An abandoned property in northern Prague, adapted by squatters into a cultural and education centre, has been sold off by the state to the Railway Infrastructure Administration. The change of ownership raises the possibility that the current residents could face eviction.
The modest-sized building in Prague’s Žižkov district used to be a lung clinic before being abandoned by the Czech state in 2009, presumably to face either renovation or demolition. But in 2014, squatters took over the site, cleaned it up, and set up the “Klinika”, a self-described “autonomous cultural and social centre”. Klinika has been offering an array of daily cultural events ever since – such as theatre performances and debates, refugee support events, and free-for-all education services such as “German for beginners” with volunteers serving as teachers. But now the centre faces an uncertain future in light of the sell-off of the building in early October to the Railway Infrastructure Administration.
Jan Trnka is a member of the Klinika collective. He expressed his surprise at the sale: “Without any kind of negotiation or agreement on whether to sell or not, the state simply transferred it to the Railway Administration. We are not entirely sure why this happened. And we are not sure that the Railway Administration even needs this building. But we will now try to negotiate with them with regards to staying at the site.”
Klinika has faced considerable hostility from certain Prague authorities. Attempts by police – such as in May of this year – to have the centre evicted were thwarted by the efforts of well-organised activists, who have rallied support among the public, NGOs, and even some politicians such as Green party former Prague deputy mayor and Green Party leader Matěj Stropnický.
Jan Trnka explains: “In addition to all these celebrities and politicians, we feel that the support of ordinary people both inside and outside Prague is more important for the project. We have huge numbers of supporters from all over the country, and even abroad. And that is something that is giving us the energy to fight on.”
In 2015, the centre even managed to secure a legal tenant agreement but this expired in March 2016. Since then, Klinika has faced “bomb threats” resulting in attempts by the police to again evacuate the site.
Jan Trnka says the matter is now before the courts: “There is an ongoing court case with the Czech state. The court is going to decide if the termination of our lease was legal or illegal. So that is one legal avenue we are taking. And we are trying to assert our, at least our moral right to stay in the building.”
In early October, it emerged that the Railway Infrastructure Administration had secured the building from the state. The state firm says it intends to undertake reconstruction and then move in its employees. But in spite of heavy fines amounting to more than 150,000 crowns (around 5,500 euros) and also growing legal costs – some covered thanks to donations by supporters – the activists at Klinika appear determined to stay put, and to preserve what they believe is a unique service in the Czech capital. Meanwhile, Prague 3 authorities have called on the occupants of Klinika to end their “illegal occupation” and respect the wishes of its new owners. Meanwhile, Jan Trnka declined to elaborate on what might happen if Klinika is ultimately forced out of the site.