Eviction of Milada squat becomes political cause célèbre

Photo: CTK

It had been home to Prague’s last remaining squat; now it’s lying empty, its future uncertain. The fate of the Milada villa – and of the small anarchist collective who’d been living in it - has dominated headlines in the Czech media over the last few days since the last squatters were removed from the building. But an improvised plan to relocate the squatters has also ruffled feathers.

Photo: CTK
The Milada villa is a dilapidated pre-war villa a few dozen metres from the banks of the River Vltava in Prague 8. Drivers heading north to Teplice might be able to spot it on the left as they cross the river in Holešovice, just next to a couple of tower blocks that serve as student dormitories. For the last ten years, the building – administered by a state body called the Institute for Information in Education - has been home to the Milada commune of squatters. Before that, as the squatters frequently point out, it lay empty for about a decade.

The decision to expel them was taken after a number of complaints from the students about noise and aggressive dogs. Last week the Institute for Information in Education hired security guards to remove the squatters. Some of them occupied the roof in protest, and the situation began to deteriorate. That was when the government’s human rights minister Michal Kocáb stepped in. His spokeswoman Lejla Abbasová explained his reasons for doing so.

Petr Svinka's house in Truhlářská street,  photo: CTK
“Maybe I should tell you the whole story, so you really understand how Mr Kocáb was included in the situation. That afternoon, Tuesday afternoon, we were just bombarded with phone calls from Milada, from the squatters, from reporters, that the security guards were trying to chase out the people. It looked like there might be some violence, even injuries, even deaths, because it was raining, there were people on the roof, the roof was broken, and we were also receiving information that there were two or three buses on the way with supporters of the squatters who might take the situation into their own hands, who knows how. So the whole solution to the situation had to be very calmly to try and find a way out, to try and find another place for them to stay.”

Mr Kocáb’s solution arrived in the form of an offer from an old friend from the music business, a promoter turned businessman called Petr Svinka. He offered the squatters three flats and a basement in his apartment building in Truhlářská street, right in the centre of Prague, for free, until the end of the year. The squatters have since come down off the roof, moved into Truhlářská street, and Milada can once again be used by the authorities.

Problem solved. Or not, as it turned out. For a start, Petr Svinka’s tenants are far from happy with their new neighbours, who’ve already hung anarchist flags and the like out of the windows. The tenants claim Mr Svinka has ulterior motives; they say he’s trying to get rid of them so he can demolish or rebuild the property. Here’s what one had to say to Czech Television.

Photo: CTK
“What they want to do is demolish the building, you see, and lots of tenants have already moved out under pressure. Lots of them left without any form of compensation, because they couldn’t handle the fear and the bullying from the owners any more.”

Mr Svinka denies those allegations, but the Prague city council has now become involved, saying it will help to find new homes for the five remaining families living in the building, and at least one councillor is demanding that Michal Kocáb pays for them. His involvement in the whole affair has sparked considerable anger on the council. Another councillor, Rudolf Blažek, said he understood that squatting was an inescapable reality of urban life, but for the state – represented by minister Kocáb – to help them find free accommodation was simply unacceptable.

The Milada story is rapidly becoming a political affair in other words, but it still speaks volumes about the transformation of Prague from the exciting, unconventional, sometimes even anarchic city of the early post-communist years, to the prosperous, sedate, some would even say boring European capital of 2009, with its banks, insurance offices and luxury new apartments. There’s certainly little room in this modern, materialist society for those who refuse to live by its rules.