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Deal 5: Jaromir Krejcar Society Director Martin Zaicek on Protecting Cultural Heritage

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On October 5, 2021, CEE Legal Matters reported that Dentons had provided pro bono advice to the non-profit organization Spolocnost Jaromira Krejcara to protect the cultural heritage site of the former Machnac spa house in Trencianske Teplice, Slovakia. CEE In-House Matters spoke with Martin Zaicek, Director at Jaromir Krejcar Society, to learn more about the matter.

CEEIHM: To start, please tell us a bit about Spolocnost Jaromira Krejcara and its mission.

Martin: Jaromir Krejcar Society is a non-profit organization named in honor of the prominent architect from Prague Jaromir Krejcar (1895 - 1950). We initiated the establishment of the Jaromir Krejcar Society after the art group Abandoned (re)creation (established in 2011) tried to save the Machnac Sanatorium for about 10 years. Due to the privatization in 1997, the national monument got stuck in a complicated and non-transparent tangle of ownership rights, and, subsequently, has fallen into disrepair since 2002. The main goal of the Jaromir Krejcar Society is to save, restore, and maintain the national heritage site - the former Machnac Sanatorium. The founders of the Jaromir Krejcar Society, alongside the Abandoned (re)creation group members, are photographer Andrea Kalinova and architect Martin Zaicek, as well as the rector of the Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Bratislava, Bohunka Koklesova. The Jaromir Krejcar Society puts particular emphasis on the importance of strong representation, and therefore the members of its Management Board include the former dean of the Faculty of Architecture in Bratislava and currently the vice-rector of the Slovak University of Technology in Bratislava - architect Lubica Vitkova, the director of the Slovak branch Docomomo International – prof. Henrieta Moravcíkova, as well as the mayor of the town Trencianske Teplice - Zuzana Frajkova Durmekova. All major educational scientific institutions in Slovakia and Czech Republic, such as the Slovak University of Technology, the Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Bratislava, but also the Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design in Prague, or the Brno University of Technology, support the activities of the Jaromír Krejcar Society.

CEEIHM: What about the former Machnac spa house site. What is its significance?

Martin: Jaromir Krejcar was one of the most talented Czech architects of the interwar period – a "poet of construction," as his companions used to call him. Along with the philosopher Karel Teig and poets Jaroslav Seifert and Vitezlav Nezval, he was a member of the cult avant-garde group Devetsil. In 1937, the architect Krejcar built the Czechoslovak Pavilion at the World Exhibition of Art and Technology (Expo) in Paris. With his glass and steel pavilion on the riverside of Seine, in the immediate proximity of the Eiffel Tower, Krejcar paid tribute to constructivist architecture. The pavilion won a gold medal at the exhibition in Paris. However, his most significant and last intact work is the Machnac Sanatorium in the town of Trencianske Teplice in western Slovakia. It is located at the end of the park in a picturesque spa town, situated on sulfur thermal springs. The Machnac Sanatorium was built in 1932. After its commissioning, the house was described by the Prague philosopher Karel Teig as the most remarkable work of modern architecture in the country.

CEEIHM: As we reported, you filed a motion for expropriation of Machnac with the District Office in Trencin. Why did you take this step?

Martin: Our primary goal was an agreement with the owner of the building. To achieve this goal, we have repeatedly contacted him in order to negotiate a buyout since 2020, unfortunately, our efforts have not been successful. Therefore, we proceeded to the next possible way in order to gain ownership of the building, which is through an expropriation proceeding. In order for the proceeding to be successful, there has to be an existence of public interest, which can not be achieved without the building changing its owner. We believe that this public interest exists and we see it in the protection and restoration of historic values ​​of the national cultural monument of the Machnac Sanatorium and the restoration of its proper utilization. It is important to mention that this expropriation procedure has never been used in Slovakia for the purpose of monument protection. Even though expropriation is an extreme form of restriction of property rights guaranteed by the Constitution of the Slovak republic, it is fully legal. Moreover, extreme situations call for extreme measures, and in this case, we are looking at extreme neglect of the duty of care, which the owner of a national monument is obligated to. Such behavior directly leads to the destruction of cultural heritage. The expropriation does not happen for free, the expropriating entity, in this case, the Jaromir Krejcar Society, must pay adequate compensation. In the case of the Machnac Sanatorium, the compensation was calculated by an independent expert in February 2021 in the amount of EUR 320,529.94. The expropriated entity, in this case, the czech company Keorlen Trade s.r.o, has the right to defend itself against the expropriation proceeding and also has the right to appeal to the decision issued in this proceeding. In case of an appeal, the case will be referred to the court and the whole process may take several more years. During that time the national cultural monument can be further devalued.  

CEEIHM: What was Dentons' mandate on the affair and what was the outcome?

Martin: Dentons is representing Jaromir Krejcar Society in this proceeding. Since 2020 they have communicated on our behalf with the representatives of the owner of the monument. It should be noted that we, as the founders of the Jaromír Krejcar Society, all belong to the environment of culture and art and do not have sufficient legal knowledge. We are very happy that this missing part of the professional composition of our team is completed by the colleagues from Dentons – Associates Miroslava Jesikova and Jan Dulovic as well as Managing Partner Peter Kubina. We are glad that together we can proceed in the procedure of expropriation of the monument in the public interest, in order to preserve and restore it. The expropriation procedure is used mainly in connection with the construction of infrastructure such as highways. Together, we are trying to give it a new relevant field of application. To file the proposal for expropriation itself required enormous legal commitment and skills in legal argumentation while incorporating key cultural and historical remarks of the Machnac Sanatorium. Also, we believe that it is the cooperation with Dentons that creates the strongest foundations for achieving the goals of our organization.

 CEEIHM: Lastly, why did you choose Dentons to assist you on this?

Martin: Dentons was active in other publicly sensitive topics even before the start of our cooperation. As committed citizens, we admired the activity of the former Dentons Partner Daniel Lipsic who acted as the main legal representative of the survivors in one of the most traumatizing cases in the history of Slovakia – the murder of journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kusnirova.

We approached Lipsic for a consultation. Since the beginning of our cooperation, we greatly appreciated the professional commitment of their team of lawyers. Last but not least, we also value mutual trust and a professional approach. We very much appreciate Dentons and its advanced corporate culture and responsible approach, which considers the struggle for the preservation of the cultural and historical legacy of Slovakia an equal part of the struggle for justice, despite the publicly exposed case.

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