On May 3rd, after mass at Miedzyrzecz’s st. Adelbert Church, fifteen hundred people marched through the streets in a silent protest. It was announced that similar marches would take place every month from then on. On May 18, five members of the Freedom and Peace group in Gorzow Wielkopolski stood for an hour, atop the roof ledge of a local department store displaying protest banners. They also covered the shopping window with posters and distributed leaflets explaining the situation. But resistance grew weaker and weaker. On June 7, only 700 people came to the demonstration. In July and August, even fewer came, as though people we re losing faith in their own power. Perhaps some we re scared by the increasing brutal actions of the police and state security forces.
The situation was becoming more serious since the authorities decided to put Poland’s second nuclear energy plant in Klempicz, a town only several kilometers from Miedzyrzecz (the first is in Zarnowiec near Gdansk.) As resistance weakened, it became likely that the authorities would soon announce their decision to store nuclear waste in the MFR. On September 2, four days before the next scheduled protest, members of Freedom and Peace stood on the roof of a low building in the center of Miedzyrzecz with banners. Dariusz Bakalarski, Marek and Waldemar Rusakiewicz, Krzysztof Sobolewski, Kazimierz Sokolowski, and Jaroslaw Wojewodzki spent over two hours on the roof and then distributed five thousand leaflets. After this action, a crowd of local residents accompanied them to the church. Their action had the desired effect. On Sunday, September 6, between three and four thousand citizens of Miedzyrzecz marched in the streets. There were many arrests, and many court summonses were issued.
On September 27, nine inhabitants of Miedzyrzecz went on a hunger strike at the local church to protest police repression: Hanna Augustyniak, a teacher: Władysław Biernat, a pharmacist: Stanislaw Bożek, Władyslaw Zajac, Jan Witczak, and Jozet Ganczarski, Bozena Sieciechowicz( a nutritionist; Wieslaw Zaliwski( a retiree); and Andrzej Kolakowski, a student. Three others later joined them: Tomasz Czebatul( a museum employee, Stanislawa Szydlowska, a librarian, and Anna Kolakowska, a student. Later, nine more people, among them a few members of Freedom and Peace Movement joined the strike. A protest letter composed by the hunger strikers was signed by a thousand Miedzyrzecz residents.
Meanwhile, about thirty meters away trom the church, petty crimes court hearings were in progress at the city hall. The procedures were observed by a large numberer of State Security agents from Gorzow, a representative of the Gorzow bishop Fr. Piotr Sadowik and other priests, members of Freedom and Peace from Warsaw( and journalists from the official Poznan publication, Wprost. (As soon as the sentences were handed down, the reporters
rushed up to the judge to have him sign their travel reimbursement receipts.) Twenty people were fined ten to forty thousand zlotys each for a total of 586 thousand zloty (an average wage is 20,000 per month). Six cases were dismissed.
The authorities also began a propaganda campaign. In Miedzyrzecz , factories meetings were held where party lecturers explained that: first of all, nuclear waste is harmless, secondly, the decision on the location had not yet be en made, and thirdly, protest s would only make matters worse. Homes of activists were visited by police warning them against participation in any future protest marches, implying that there would be bloodshed.
Despite all this, on October 4, a crowd of four or five thousand, a quarter of the town’ s population, greeted the hunger strikers as they came out of the church, at the conclusion of their hunger strike, with shouts of „Thank You.” The entire assembly marched from the church to the Centrum apartment complex. Banners read: „We want to live!”, „We don’t want a nuclear dump!”, and „Leave the bunkers to the bats!”, as well as peace signs. The police, who had appeared in force, only demanded that the crowd disperse.
This was the last protest march of the season, the next one is scheduled for the spring. Will it still be necessary? The Miedzyrzecz example shows how the people of a small town can join together to organize for a specific purpose. And when they succeed (as I believe they will) they will remain organized, I hope, to fight for other causes which are certainly not hard to find. In any event, a lot has changed in Miedzyrzecz already. The authorities have been forced to pay attention to public opinion. Soon after the previous march, the local PRON (an official advisory body which usually rubberstamps party decisions) sent a letter to Gen. Kiszczak, Minister of Internal Affairs, protesting the brutal handling of demonstrators by the police. On September 30, the local government sent a resolution to the Chairman of the Council of State opposing the construction of a nuclear dump in the MFR. On October 3, the Interim Council of Solidarnosc announced its support for the inhabitants of Miedzyrzecz.
Freedom and Peace has opposed the idea of a nuclear dump from the very beginning, in line with its opposition toward nuclear power in general. At a meeting during the hunger strike, Jacek Czaputowicz asked, „Can we believe that a system incapable of producing a decent car or even a decent bolt, or a country where everyday trains, buses, and trams collide, will provide us with a nuclear power industry that is safe?”