The Secrets of Bozi Dar, a Military Base Haunted by the Past

Occupied by three armies, an the former Soviet post still has the power to scare

By Sam DiBella

Along the north road out of Milovice—a small town an hour northeast of Prague—barbed-wire fences begin to line the asphalt as a large airfield comes into view, several hundred feet off the road. This is the beginning of the Bozi Dar military complex. The street turns inward and runs by rows of rusting Soviet aviation hangars. If one stands on one of the ancient hangars, the eroding walls of Bozi Dar, God’s Gift, can be seen peaking through the trees. Nearly 20 years after its desertion, the surrounding forest is slowly bringing the town to ruin.

Prague Wandering Summer 2013 Issue Number 3 Bozi Dar

God’s Gift, can be seen peaking through the trees.
Photo by Paxton Farrar

Since the beginning of the 20th century, Bozi Dar served as a military base for the Austrian, Czechoslovak and German armies, each in turn. After the 1968 Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia crushed the democracy movement known as Prague Spring, the Soviet Union maintained a military presence in Czechoslovakia, selecting the Bozi Dar Mlada region as its central base. The Russian army occupied a total of 74 separate sites in the Czech Republic. They remained in the Mlada region as late as 1991, departing two years after the Velvet Revolution that saw the end of Communist rule. During the occupation, an entire Russian community of soldiers, civilian workers, and their families developed around the base, at its peak, housing over 10,000 people. The base was kept sealed off from the Czech countryside, but that did little to deter the breeding of extensive black market trade between the Russians and local Czechs.

Despite an abandoned appearance today, the surroundings of Bozi Dar is not completely deserted. Svestka s.r.o,, a demolition and transport company, has built a gated community across the street from the ruined buildings. On the airfield itself, there is a cafe located a mere 20 feet from the tarmac. The café owner could only offer the following words when asked about a visit to the area: “You shouldn’t go into Bozi Dar. There’s pollution and explosives. If you’d like you can order beer or coffee, but then you need to leave. This is private property.”

On most days, a solitary man, wearing paramilitary and riot gear but no badge, can be seen patrolling on an ATV, wielding a baton, and yelling “Go away. Go away,” to the trespassing public.

The town itself remains untouched as it is slowly swallowed by vegetation, unnoticed by the Czech population at large. Despite disrepair and neglect, the tension between private ownership and public use remains palpable in the ghost town. The decayed environs, unimproved in years, seem to suggest that the land should be free and open to the public.  All the same, there are obstacles preventing public access to Bozi Dar. The town’s perimeter is occasionally marked by police tape, several small signs warn “Private Property. No Entry. Danger,” and all of the trees within the town limits have been felled and left behind in an attempt to restrict entry to the site. On most days, a solitary man, wearing paramilitary and riot gear but no badge, can be seen patrolling on an ATV, wielding a baton, and yelling “Go away. Go away,” to the trespassing public.

Prague Wandering Summer 2013 Issue Number 3 Bozi Dar

Immense graffiti murals flourish on the outer walls.
Photo by Paxton Farrar

These deterrents are most likely for people’s own good. Apart from the potential dangers of the moldering buildings, as the cafe owner warned, pollution and remnants of military equipment are still present in the area. An environmental analysis of the area showed deep contamination from over 20 years of military industrial waste drainage and the long-term storage of unexploded ordnance. Rumors abound about Russian caches of nuclear missiles hidden in the complex. Making matters worse, fleeing Russian soldiers buried unused munitions and mines in unmarked ditches all around Bozi Dar. As a condition of their departure, the Czech and Russian governments agreed that the property and materials left behind were monetarily equivalent to the environmental damages inflicted by the occupation, absolving Russia of responsibility for the area.  The groundwater and soil samples in the region have been found to contain kerosene, diesel fuel and PCB (polychlorinated biphenyls) pollutants. PCBs are industrial-use chemicals with known carcinogenic effects.

The explicitly dangerous materials were removed from the site by environmental clean-up crews from 1990 -1994. However, PROEKO, the contracted company placed in charge of the recovery, bankrupted, leading to the clean-up’s disruption. Adding insult to injury, in 2000, the company tasked with removing toxic waste, EKOBO, transported the pollutants in leaking containers. They then stored PCBs, as well as other chemicals, illegally in the village of Mratin—over 18.6 miles west of the military site. The contamination, which, according to International POPs (Persistent Organic Chemicals) Elimination Network’s 2006 study, resulted in over 19,000 tons of polluted soil containing high levels of PCBs.  EKOBO opted to incinerate hundreds of tons of the toxic waste, drastically effecting the air quality in the area. A 2002 study by the Czech environmental group Arnika found that the incinerated byproducts had contained PCBs level of higher than 10ppm, which is above the legal limit for trash incineration.

Adding to the complexity, environmental organizations have found that the Mlada region contains stretches of open grassland that serve as refuges for endangered species of flora and fauna. In a 1996 study, the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources declared those fields to contain over 28 endangered or threatened plant species, specifically, strains of wild grass, 43 species of protected birds, and several rare species of crustaceans, butterflies and insects.

After the Russian departure, the Czech government attempted to put the land to positive use. There were pipe dreams of creating a great Central European cargo airport. This project was never realized. Several companies have purchased plots around the area, but the majority of the land was left under the ownership of the local government. The national government began looking for investors, but no single company could provide plans for the entire site. Currently, the airfield is used by civilian crafts, as well as for an annual music festival, Votvirak. The town buildings have remained untouched, although a local paintball group, Paintball Club Milovice, uses them for tournaments and events.

The Czech Ministry of Regional Development decided to privatize the land through Public-Private Partnership, a method where private companies agree to provide public services using government-owned lands. To facilitate this process, a special executive institution, PRIVUM, associated with both the Ministry of Regional Development and the Ministry of Finance and based in the nearby town of Lysa nad Labem, was created. On the Ministry of Finance website, a governmental memo from 2005 states that the Ministry intended to accelerate the privatization of the site by transferring the property to the state-run organizational company PRIVUM and to “contribute to the revitalization of the area of the former military bases Ralsko and Mlada. Counties and municipalities accept this procedure.”

As recently as 2010, there was an investor bid to use the site for harvesting photovoltaic power. A combination union of local pilots, appeals from Central Governor David Rath, and low turnout at referendum polls left the topic up in the air, until the investor dropped the bid. There are currently no public development plans for the site.

Inside the bloc buildings,plants split through the moss-coated floor, as water quietly drips from steel pipes. Immense graffiti murals flourish on the outer walls. As wonderful as seeing the area put to positive use would be, it has been over 20 years since those buildings have been repaired, let alone lived in. None of the buildings in Bozi Dar are recognized as possessing historical significance by the Czech government. Their revitalization has been continually deferred, and the trees keep growing.

Sam DiBella is in the NYU Gallatin Class of 2014 . His hometown is Providence, RI.

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Categories: Culture, Summer 2013 Issue Number 3

Author:The Prague Wandering

The Prague Wandering is an NYU based study abroad webzine- the only one of its kind. It focuses on issues in contemporary Czech culture and the city of Prague, exploring beyond the study abroad bubble.

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