In defence of autonomous urban value at ROG

It is with great sadness and disappointment that we are witnessing the events taking place at Autonomous Factory ROG since Tuesday (19/01/21). The decision of the Municipality of Ljubljana (MOL) to forcefully evict the users of ROG and throw away their possessions does not only disregard the Supreme Court’s Decision (VSRS Sodba II Ips 219/2018), it also demonstrates an unwarranted exhibition of police force and abuse of power against the citizens of Ljubljana. 

From our perspective as researchers dedicated to the study of autonomous places, we are condemning the lost opportunity from the part of the MOL to understand and appreciate the value created at ROG throughout the past 15 years. Tovarna ROG has been a place of social, aesthetic, creative, and broader cultural value, a unique representation of the spirit of the city of Ljubljana; a “quasi-public” place in the heart of the city, as per the wording of the Slovenian Supreme Court. 

The wide range of activities taking place at ROG now and in the past is a true manifestation of the diverse cultures it represents, a place where different voices and lives can find refuge; a place dedicated to the promotion of free expression and assembly, to the protection of refugees and the engagement in public life. Non-conformity has value and there is value in the aesthetically and physically different parts of urban life.  

Autonomous places such as ROG are habitually viewed as obstacles to a city’s development and smooth administration, whereas reality has shown the opposite. Autonomous areas add to a city’s urban fabric by allowing broader participation, including that of the most marginalised communities, cultural and political freedom, social engagement and solidarity. 

Sadly, more often than not, they fall victim of the neoliberal agenda that prioritises financial interests in regeneration and gentrification, under the guise of “green” or “creative” development, disregarding the values that autonomous places promote and represent: values of the surrounding city and society at large. 

The continuous focus of the neoliberal project in the expansion of markets for generating merely financial profit, comes into direct conflict with those who challenge and oppose such priorities by not fitting into the “good consumer/citizen” mold. Autonomous Factory ROG clearly does not fit the narrative and the image of a gentrified, clean, tidy and safe city; what it symbolises though is the struggle for minorities to be noticed and be present in an increasingly capitalistic and entrepreneurial urban regime. Through their everyday tactics and practices, users of ROG and citizens of Ljubljana challenged the dominant urban narrative, thus offering a fresh alternative to the continuous sterilisation and uniformity of the city. 

We call upon the MOL and other cities in Europe and beyond, who host such autonomous places within their jurisdictions, not to undervalue these autonomous zones.  We ask for the appreciation of the intangible cultural values created when expression and participation run inhibited. 

Ultimately, we urge for the recognition of these values as intangible cultural heritage in order to safeguard their success and guarantee their preservation. 

Dr Nikos Ntounis – Manchester Metropolitan University

Dr Jenny Kanellopoulou – Manchester Metropolitan University

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