Mon, Oct 04, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Czech castle to become a monument to bureaucracy

AFP , PRAGUE

After more than a decade of waiting for the cogs of bureaucracy to turn, Czech businessman Radim Hruby has converted his built-up frustration into a monument to bureaucrats worldwide.

Hruby decided to build the monument, comprising twin limestone pillars, a barred entrance and a bronze bell, at Malenovice castle in the south east of the Czech Republic to highlight a drawn-out legal dispute over the 14th century castle's ownership.

Hruby, 49, has been trying to buy the site, whose ownership has been disputed ever since restitution laws were introduced in 1992, shortly after the fall of communism.

Set in the castle's courtyard, the 3m-high structure contains the inscription "bureaucracy" in 30 different languages.

"In the old days towns used to sound bells to warn local people about fires and other disasters so this is my way of spreading the message about my frustration. After more than 12 years I've lost my patience," Hruby said.

"Bureaucrats make life difficult for so many people and I wanted to highlight that in my own way," he added.

Like many properties, the castle which belonged to aristocrat Jaroslav Sternberk was confiscated by the communists in the late 1940s.

For the past 12 years the countess' heirs have been trying to regain the property. According to Hruby, they have agreed to sell him the site if their claim succeeds.

Hruby rents part of the site for his small building machinery company but wants to turn the 12,000m2 site into a cultural and educational centre.

"The site would make a great place for cultural events as well as a crafts school to teach young people traditional skills which have become obsolete, such as blacksmiths," he added.

But Hruby blames the land registry office in the nearby town of Zlin, particularly its director Pavel Krocil, for dragging its heels over the dispute.

For his part Krocil dismisses any suggestion that the land office has acted inappropriately.

"We issued a decision last December, rejecting the restitution claim. This is a very complicated case and we have acted fairly and correctly. It is wrong to say we have taken too long in dealing with it," he said.

The district court is now due to issue its verdict in the case this month.

"I'm not exactly pleased that this monument has been built, but it's directed at bureaucracy worldwide and not just at me," Krocil added.

Hruby meanwhile says support for his cause is growing in a country where Kafka-esque bureaucracy plays all too big a part in daily life.

Foreigners queue for hours if not days to attain residence permits while the country has been regularly criticized for its slow-moving courts and dragged-out company registration procedures.

Delays, rubber stamps and frustrating form-filling characterize numerous procedures from paying a check into a bank account to ordering a phone line.

"Before I came to the Czech Republic I thought Kafka was a creative genius but then I realized that he was only a good reporter," one international banker, who preferred to stay anonymous, commented.

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