On the outskirts of Prague, a decaying mansion was home to an egalitarian project that could only come out of a socialist mindset: a cooperative art workspace and squat kingdom known as Squat Milada.
Villa Milada was privately owned until 1988, when it was badly deteriorated and slated for demolition. Disputes between the original owner and the Czech government delayed this process though, and the house remained standing as skyscrapers were built around it. It didn’t stay deserted for long.
By 1997 the villa had become known as Squat Milada because it was a popular haven for those seeking shelter. The 19th century mansion’s many floors and cavernous rooms offered comfort and respite to those who needed a place to spend the night. Because of the bureaucratic battle the house was trapped in, Squat Milada went unbothered by authority for years after all the other Prague squats had been evacuated or demolished. For this reason, too, it became the go-to spot for squatters around Prague.
It wasn’t just a no-man’s land though. Squat Milada was a functional hive, buzzing with artistic and community activity. The squatters regularly hosted concerts, art workshops, and film screenings, some of which were attended by hundreds of people. The inhabitants shifted, as squatters are wont to do, but in 2008 it was reported that at least 15 people and 6 animals were living there full time.The house sits nestled between several universities, from which it siphoned water and electricity. Despite its illegality, it was regarded by its neighbors as a “social and cultural institution.”
It wasn’t all rosy though. Squat Milada was often noisy and dirty, causing neighbors to complain. One police raid came away with two giant bags of marijuana. At one point, some of the dogs living in the villa escaped, broke in the Trojan Zoological Gardens, and killed several sheep. Police intervened to vacate the squat several times, leading to violent altercations with chainsaws, battering rams, and crowbars. The squatters fled to the roof, but were eventually arrested, in spite of protests from human rights advocates.
In 2012, Squat Milada had been vacated for the last time and again stood empty and decaying. Prague authorities have made further destructive alterations to the house, like ripping out its roof and several walls, to keep more squatters from moving in. Along with a tall fence surrounding the property, serious local lore about Squat Milada has bloomed around Prague. It’s likely the house hasn’t seen the last of its concert-hosting, art-making days as a squatter’s paradise.