MLADOSŤ MOVIE THEATRE UP FOR SALE AGAIN

Will Slovakia's oldest cinema close?

FOLLOWING the demolition of Kino Hviezda in 2008, the closure of the nearby Kino Tatra the same year, and the recent demise of the three-screen Charlie Centrum – shut until further notice due to a rental dispute – Kino Mladosť remains the last traditional cinema in Bratislava’s city centre. Now its existence is threatened as it has been included in a list of property for sale recently published on the city’s official website. It is the city’s second attempt to sell it: a proposed sale three years ago was cancelled after provoking uproar among residents and the media.

The Mladosť cinema on Bratislava's Hviezdoslavovo Square.The Mladosť cinema on Bratislava's Hviezdoslavovo Square. (Source: SME)

FOLLOWING the demolition of Kino Hviezda in 2008, the closure of the nearby Kino Tatra the same year, and the recent demise of the three-screen Charlie Centrum – shut until further notice due to a rental dispute – Kino Mladosť remains the last traditional cinema in Bratislava’s city centre. Now its existence is threatened as it has been included in a list of property for sale recently published on the city’s official website. It is the city’s second attempt to sell it: a proposed sale three years ago was cancelled after provoking uproar among residents and the media.

Opened in 1905, Mladosť is the oldest surviving cinema in Slovakia. After eight years of operation in what is today the Carlton Hotel, it moved to its current premises on Hviezdoslavovo Square.

The cinema, which seats 110 people, is known for screening mainly art movies and has, following a 2002 renovation, air-conditioning and Dolby Surround Sound.

In 2007, the decision of the city council to sell Mladosť to a private company chosen without competition for some €1.43 million was widely opposed by activists, who feared that the new owner might transform the theatre, listed as national cultural heritage site, into a hotel.

At the time, an independent council deputy, Štefan Holčík, defended the sale by telling the Sme daily that “cinema is no longer a matter of culture” and that “the city should not finance the screenings of films that in the end draw five or ten people”.

The sale was eventually cancelled due to a procedural violation: it was found that the building should have been offered in the first instance to the Culture Ministry.



Unexploitable and unnecessary



Recently, a list of property for sale, including the premises of Mladosť, was released on the capital’s official website, www.bratislava.sk.

According to Eva Chudinová, spokesperson for Bratislava City Council, “the list was prepared in accordance with a decision by the city council and is subject to change”.

From the minutes of the city council assembly where it was discussed it seems that a document listing several dozen properties to be sold was proposed to the council by its chief executive, Anna Pavlovičová, after deputies had asked her to do so earlier this year.

During the assembly, she said that “the document contains property that is unexploitable for the city, is not necessary for fulfilling municipal functions, and can be transferred to private ownership”.

Pavlovičová did not respond to The Slovak Spectator’s inquiry as to who exactly had worked on the document and what criteria were used to identify a property as ‘unexploitable’ for the city. Nor did deputy Branislav Záhradník, president of Bratislava’s city property administration committee.

The document was not voted on by deputies as legislation does not require this. Instead, the law requires that a vote be held in the event that a potential buyer expresses an interest.


In Bratislava’s budget, approved by the city council for 2010, revenues from property sales are estimated to amount to €46.1 million.



‘Shocked and surprised’



Although including Mladosť in the list does not automatically mean it will be sold, Katarína Šimončičová, a well-known activist and environmentalist who was also among the protesters in 2007, told The Slovak Spectator she was “shocked and surprised” to learn that Mladosť was again for sale.

“I really cannot see why the city wants to get rid of this building, which is so different from all the [shopping-centre] multiplexes,” she said. “Mladosť is in a good state, it is the sole remaining repertory cinema in the centre and it is run by the Bioscop company that pays a regular rent, which means that the property is taken care of and is not loss-making. What kind of strange games are these?”

Šimončičová added that she and her colleagues from the Slovak Union for the Protection of Nature and Landscape were ready to mobilise public opinion, should there be a risk that Mladosť be purchased by an investor who did not want to preserve its original purpose.

The owners of the Bioscop company at first promised to give The Slovak Spectator an official statement, but later refused, saying that they were “in a very delicate situation, and cannot and do not want to comment on it”.

In 2007, Juraj Vajda, one of the owners, stated “they were basically not against the sale”.

In the same year, Bioscop, which had not applied to buy Mladosť, bought what was then the Hviezda cinema for around €2 million and demolished the building in order to replace it with a proposed new multifunctional centre, Metropolitan Star, which was supposed to open this year.

One of the conditions of the contract was that Bioscop would operate a cinema in the new building for at least ten years.

However, construction has still not been launched and the empty lot is currently being used as a makeshift car park.


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