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Polish allotment gardens have been saved! - 25.06.2014

After many months of struggle, the Polish allotment gardeners have been successful in ensuring that the parliament has passed a new law, which ensures the existence and development of allotment gardening in Poland. This success is all the more greater, that this law is the brainchild of the gardeners themselves who have prepared and submitted it to the Parliament as a citizens draft law, supported by the signatures of more than 924.000 Polish citizens. This is one of the first cases in our country, when a citizens draft has been passed into law. This shows the great determination, unity and strength of the allotment community in Poland. Thanks to an enormous effort and integration it was possible to save almost 5.000 gardens for a million citizens, and also keep a strong, nationwide organization that effectively represents and defends the interests of the gardeners. This is a remarkable feat, given the fact that even a few months ago the liquidation of allotment gardening in Poland was an authentic threat.

For the last 18 months the Polish gardeners and their organization were in a dramatic situation. This resulted from the judgment of the Polish Constitutional Court dated 11th July 2012, which challenged the provisions constituting the legal basis for the functioning of the Polish Federation (PZD). The Court concluded that the PZD not only held a monopolistic position in the area of managing allotment gardens, but also the rights to the garden land excessively restricted the powers of the State and municipalities as the owners of the sites occupied by allotment gardens. This judgment obligated the Polish Parliament to pass a new law to the 21st of January 2014. If a new appropriate law would not be passed by the Polish Parliament before the mentioned date, the PZD would cease to legally exist and this would result in the expiration of all of the property rights to the allotment land and infrastructure, which would also deprive the gardeners of their rights to their plots. Such a situation would mean the devastation of a 115-year-old legacy of the Polish allotment gardening movement.

Therefore, the key issue was to quickly prepare such legislative proposals that would prevent the liquidation of the allotment legacy in Poland. For this reason, without waiting for the politicians, the gardeners and their organization took matters into their own hands. In just a couple of weeks they prepared a good draft law, and then started a promotion campaign and collecting signatures for this draft. The legal requirement of submitting to the Parliament a draft law by the citizens is to collect at least 100,000 signatures. During three winter months the gardeners gathered an unprecedented number of almost a million signatures of support and submitted their draft law to the Parliament. This support was much larger, as it was also expressed in thousands of letters, petitions which came from individuals and collective bodies. Such a massive support was due to the fact that the draft law did not only comply with the guidelines set forth by the Constitutional Court, but also preserved the rights of the gardeners, which ensured the existence and development of Polish allotment gardens.

However, at the time when thousands of volunteers gathered signatures, some parliamentary parties, including the ruling party, supported their own bills based on the ideas totally contrary to the expectations of the allotment community. They aimed to eliminate the independent and self-governing social organization, the PZD, as well as nationalization of its property (without due compensation), which would dramatically worsen the legal position of individual allotment gardeners (by depriving them rights acquired under the an act of law). This gave rise to concern, since the termination of these rights would mean lack of a legal basis for functioning of almost 5.000 gardens and the use of land by nearly one million Polish families. That's why, unlike other propositions, the main objective of citizens draft law was the preservation of these rights, because it was a key issue for the further existence and the development of allotment gardening in Poland.

The General Assembly of the International Office also expressed its view on this issue, taking a clear position in support of the citizens draft law and calling upon the Polish authorities to accept it.  Moreover, hundreds of European allotment gardeners sent their petitions to the Polish authorities with their support for the citizens draft law. Unfortunately, this important voice was ignored by those political circles, which were planning a radical weakening of the allotment movement in Poland.

Therefore, the Polish gardeners undertook more decisive steps and throughout the country they organized picketing at the offices of MPs hostile to the citizens draft law, and later on prepared large demonstrations before local offices of the public authorities. In Warsaw, gardeners protested before the Office of the Prime Minister, who received a delegation and listened to their demands. As a result of these actions, the Prime Minister visited one of Warsaw's allotment garden, where he declared his support for the main propositions stipulated in the citizens draft law. This declaration changed the position of MPs from the ruling party who approved the citizens draft law as the basis document for further work of the parliamentary committees.

This event awakened huge hope in the allotment community, which expecting a quick passing of the law. Unfortunately, the Prime Minister's declarations did not end the struggle of the Polish gardeners. A fight against time and the future shape of the law had begun. The constructive work on the draft began in July 2013, i.e. five months after the lodging of the draft in Parliament, so less than half a year remained to pass of the law. During that time 12 long-hour meetings of the Parliamentary Commission and Subcommittee were held, during which nearly 250 amendments were proposed. The effect of the approved changes to the draft (mainly voted by MPs of the ruling party) was that the draft that was written by the gardeners had been modified into a document that was highly unbeneficial for them. There were a number of amendments that would surely in time lead to the liquidation of allotment gardens. The citizens draft had been deformed and turned into its own caricature. Struggling to preserve the integrity of this document during all the meetings of the Commission and the Subcommittee were the parliamentary representatives of the allotment gardeners: President of the PZD Eugeniusz Kondracki with Tomasz Terlecki and Bartłomiej Piech. If it weren't for the consistent struggle for each provision today the new law would have a completely different shape. This was stressed repeatedly by many MPs who hold a very positive opinion of the role played by the allotment representatives in Parliament.

Regardless, the gardeners themselves manifested their own outrage concerning the attitude of many MPs who distorted the draft law backed by almost a million people. Throughout Poland one day demonstrations took place at the regional public offices. When this did not give expected results the allotment community organized on October 10th 2013 a nationwide manifestation in Warsaw, attended by nearly 15,000 gardeners from all over the country. They objected to the harmful changes introduced to their draft, which deformed the meaning of specific provisions that assured the preservation of gardens and provided legal and organizational stability of allotment gardening. They also demanded speeding up of parliamentary work, since at this time there were only 3 months to pass the new law.

The effort of thousands of gardeners did not go in vain. During the nationwide manifestation MPs of the ruling party withdrew most of their harmful amendments and the draft regained its rightful content, including the protection of the gardeners rights. Only one obstacle remained to reach a political agreement. The draft still contained a controversial provision concerning the transfer of land property to the gardeners. This provision was strictly a political proposition, it was unconstitutional and contrary to the very idea of allotment gardening, therefore threatening not only the future, but also the existence of gardens in Poland. The gardeners themselves opposed it. For many weeks this issue blocked the resumption of parliamentary work. Then on November 15th 2013, at the initiative of the allotment representatives, there was a ground-breaking meeting with the Prime Minister, during which both sides agreed to a compromise. It was settled that controversial issue would be dealt with in the future in a separate law.

Since then parliamentary work resumed with a rush. The lower house of parliament passed the law almost unanimously (only two MPs were against). All parliamentary parties expressed their general support for the this allotment initiative. MPs also expressed appreciation for the consistent struggle of the PZD and all its members. Afterward the Senate almost unanimously passed the law with four amendments. The law had to go back again for a vote in the lower house of parliament, which on December 13th 2013 accepted it again, this time agreeing with the Senates amendments. The completion of the entire legislative process, however, occurred on December 18th, when the President of Poland signed the new law on the family allotment gardens. This came just three days after the law was presented for the President’s signature, which triggered a huge joy in the whole Polish allotment community.

The new law entered into force on the 19th January 2014 -  two days before the deadline set by the Constitutional Court. This allowed to save the legacy of allotment gardening in Poland, including almost 5.000 gardens. The new law not only protects their existence, but also guarantees their development. In addition, it fully adjusts the law to the Constitution. It provides the gardeners with a full freedom of association, guarantees the plurality of allotment organizations and respects the rights of the owners of the garden land. In particular, each allotment garden will be able to leave the PZD structures, set up its own association and retain property assigned to the garden, provided of course that the majority of plot-holders vote to take such action. At the same time, the law retains all rights of the gardeners. It maintains, especially, their rights to the plots and their property (e.g. infrastructure, shacks). Among the most important rights the law guarantees that the gardeners are entitled to:

•        right to the plot which may be revealed in the land and mortgage register,

•        transfer their plot rights directly to another gardener,

•        ownership of plants, buildings and equipments located on the plot,

•        exemptions from selected taxes,

•        uncomplicated procedure concerning the transfer of plot rights in the event of death or divorce,

•        compensation and a new plot in the event of allotment garden liquidation,

•        a wide judicial protection.

                                                           

The achievement of such a good law is undoubtedly a huge success of Polish allotment gardeners and their organization. This was only possible thanks to the unity of the whole community, which together and with great determination fought for their fundamental rights. Together we achieved something that seemed almost impossible – we quickly prepared a draft law regulating a complicated subject matter, collected a million signatures and struggled for months to persuade the parliament to pass the law in a difficult political environment and before the expiry of the deadline set by the Constitutional Court. This unusual accomplishment should be credited to all allotment gardeners and the PZD. An important contribution was also made by the International Office, the national associations and European gardeners, who showed their solidarity in supporting the Polish effort to get a new law passed. This support has been extremely valuable and is particularly appreciated by the Polish gardeners, who are grateful for the help in the struggle to save the allotment gardening movement in Poland.

 

 

 

        Eugeniusz Kondracki

  President of  Polish Allotment Federation

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