Students protest sale of St. Michael's church

At noon on Tuesday a group of students and their supporters staged a march to protest the National Library's sale of the Church of the Archangel St. Michael. The students feel that the church, in the heart of Prague's Old Town, should be preserved and not have been sold for secular and potentially blasphemous use. Radio Prague's Michael Longaro attended the march.

It was an extremely bitter and wet day when the protest march kicked off on Michalska Street near Old Town Square. From there it snaked its way through narrow streets and over the Charles Bridge to the entrance of Parliament. The Student Initiative Council, composed of students from Charles University and other institutions, read their manifesto denouncing the sale of St. Michael's to a supposedly controversial buyer. I asked council member Miriam Natouf who this buyer is and why he is so controversial:

"The man, his name is Domokovsky, doesn't want to speak with anybody. He communicates just through his lawyer, and also he doesn't communicate with journalists. You can see on the internet which journalists were trying to communicate with him. He also held stripteases and techno-parties in the church, which should not be possible because it's a historical institution."

In recent years the church, dating back to the 14th century, has filled a number of nonreligious functions as a pub, a crystal shop, and a caf'é. In fact, it has not hosted a Catholic Mass since 1786, when there were sweeping church reforms throughout the Austrian Empire, and for most of the 20th century served as a store. It came into the possession of the National Library in 1984, but the library soon discovered it was unsuitable for storing books. Last year the church was sold for 46 million Czech crowns - around 2 million US dollars - and the money used to restore the Klementinum, another historic part of the library. Opponents to the sale argue that even though Saint Michael's has not served as a church for over 200 years, it must be treated with respect.

Although the National Library's representatives were unable to comment, according to their press releases the church was sold to a private business because neither they nor any other state institution had any use for it, although they had tried to find an alternative user. A lack of money to restore the seriously decayed building made the task of finding a new use more urgent, and the library argues that only a private investor would have the financial wherewithal to restore and utilize the space. Since the church has already been put to use as a strip-tease club, it appears that the students' protest might have arrived too late.