The Polish government has announced new measures to combat the growing army of street traders operating illegally within the country?s cities. Long held to be an innocent and tolerated example of ?minor illegality,? the popular perception of ?wild traders? can be that of hard-working country folk, selling self-produced yet inexpensive vegetables, dairy goods or textiles. In keeping with this, many regard them an essential low cost alternative to the overpriced ?Galeria? option, defiantly thumbing their noses to a government more concerned with promoting ?modern Poland? than with the troubles of the poor.
However, as always, there are two sides to the tale and although the conventional stereotype often includes strong elements of truth, the government maintains that the refusal of many to purchase official licenses to trade has in reality more to do with the logic of profit-margins than the need to secure a liveable income. For instance, fewer and fewer today feature such traditional staples as homemade ?oscypki? or ?kielbasy? upon their makeshift stalls and there is instead an unmistakable trend towards expensive, high-return consumer goods in the city?s numerous wild markets. Indeed, the problem is proving a particular concern in Krakow as, despite the fact that the volume and diversity of the city?s street commerce continues to expand, the sum paid through the sale of trading licenses actually fell from a 2005 figure of 4.9 mln zloty to just 4.5 mln by the end of last year. More traders, more wealth, yet diminishing revenue for the government. How to square the circle?
Well firstly the new powers will grant Krakow?s independent police force, the City Guard (?Straz Miejska?) further authority to confiscate goods being sold illegally whilst secondly they will also raise the penalty for engaging in unlicensed trading to a crippling 15,000 zloty. To add a sense of perspective, therefore, it seems useful to mention that the current punishment for wild trading stands at only 20 to 500 zloty, and the highest penalty previously imposed by the Krakow Municipality remains a comparatively modest 3000 zloty. However, no-matter how severe the threatened consequences, problems will undoubtedly remain in enforcing the new measures.
?Unfortunately in Krakow there are many places [where traders operate dishonestly]? conceded one member of the City Guard. ?How many? We?re not able to estimate.? Despite this, the most popular locations for illegal trading are well known to both the people and the City Guard themselves with the crossroads of ul. Starowislna and Dietla an exceptional example — witnessing over 100 police interventions in just 2 months. Other wild markets can be found on ul. Basztowa, the intersection of ul. Dluga and Slowackiego, the area around LOT and even on the centrally located ul. Florianska. Responding to early criticism of the plans Minister for Justice, Zbigniew Ziobro, has sought to dismiss concerns that the primary victims will be the poorest members of society — the obligatory corner flower sellers for example.
?Not to worry,? he begins, ?a person will only be trading illegally if they are attempting to sell goods with a combined value of over 250 zloty.? This, advocates suppose, will ensure the very poorest can continue as before whilst the career salesmen, making the hefty profits at which the measures are targeted, will be forced to either pay up or move on. It is hoped by the authorities that the fear provoked by the proposed new penalties will result a speedy improvement in a situation they are now keen to address.