Czech Republic: Activists remain at Klinika even after 14:00 deadline today
Activists are still refusing to vacate the building of a former health care center in the Žižkov quarter of Prague 3. Their contract with the Office for Government Representation in Property Affairs (Úřad pro zastupování státu ve věcech majetkových - ÚZSVM), which has lent them the building, ended at midnight yesterday and they were supposed to have vacated the premises by 14:00.
Negotiations this afternoon have not led to a resolution. The ÚZSVM is insisting they vacate the premises, while activists want to take a collective decision on the results of their negotiations and decide what to do next.
"The Office has already sent materials for a meeting by the Government's commission on dislocations proposing two alternative solutions for this situation. If an organizational unit of the state were to express interest in the building, it would be transferred to that unit within a matter of weeks," explained Kateřina Arajmu, the director of the ÚZSVM.
The other option, according to the director, would be a transparent public tender seeking a new owner for the building. Arajmu has asked negotiators to get the Klinika collective to leave the building today or Friday.
"We are able to let them leave their things there for 14 days, so they can gradually move out," she added. If that does not happen, she said the ÚZSVM will take "all steps necessary to defend the interests of the state".
What specifically that might mean, she did not explain. The ÚZSVM faces a potential fine from the Building Works Authority on the order of hundreds of thousands of crowns, which the director does not want to have to pay.
Representatives of Klinika said the negotiations were about whether the operation of their center in the building is in the public interest or not. "Our legal analysis is that the ÚZSVM can only sell a building if preserving it would not be in the public interest. We have debated whether our activity is in the public interest or not," Jakub Ort of the Klinika collective told journalists after negotiating with the authorities for an hour and a half.
According to the ÚZSVM director, the fact that Klinika is not in the public interest is proven by the fact that she has received dozens of e-mails and letters from persons opposed to it. A campaign for people to send letters complaining about Klinika has been promoted on its Facebook profile by the hate group "We Don't Want Islam in the Czech Republic", for example.
The Mamatata collective of parents and children, who usually gather at Klinika, moved their meeting to the entryway of the ÚZSVM today to show their support for Klinika. Other programs, such as language courses and lectures, continued at the building today as normally scheduled.
On the basis of requests made by the opposition council members of the Žižkov municipal department (and not just by them), the Prague 3 municipal council will convene on Tuesday, 8 March. The sole proposed point on its agenda is the future of Autonomous Social Center Klinika.
Mayor of Prague 3 Vladislava Hujová (TOP 09) has invited Czech Finance Minister Andrej Babiš and Czech Interior Minister Milan Chovanec to that meeting. Babiš visited Klinika yesterday.
In the afternoon he was scheduled to meet together with Klinika representatives and the Prague 3 mayor, but ultimately he met with the mayor separately. "The only competent person for negotiating with the users of Klinika is Finance Minister Andrej Babiš, whom Mayor Vladislava Hujová has invited to a session of the local council," the municipal department said in a press release.
On Wednesday evening, Babiš tweeted that the building concerned is in a poor state of repair and the activists must vacate the premises. He claimed to have offered them a different building.
"At this time we have not been offered any other building, as the minister claims," the activists responded on Facebook. Their occupation of the building at the end of 2014 resulted, after several months, in their managing to borrow it free of charge with the permission of the Government.
"All year we have done our best to honestly uphold our contract and we have negotiated in good faith. Now this unique project is to be shut down, solely on the basis of a pretext. In such a case we consider civil disobedience to be legitimate," the collective said in a declaration issued on the final day of their contract.
ÚZSVM did not extend the contract with the center, justifying its decision by saying that the state-owned building does not have a permit for the use to which it is being put. As the owner of the building, the ÚZSVM faces a fine from the Building Works Authority for allowing the building to be put to a use other than the use for which it is permitted.
The activists consider that to be a pretext, because all parties to the agreement have always known that no new use permit has ever been granted for the building. They believe the purpose for which the building is permitted to be used can be changed, but a spokesperson for the ÚZSVM believes that would be a demanding procedure.
Hundreds of people have demonstrated in favor of the center in the past. A community laundry room, library, and cafe have been running there, and concerts and lectures have been given there.
Klinika's programs are offered free of charge or for a voluntary donation. Activists have also repaired the building with their own labor and have refused subsidies from the local government and from big sponsors.
Overview of the events around Klinika
Stormy debates have been held about the building of the former health care facility on Jeseniova Street for several months. The building, near Parukářka Park, has been empty since 2009.
It was previously occupied by drug addicts and homeless people who left piles of garbage in it. In December 2014 the building was occupied by activists.
They cleaned the building up and, without permission, ran a social center there for several days. They were subsequently removed by police.
The building was supposed to have been transferred to the Inspector-General of the Security Forces, which wanted to move its headquarters there. That entity, however, abandoned that plan.
The ÚZSVM, after an intervention by Czech Finance Minister Andrej Babiš (ANO), offered to loan the building to the activists free of charge in February 2015. The activists repaired the building with their own labor, refusing subsidies from both the local government and from big sponsors.
Last year Klinika launched a collection of clothing for refugees. Around half a million crowns was raised at the center to aid refugees.
More than 120 shipments of clothing and other materials were sent to the border with Hungary and to Berkasovo on the Croatian-Serbian border from the efforts located at Klinika. After that, the situation around its existence began to escalate.
At the beginning of February 2016, masked perpetrators attacked Klinika on the same day that demonstrations against migration were being held in Prague. On its website, Klinika reported that neo-Nazis were behind the attack.
That incident is being investigated by police. Recently the Prague 3 town hall announced that about 60 local residents had complained about campfires and disproportionate noise coming from the center.
Czech Human Rights Minister Jiří Dienstbier (Czech Social Democratic Party - ČSSD) has stood up for Klinika, as has a group of 30 authors. In a statement, the authors said they did not understand the authorities' unwillingness to allow Klinika to continue to function when it has actually managed to become a cultural and social center in just one year.
The ÚZSVM says the building has a use permit for operation as a respiratory health care facility. It would like to put the property up for sale.
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