We arrived today at the edge of centre of Ljubljana at the Kavarna ROG cafe, a business that has no affiliation to the actual factory or the occupation of it, but it could act as a sign of things to come; a family-friendly meeting place, totally sanitised and gentrified, as apparently one of the imaginaries for ROG is. The surrounding area around Trubarjeva street is in the midst of regeneration attempts, but ROG factory stands alone as a “stain” to the area’s renewed image. The contrast is quite obvious too; the walls around ROG are filled with graffitis, and soon we get the feeling of entering to a different part of the city that we are not used to. We are about to enter in and see if that is indeed the case.
We immediately encounter a barricade that is placed there to stop bulldozers from entering the factory and start the demolition process. After the 2016 incident, there have been a few more attempts from contractors and the municipality to continue the demolition process. This process is halted at the moment amidst continuous negotiations and legal battles, which will be analysed in later posts throughout our stay. Regardless, the ROG users seem to cannot take any chances, as even earlier this summer there were attempts by contractors to demolish certain parts of the walls around ROG. But today everything seemed very quiet and calm around here.
We are taking some pictures of the main entrance and the graffiti, sculpture, and tag art around the peripheral buildings. The graffiti that adorns the main ROG building, a huge pink gun that is filled by pencils and books, stands as a symbol of solidarity from the alternative scene during the 2016 unrest. After browsing the area for a few minutes, we enter the main building of Ambasada ROG, a community centre that is run by volunteers, artists, refugees, and other activists. Whereas there is an official event happening today in there, it is not running today. As soon as we declared our identities and who we are, we were greeted and welcomed in by the users. In these situations, there is always a certain degree of uncertainty regarding who is entering the area, but soon the users showed us their hospitality, making us coffee and tea, and we start conversing about the daily activities and management of Ambasada ROG. Two French journalists had just finished interviewing the unofficial “manager” of Ambasada ROG. She is giving her time everyday to perform certain activities such as cooking, cleaning and even advising refugees who are trying to acquire permanent status, travel papers and documentation, and even flats and jobs.
Throughout our stay, a few refugees pass by to have a hot drink, a smoke, and a conversation with the people in Ambasada. There is a pleasant atmosphere in the room, not only because of people’s kindness, but also because of the two little kittens that are playing around making everybody giggle every now and then. We continue our conversation mainly with the “manager” and a couple of refugees who are describing their life in Slovenia. One of them admits that Ambasada ROG really helped him regarding his status information and documentation. We were also told that another refugee will have his family really soon with him, a testament to the relentless voluntary work that pays dividends around here. As time flows by, we start to feel the sense of homeliness and “place” that Ambasada ROG strives so hard for. This is an important achievement for the volunteers and active users, who via everyday communal practices of maintenance, repair and homeliness have managed to forge a strong identity that resonates throughout ROG factory and puts it in a relatively strong position in the current debate with the municipality. For members of Ambasada ROG, work is the currency and everybody needs to offer something in exchange for some services or food and drink. The main business of Ambasada ROG, finding a home, work and offering information about the status of refugees is very time-consuming, so people need to provide something for the space’s daily operation. As far as the “manager” is concerned, very few people who ask for help do not give something back to the space.
Our discussion continues and it now revolves around the co-habitation of the other groups inside the factory area. There are diverse activities and events that are happening on a weekly basis, from sports and relaxation activities (skateboard, boxing, football, yoga, silk dance, etc.) to cultural production and philosophical lectures. Of course, not all of these groups are on the same page regarding how ROG Factory as an entity should continue in the future, but now there is a good level of understanding and cooperation between groups and users. That is not the norm around ROG; a couple of years ago none of the groups were talking to each other, but these tensions seem to be normal in an environment like this. We do not get the full picture of why this was the case, but the political aspect of the activities around ROG seems to be less important for some of the users. We learn a bit more about the events that Ambasada ROG is running nowadays, and we were cordially invited to a TINA party which is dedicated to Mark Fisher and a working meeting, so that we can observe the group’s operations. We thank her for her time today, and we arrange to meet the rest of the Ambasada team soon as well. Hopefully we will be able to get a better glimpse of the rest of the groups in ROG during the weekend, as we start to map the groups and important nodes around the ROG system…