Czech activists say Finance Minister supports their staying at Autonomous Social Center Klinika until the building sells
Activists are refusing to vacate the building of a former health center in the Žižkov quarter of Prague where the Autonomous Social Center Klinika is now running. At midnight tonight the group's contract to borrow the building is scheduled to end.
Czech Finance Minister Andrej Babiš (ANO) visited Klinika at around noon today. Activists quoted him on Twitter as saying the Center can remain there until a buyer for the building is found, as long as they guarantee the neighborhood will not be disturbed by their presence.
The activists have issued a statement as to why they are remaining at Klinika, as follows:
4. For an entire year we have done our best to honestly uphold our contract and we have negotiated in good faith. Now this unique project is supposed to be shut down on the basis of a pretext. In such a case we consider civil disobedience to be legitimate."
Staff from the Office for Government Representation in Property Affairs (Úřad pro zastupování státu ve věcech majetkových - ÚZSVM), which administers the building, delivered a warning to Klinika representatives today that their contract expires at midnight and received the response that the Klinika representatives will not be vacating the building. The bureaucrats will return on Thursday and more negotiations at the ÚZSVM are planned as well.
This morning approximately 100 people gathered for a "solidarity breakfast" to support maintaining the Center and had created a human chain around the Klinika building by the time bureaucrats arrived. "We have decided not to leave the building. If we were to have abandoned it in the beginning, Klinika would never have begun here and no one would have ever negotiated with us," said Jakub Ort of the Klinika collective.
Activists occupied the building in December 2014 and after several months, with permission from the Government, they managed to negotiate a contract for borrowing it. Clear rules were established for the duration of their time at the building: No violence, just passive resistance in cases requiring it; no dogs; no drug use; showing respect for others; no disruption of the program; bring your own sleeping bag if you plan to stay the night.
The ÚZSVM has not extended the Center's contract, justifying that decision by claiming that the building, which is a state asset, has not been given a valid permit for the use to which it is now being put. Radek Ležatka, a spokesperson for the office, told journalists that tomorrow's negotiation will probably not change the office's position on extending the contract because it cannot be changed.
Ležatka said he did not presume the office would ask police to work with them on clearing the building. Hundreds of people have demonstrated in support of the center, both during the initial negotiations about its creation and again last weekend.
The future of Klinika will also be on the program of the Prague 3 municipal council next Tuesday. The opposition members of that local council, who initiated the session, have also written a letter to the leadership of the Czech Finance Ministry and the ÚZSVM.
The center is currently running a community laundry room, a library, a cafe, spaces for offering various kinds of instruction, and a program for parents and their children. Concerts, Czech language instruction for foreign nationals, instruction of foreign languages, and lectures have taken place there.
All of these programs are either offered free of charge or for a voluntary contribution. Activists have also repaired the building, primarily with their own labor.
The activists have rejected subsidies offered to them by the local municipality and also donations offered by big sponsors. The abandoned building had been occupied by homeless people before the squatters cleaned it up and, without permission, began running the Social Center there in December 2014 for several days before being removed by police.
Hundreds of people have repeatedly assembled to support the initiative. The ÚZSVM, with the permission of the Government, offered to loan the building to the activists free of charge last February.
The ÚZSVM now wants the premises vacated because its permit is for use as a sanitary health care building, which the local Building Works Authority has brought to its attention. The ÚZSVM, as the owner, could therefore face a fine for allowing the building to be used for a purpose other than the one for which it has a permit.
Activists consider the Building Works Authority's procedure to be a pretext, because all parties involved in the transaction have been aware that no use permit existed for the use of the building as a social center this entire time. The permitted purpose for which the building can be used can be changed, according to the activists, but the ÚZSVM spokesperson said he believes that would be a demanding procedure.
The situation around the building was exacerbated after Klinika launched a collection of clothing for refugees last year. At the beginning of February masked perpetrators attacked the building with flares and rocks on the same day that demonstrations against migration were taking place elsewhere in Prague; police are investigating that attack.
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