A security agency along with the police cleared out Prague’s squat called Milada, and it might seem that we should breathe out a sigh of relief: Order and the protection of private property has been re-established. But that would be too simplified a view. Because there are a few objections that make seemingly clear-cut story more complex.
Squatting was popular in the west mainly in the 1980s as a reaction of leftist youth to insensitive speculations with houses and flats. Many owners preferred leaving their houses empty in order to push housing prices higher. Some even let them fall down to be able to build offices. Squatters occupied the houses and often defended them against police attacks very vehemently.
Later squatting took the role of alternative cultural centres, giving rise to an important urban subculture that the official cultural policy of town halls is unable to substitute. After all, if town halls are able to count and if their tolerance threshold is sufficient, there is no reason for them to do so. Prague’s most famous squat proved that – the Ladronka estate, where an alternative culture centre operated for years with no subsidies from the city coffers. (These days, there is an ordinary pub operating there for rollerblading enthusiasts, and nothing comparable has emerged since for Prague’s culture.) Ladronka and Milada were also originally occupied in reaction to the punishable management of their owners (City Hall and the state), and both buildings would have probably come down if it were not for the squatters.
It is now apparent that the action against Milada has to be perceived as an action against the remainders of nonconformism in an otherwise sugar-coated city. And the protection of private ownership? If there is any, then it is very selective. In a country of scandalously regulated rents there live millions of half-squatters whom the state wilfully protects against house owners and against the will of the Constitutional Court.
The society’s relation to the protection of private property simply has to be demonstrated somewhere else, using, for instance, Ludmila instead of Milada. To be more precise, using the example of farmer Ludmila Havránková and her estate, where it is the state that is going to take on the role of the “squatter”. It has been ignoring the farmer’s offer for a fair settlement for 15 years and now wants to seize her farm, claiming it has no money to pay or provide compensation and that it needs the land to build a road there.
With regards to Milada, its residents have agreed with Minister Kocáb on “substitute housing” and are heading to a somewhat absurd end of squatting in Bohemia. But perhaps that’s the way it should be. The youth here set out angrily into the streets to protest against unified school-leaving exams, but not against the attack against Milada. Nonconformist culture has always survived only where its bearers needed it and were able to protect it. But young Czechs are apparently not prepared to do anything like that now.