The Value of Autonomous Rog – Download the report

The report Value of Autonomous Rog: culture, citizenship, participation presents an objective evaluation and insight of the content, activities, and communities involved in the occupation of Autonomous Rog from its inception in 2006 until its demise in 2021.

The project investigates the way Ljubljana’s squatted areas are used and managed by both official institutions and their communities of users, aiming to understand the power dynamics that emerge in
their everyday running and plans for their future. It does this through the conceptual lens of place making and place management, which, as emerging areas of academic interest, seek to bridge the gap between various and often opposing voices with respect to the use of place.

We examine how regulatory uncertainty can be replaced by inclusive and participatory forms of management that do not jeopardise the place’s autonomous characteristics. We wish to highlight the place’s status within the city and consider communicative attempts between the institutional channels and the squatters’ communities with respect to the place’s use and management.

The report was authored by:

  • Dr Jenny Kanellopoulou, Senior Lecturer in Law at Manchester Law School, Manchester Metropolitan University and a Fellow at the Institute of Place Management (IPM)
  • Dr Nikos Ntounis, Lecturer in Marketing at Manchester Metropolitan University and Senior Research Associate at the Institute of Place Management (IPM)
  • Dr Aidan Cerar, project manager at IPoP – Institute for Spatial Policies

You can download the full report from IPoP’s website via the following link: https://ipop.si/en/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/Rog_web_14jun.pdf

You can also watch the launch event on YouTube: https://youtu.be/yQprdB3hs-U

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

ROG as assemblage: initial discussions

In this post James Scott Vandeventer offers an alternative viewing of ROG by presenting it as an assemblage. This viewing allows us to incorporate multiple temporalities and scales in our narrative that will subsequently assist in the evaluation of the squat’s past, present and future. ROG is juxtaposed against extensive ties that do not form direct part of the squat, in an attempt to posit this urban assemblage in a wider local, national, and international context.

 

As we continue to explore the urban squats in Ljubljana, our thinking about the ROG is developing around the notion of an assemblage. Assemblage thinking proposes a way for making sense of the complexity and multiplicity of the world, and about how both processes and forms (be)come together, as assemblages. In this post, I’ll examine several ways that the notion of assemblages helps us better understand ROG and its contexts. This short piece marks a temporarily fixed point in an ongoing, abductive approach to analysis (Dubois and Gadde, 2002). In other words, as a research team, we are iteratively moving between data gathering, analysis and writing; this blog is a temporarily stabilised middle from which to reflect on our thinking thus far. From this middle, we first turn to the connections that comprise ROG itself.

Intensive and Extensive Ties

In interviews and conversations about ROG, a whole range of connections with the squat were discussed. Some of the participants interviewed are ongoing users of the space, some were users in the past, others are affiliated with institutions in Ljubljana with influence over ROG both now and, especially, in planning for its future. Still, these different connections to ROG are not in and of themselves surprising – in fact, we actively sought out different perspectives. Still, what emerges through them are multiple distinct understandings of what ROG itself is. One participant reflects on how ROG is viewed:

I would say that there are two, two perceptions of ROG. Perceptions. One is this, that this is, um, space—cultural space for parties and skate park and stuff like that. So this is one part of it. The other perception is that this is hardcore political space for—not anarchists cuz anarchists are in Metelkova—but more this—people who are organising around, uh, minority issues.

Here there are two perceived properties of ROG that make up ROG: a cultural one a and political one. However, the participant fragments each further: culturally there are parties, skating and other ‘stuff like that,’ while politically a range of ‘minority issues’ might be taken up in ROG. Even if the cultural and political properties are multiple, however, they are more focussed on relations that are within ROG, or ‘intensive’ to the assemblage (Deleuze and Guattari, 1987; DeLanda, 2002; 2006).

In addition to these intensive features of ROG, the participant also articulates a tie to Metelkova, which is physically close to ROG but also another world away. Indeed, equally as important are the extensive ties giving meaning to the ROG assemblage, not only to a related political space like Metelkova, but to other entities as well.

While some extensive ties connect ROG to similar spaces in Ljubljana (or even Europe), participants also articulated the relation between ROG and very different groups. For instance, from their names, the connection of ROG with ROGLab is clear. But as a hi-tech ‘creative hub’ and production laboratory in a small shipping container next to ROG, ROGLab is most distinctly not ROG.

ROGLab: ROG in name only?

In further contrast, participants counterposed the ROG squat to Ljubljana’s mayor and several municipal departments, to the Slovenian national government, and to the European Union, and the European Capitals of Culture (ECOC) programme in particular. In each case, extensive ties constitute ROG as an assemblage in opposition with these entities.

Still, as a participant reminded us, Ljubljana is submitting an application to the ECOC, and ROG is a cultural feature of that application. Similarly, ROG is integrated into the municipality’s broader development strategy and plans for the future of Ljubljana. We can deduce that rather than two distinct properties, in ROG the political is entangled with the cultural.

At the same time, these efforts at defining ROG look to its extensive ties, but specifically to ties that do not constitute the assemblage. Defining ROG either through intensive relations or extensive ties also points to an unclear boundary of the ROG assemblage: some ties circulate within the assemblage, but are simultaneously tied to (or contrasted with) other assemblages at different scales. ROG is a multiplicity of such relational ties. However, there are also limits to the ROG assemblage, as well as the boundaries of ROG. These are interwoven with the past of the squat, and are taken up next.

On Boundaries

While our research explores ROG as it exists now, considering it as an assemblage involves recognising the past as consequential to how the present came to be. Peering into the past, we know that, following its history as a site of bicycle production, the squatting of ROG began in 2006. This generated what might be seen as a heterotopic space for experimentation where difference could be made (Johnson, 2013). More recently, particularly after the 2008 economic crisis, ROG has continued to function in this way. As one user comments:

ROG was still, at that—still at that time [after 2008] recognised as the main political space in Ljubljana. Um, and so it was more, ROG was involved as a space for organising.

In addition to reiterating the aforementioned political property of ROG’s intensive ties, which demarcate it as the ‘main political space in Ljubljana,’ the use of past tense is also important. While ROG was a site for political activity and organising in the past, there is an implication that this may have changed in the present. Others reiterate this view, which establishes temporality and the past itself as a boundary to the ROG assemblage. Prior unfoldings generated a particular kind of ROG, which has undergone subsequent change. Furthering this point, a former user of ROG describes the past relationship of political activities at ROG with NGOs in Ljubljana:

They supported us very well, all the time. And they never asked anything to be paid back for their financial, political support. Every time when we wanted to have signature, we went to NGOs. Because all professors are sitting there. We said, ‘You, because you are a recognised person in this society, you will be the first. Sign this and then all, and then in the end, us.’ Because we are, we are margins in this society.

Here, the participant describes how activities associated with ROG were extensively tied to other NGOs, implicating them in political activism in order to build and broaden support. But more importantly, users of ROG are circumscribed as ‘margins’ in Ljubljana, Slovenia and ‘this society’ (“mainstream society” as perceived by ROG users/ unspecified). The movement between temporalities (from ‘we wanted’ in the past to ‘we are margins’ in the present) suggests a boundary to the political activism of ROG in the past, but also the redrawing of boundaries around a present ‘we’: those at the margins of society. As well, there is a related recoding of the past activities of ROG as a margin. All this points to ways that describing ROG also enacts boundaries around the ROG assemblage across time: it was a space for political activities in the past, and today is a margin, or rather ROG is becoming enrolled in the continued assembling at the margins of society.

On Events

Turning to the past few years, ROG has been significantly affected by a series of events. In 2016, the demolition attempt from the city led to a clash and subsequent defensive closure to prevent the squatters’ removal. Shortly thereafter, participants described how disagreements between individuals and different groups ended in a confrontation and subsequent decision by several groups to move out of ROG. The legal case referred in an earlier post here (https://autonomousljubljana.home.blog/2019/12/04/the-quasi-public-functions-of-rog-numerous-unrelated-and-unknown/) as well, is a significant event, not least for the way it has affected the relations between ROG and the municipality.

At present, there is an assembly that meets regularly and serves as a forum for decision-making. Still, different projects operate for the most part autonomously and without a clear structure. As one current ROG user describes:

This is one of the advantages we have… we don’t need to do things through like these formal processes and, um, uh—there’s really no money involved and we don’t have obligations to any institutions and this allows us to be really, like, straightforward with the refugees and address things in a straight way. We don’t have to package things in like some kind of bullshit project, you know.

The ROG user is directing their feeling against grant-funding and institutional requirements, which often require applicants to structure and ‘package’ projects. But their ire toward ‘formal processes,’ ‘obligations’ and so on might be reasonably expected sentiment to extend to past activities. Previously, the ROG assembly was more widely attended, and maintaining a political assembly with alternative processes was an end in itself. A former user explains:

And for us, it was a kind of, uh, assembly, the political assembly was the point of ruling the space.

Thus, the commitment to processes entailed the realisation of political ideals, seeking to enact an ‘alternative space where a de-totalization of the dominant forms of organisation comes about’ (Dale and Burrell, 2008:278). Nevertheless, events, possibly the confrontation between groups within ROG, have meant ruptures to ROG as an alternative space, and indeed as one assemblage. Thus, the break to ROG generated an affective animosity from the earlier participant toward ‘formal processes’ or packaging things in ‘bullshit projects.’ In this sense, processes of organisation are historically informed and, while space has been considered an assemblage in accounting for the endurance of organising (Cnossen and Bencherki, 2018), ruptures to the ROG political space point that the converse might also be true; considering spaces such as ROG as assemblages also must account for the events that unfold and splinter, fragment or even rupture intensive relational ties constituting the assemblage.

Finally, in both interviews, the use of ‘we’ and ‘us’ asks us to move across time, and asserts a singularity that universalises a particular entity (a group working with refugees or a political assembly) to the entire ROG assemblage, despite the fact that ROG is of course comprised of many individuals, intensive and extensive ties and so on. In fact, also enrolled in the multiplicity of ROG is the materiality of the squat itself. The role of materiality in constituting ROG as an assemblage deserves further scrutiny, and we plan to take this up in further analysis. In addition to materiality, we as researchers should acknowledge our role as a part of making ROG, and as enrolled in the ROG assemblage. In this sense, we are not removed from the research process, but are emphatically in the middle of it. Indeed, a reflexive lens on this subject is worth further reflection moving forward.

To conclude, here I have introduced and begun to develop a different way for examining ROG by thinking about it as an assemblage. Drawing on some initial analysis, I have pointed to the kinds of relations and ties that both intensively and extensively constitute the ROG assemblage, to the challenge of demarcating the boundaries of ROG, and to the importance of events in making sense of the unfoldings of ROG. This way of thinking is helping us make sense of ROG as a squat in Ljubljana by drawing its different and disparate elements together through the notion of assemblage. This stands in contrast to ideas such as place, network, or community that might be assigned to ROG, and we would argue offers a better way for exploring and understanding the alterity that exists in ROG, how it came to be, and what might unfold there in the future.

By James Scott Vandeventer

References

Cnossen, B. and Bencherki, N., 2019. The role of space in the emergence and endurance of organizing: How independent workers and material assemblages constitute organizations. Human Relations 72(6):1057-1080.

Dale, K. and Burrell, G., 2008. The spaces of organisation and the organisation of space: Power, identity and materiality at work. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

DeLanda M., 2002. Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy. New York: Continuum.

DeLanda M., 2006. A New Philosophy for Society: Assemblage Theory and Social Complexity. New York: Continuum.

Deleuze G. and Guattari F., 1987. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press.

Dubois, A. and Gadde, L.E., 2002. Systematic combining: an abductive approach to case research. Journal of Business Research 55(7):553-560.

Johnson P., 2013. The geographies of heterotopia. Geography Compass 7(11):790-803.

From Metelkova to ROG: a long, short journey

Even though the actual distance from Metelkova to ROG is but 10-11 minutes on foot, in terms of their respective uses and characteristics they seem to be rather far apart. Moreover, even though it is the same few institutional and political elements that aim to engulf these two places (to co-opt Metelkova and to demolish/ replace ROG), their levels of success are distinctively varied. Metelkova is celebrated as a successful art and civil engagement project across Slovenia, whereas ROG’s present and future uses are being challenged, following the Municipality’s plans for the redevelopment of the former factory.

Nevertheless, keeping close to the theme of jurisdictional heterotopias that we have developed elsewhere ( https://www.placemanagement.org/latest-publications/normalising-jurisdictional-heterotopias-through-place-branding/), one thing needs to be emphasised: whereas Metelkova is and remains an illegal squat that has gained normalisation through a. institutional gentrification attempts and b. recognition of its brand, ROG possesses neither a successful place brand nor acceptance and recognition by certain Slovenian institutions that openly contest its operations. It is however uniquely placed in such position where both normalisation and legitimacy can still be possible, thanks to ground laid by the Slovenian courts.

ROG has been declared a “quasi-public” place by the Supreme Court of Slovenia; it has also been described as being as diverse as its surrounding city, as “almost” open to everyone and as “anonymous” and “amorphous” at the same time. Opposing as they may seem, these characteristics have managed to safeguard ROG’s immediate future from the Municipality’s forceful demolition attempts, as seen in the previous post which presented the Supreme Court decision. Here, the aim is to briefly consider the parallel yet contradictory developments of these two neighbouring squats, and to offer some initial observations under three broad themes that can play a key part in their success and longevity: gentrification/ cooptation, recognition, and communication. This short parallel analysis attempts to shed light into place making and place management practices and attempts, and to help us consider what “makes or breaks” a “successful” squat.

Gentrification and Cooptation

Gentrification attempts have been engulfing Metelkova ever since the institutional museums made their first presence in its immediate surroundings. As explained in our previous writings, the autonomous part of Metelkova remains but one part of the story, since institutions, commercial interests and tourism expand inside and around it. Whilst autonomy still remains at the core of the brand, it appears rather void of any relevant meaning. Metelkova is an area dedicated to art and civil engagement, an area that can be visited, accessed, and “walked through” by locals and visitors alike. The Ministry of Culture, housed in an office building right across the street, seals the cultural significance of this alternative-style urban park, moving the debate from one of gentrification in the traditional sense to one of practices of cooptation from the autonomous to the institutional and neoliberal forces (Allmendinger et al., 2016; Hjorth, 2016; Ntounis, 2018).

In terms of openness and accessibility, the exact opposite can be said about the area where ROG is located: facing the river from one side and a residential street from the other, ROG appears rather “closed” and secluded, even though technically situated at the fringes of the touristic centre of Ljubljana. As a matter of fact, Trubarjeva cesta is currently being pedestrianised as part of the city centre expansion plans, but this expansion ends directly before the gates of ROG, ultimately leaving it outside the immediate reach of regeneration. ROG is surrounded by residential buildings and bicycle repair shops (thanks to the famous ROG bicycle brand), and even though the most visited locations of Ljubljana are within arm’s reach, ROG itself appears separated from any relevant action. Even the Municipality’s attempts to create and “enforce” its own ROG brand in the area, are hard to discern. ROGLab, the 3D printing facility which operates as a pilot for ROG’s redevelopment as a centre dedicated to sustainability and technology, is housed in a mobile unit right on the riverbank, visually disconnected and distinct from the factory area. ROG’s presence is felt like a monolith laying flat across the Ljubljanica river.

RogLab faces the ROG Factory area
The Factory overlooks the river; a silent, monolithic structure

Recognition

In terms of recognition, Metelkova needs no introduction to locals and visitors alike, as its presence has been made known through the official channels of marketing and tourism (https://www.visitljubljana.com/en/poi/metelkova-mesto-alternative-culture-centre/). Ljubljana loves Metelkova, and the parties there every Friday night have become legendary. The Metelkova clubs have become institutions on their own, promoting alternative music genres and types of entertainment, and supporting the local LGBTQ+ community. Activism, local engagement, arts and creativity, all form part of the autonomous Metelkova brand, which is not just recognised but also respected across the country. Metelkova symbolises the coming together of Slovenia following the break-up of Yugoslavia, and remains a site of resistance and hope to the mind of the people. Metelkova is a powerful and widely recognised place brand, both a blessing and a curse for its status as an autonomous, successful squat (Ntounis and Kanellopoulou, 2017).

Klub Tiffany, a Metelkova clubbing institution

In stark contrast, ROG lacks the powerful place associations that come to mind in the case of Metelkova. Still, the most dominant association with ROG is the eponymous bicycle. This is evident in the bicycle repair shops operating around the factory area, in the bicycle-theme decorations of the adjacent coffee shop, as well as on numerous ROG bicycle stickers that can be spotted on bicycles throughout the city. Recognition of the squat comes second to Ljubljana’s beloved bicycle. When it comes to the squat itself, the words “incivility” and “unsafe” seem to prevail in the mind of the people. This however, seems to be a direct result of the lack of internal consensus of what ROG as a squat means to its communities, but also of the Municipality’s inability to come up with a persuasive vision for the place, despite its many attempts to secure ideas and funding.

The fact that ROG’s brand recognition remains in limbo seems to align perfectly with its legal status as a semi-public, semi-open, un-hierarchical and amorphous place. Since nobody really knows what ROG – the place is, nobody can claim its success.

Communication

An other key factor in determining success and normalisation in the case of these squats, is the issue of communication. It is not only a matter of establishing successful channels of communication between people who share a common goal and vision about the squat; it is also an issue of passing along this message to others (e.g. the wider public). Naturally, communication is not only key (Ntounis, 2018) in the case of squats; its importance stems directly from the broader discourse of places as social communication systems (Omholt, 2013). Ultimately, the way a place brand is generated, perceived and communicated matters, as it can reveal how a place is experienced and managed, and even what a place “means” to its users ((Braun, Kavaratzis and Zenker, 2013). However, since in the case of ROG any brand associations appear prima facie “place un-related”, it is worth examining how communication between users take places, and most importantly, what the underlying message is.

At first instance, it is worth reiterating that the autonomous part of Metelkova, runs rather smoothly and through established channels of communication. Metelkovites attend the forum and take part in decision-making, including space allocation, budget, events and activities that benefit the squat. The continuous and successful occupation of the buildings for over 20 years, in conjunction with the recognition and the acceptance from the wider public, are partly due to the direct democratic principles that govern the place. At times, direct democracy can operate slowly, as consensus among various ideas and opinions is hard to be reached. This however, stems naturally from such horizontal proceedings and adds to the character of the place. Change should happen organically and over time, if change is required at all.

On the other hand, the many and often contrasting and anonymised functions of ROG do not allow for direct democratic principles to operate in full swing. There has always been a community of active, participating users within ROG, who do follow similar direct democratic principles and procedures, and the ROG Assembly has always been a focal point of communication and action. This Assembly however, has never been truly representative of all life in ROG, even before the events of 2016-2018, as categories of users would opt out of it e.g. the team operating the skate park notoriously stays out of all communal efforts and communications, as do several live-in occupants who pursue individual agendas.

It would appear that the core of decision-making regarding the daily operations, the management, and the strategies concerning ROG are still left at the hands of the Assembly, even though its membership fluctuates, subject to the active users’ internal struggles and priorities. Moreover, due to the vastness of the place and the inability to monitor ongoing activity (especially after the events of 2016-2018), the Assembly can never be truly representative of the community of all users, as the latter simply does not exist. This point was again reiterated by the Supreme Court in its recent decision. Democracy needs active citizens who share the common interest of participation in communal activities: there is no single community of users in ROG that can stand as litigant in court, come to agreements with the Municipality or be evicted. Similarly, there is no single community of users to manage and agree on what the place is or should be.

If it is to be agreed that communication between occupants plays a great part in the longevity and the success of a squat, it appears that the reverse is true in the case of ROG (at least as far as the law is concerned). Despite the existence of several social media outlets, a dedicated webpage, and a users’ mailing list, a lot of the activity in ROG remains either undocumented or disengaged from communal life.

Without a successful brand, a successful assembly deciding and implementing daily management and strategic decisions, and without wider recognition and acceptance (at least as of 2019), ROG factory’s present and future appear nefarious, and as far from Meterlkova’s success as possible.

On the other hand, it is also true that ROG has bought time for itself thanks to the very institutions squats normally seek out to oppose: the law and the Municipality. The legal system seems to have legitimised ROG as an open, semi-public place, thanks to the Supreme Court’s recent decision, at least as far as collective functions by anonymous users are concerned; and for as long as the Municipality’s own plans remain in administrative and “funding” limbo, it can be argued that even the city is yielding to ROG for the time being.

The quasi-public functions of ROG: numerous, unrelated, and unknown

The Supreme Court of Slovenia has recently issued a decision ( VSRS Sodba II Ips 219/2018) on the challenging, much publicised and politicised legal battle between the Municipality of Ljubljana (MOL) and certain users of ROG Factory. It is the culmination of the 2016 eviction proceedings against 8 individual users of ROG; a legal journey that followed MOL’s attempts to demolish part of the factory area in the summer of 2016. In this most recent judgment, the Slovenian Supreme Court makes certain intriguing (and perhaps radical for UK standards) remarks with respect to the protection of property and the use of a place owned by public entities. Furthermore, this decision demonstrates a liberal approach to the concept of squatting, an action that is progressively becoming institutionalised and appropriated across European urban centres (e.g. Copenhagen or Berlin).

The background

In the summer of 2016 the Municipality of Ljubljana (MOL) decided to start renovation works in the area of ROG (which the municipality had purchased in 2011, having had a lease on it since 2002), by attempting the demolition of part of the factory’s surrounding wall. The attempts were reinforced by the presence of private security guards, and were met by the users’ and the broader city’s outcry: flyers and graffiti promoting the defence of ROG appeared in every corner of Ljubljana. Consequently, a number of individual users of ROG filed lawsuits against the Municipality claiming disturbance of possession. Each one of these individual users declared themselves an owner of the disputed property through prescription (Article 42(2) of the Slovenian Property Code/ SPZ). Ultimately, interim injunctions against MOL’s renovation plans were secured. The municipality countered with separate eviction proceedings (emptying and extradition) against the same, individual claimants.

The more recent Supreme Court decision of the 19th of September 2019 constitutes the culmination of one of these evictions proceedings against an individual defendant/ user of ROG. No other legal route against a collective of users can be possible under the current state of things: it appears that the “community” of ROG users performs as one by name only, as the lower Slovenian Courts also reiterate. In essence, the lack of an organisational hierarchy within ROG means that the collective of its users lacks legal standing, and can neither sue nor be sued. This precludes the filing of a single lawsuit that could order all ROG users to empty and deliver the premises; the Municipality can only act against one individual user at a time, something that has been declared as impossible to pursue.

This sole fact constitutes one of the Supreme Court decision’s most intriguing attributes, as it essentially points to Slovenian property law’s inability to deal with the squatting of ROG at first instance. A closer look at the decision, as well the decision of the lower court that is being appealed, reveals the Slovenian legal system’s unique stance towards squatting and towards the use of public property more particularly.

The petition at the Supreme Court from the part of the MOL concerned the rejection by the lower courts of the Municipality’s claim that the defendant deliver the property vacant of all persons and belongings. This inability first observed at the Court of First Instance, led the MOL to claim that the courts were unable to protect the Municipality’s constitutional rights, contradicting existing case law that enables the delivery of property free of all persons and belongings in similar situations. The MOL reiterated that the defendant user, having himself claimed exclusive ownership of the area in the aforementioned disturbance of possession proceedings, would be in effect able to deliver the property as requested. The Municipality suggested that the disturbance proceedings single out the defendant as a prominent member of the ROG users’ community, and that in any event there exists a single community of users that can be ordered to empty and deliver. MOL’s claim finally stipulated that the ROG factory area is in such decline that the property’s economic and ecological functions, introduced by virtue of Article 67 of the Slovenian Constitution, can not be fulfilled. The factory is in such a dire state that intervention for refurbishment is vital for its existence.

The Supreme Court dismissed the MOL’s petition primarily on the premise that the defendant (or any single user of ROG as a matter of fact ) cannot possibly be ordered to deliver an empty property. This inability does not contradict any prior case law; rather it stems directly from ROG Factory’s unique features: notwithstanding that ROG is a squat, it is nevertheless owned by the MOL. Furthermore, the particular squat of ROG Factory remains relatively open in nature: everyone can be the user of ROG. These facts afford the place a unique/ quasi-public character.

In other words, since the number of users that remain active in ROG or at least participate in events and social activities therein remains open, and since diverse and unrelated persons frequent or occupy the factory’s buildings, the Supreme Court has acknowledged that the squatting of ROG performs a quasi-public function. The “community of ROG’s users” cannot be a legal entity in the strictest sense, as their number is constantly changing. There is no hierarchy among the even the most active users, who are neither organised nor connected in any way. Rather, ROG’s users constitute an “amorphous, anonymous, and ever-changing social formation” which by definition escapes the arm of the law as such.

Even more important seems to be the reiteration that such areas of extensive and vibrant social life tend to be owned by municipalities or other public entities, which also happens to the be the case here. Indeed, we are dealing with a place of quasi-public nature owned by a public entity, performing a public social function, as it is dedicated to the getting together of the public for the purposes of activism, recreation or sport. Of course here the Supreme Court takes notice of the variety of activities represented at ROG, ranging from political activism, including refugee rights advocacy and LBTQ+ representation, to artistic production, to dance and music, skating, boxing, or even acrobatics. The SC agrees that this place is as diverse as the surrounding city.

All property rights are simply not equal, explains the Supreme Court. First of all, the Slovenian Constitution does not distinguish between privately and publicly owned property; it does nevertheless place limitations upon the acquisition and the enjoyment of property by way of Article 67:

The manner in which property is acquired and enjoyed shall be established by law so as to ensure its economic, social, and environmental function. The manner and conditions of inheritance shall be established by law.

All property rights are simply not equal, subject to their respective functions. More importantly, property owned by a public entity cannot be the subject of a human rights claim or dispute as would have been the case with property owned by a private individual. Public entities are simply not bearers of fundamental human rights. What the Municipality of Ljubljana decides to do with the place is not a matter of law but a matter of public policy. Consequently, the overarching issue with ROG Factory is not a legal but political one.

The users of ROG can be -theoretically- as many as the people in Ljubljana; everyone is free to visit and perform various functions and activities in its premises. The anonymity of ROG users can therefore be deduced. More importantly, this anonymity is exactly the reason why the Supreme Court went on to explain how ROG bears the characteristics of a “public good” pursuant to Article 19(1) of the SPZ:

(1) A public good is a thing which may be used in accordance with its purpose and under the same conditions by anyone (general use).

Even though a building cannot qualify for public good status without the decision of the competent authority pursuant to Article 245 of the Slovenian Spatial Planning Act, the SC did acknowledge the similarities between the wording of the Act and the very nature of ROG; in the present case, full civil protection remains impossible.

Notwithstanding that the defendant in the particular case is still required to ensure that no more events organised by him take place in ROG, and that by extension he stops securing people access to MOL’s property, this is but a small fraction of the story:

ROG is used and frequented by people who are not connected or even known to each other, who are by no means considered a community, and who represent the people of the city to the extent that this is a de facto quasi-public place, despite its ownership status. For as long as it remains this way, there is only so much protection civil law can afford the Municipality of Ljubljana…

The ROG factory as an urban surplus: What value is produced?

The continuation of our research finds us trying to shed light on how ROG Factory is used for the development of different kinds of value, how this value is tied to the plans of the Municipality of Ljubljana (MOL) about the building, and how the proposed ideas about ROG can lead to its redistribution for different uses from a potential new pool of users. In order to understand the current status of the proposed plans, it is useful to think of ROG factory as an “urban surplus” (Harvey, 2008) that has been initially occupied based on the right to use and redistribute the surplus created from the abandonment of the building. The diminishing value of the ROG area, combined with the initial occupiers’ opposition against privatisation and increasing shrinkage of available public space in Ljubljana, were contributing factors to the creation of temporary cultural, social, political and spatial value in this space (Kurnik and Beznec, 2008). However, what was always deemed as a temporary occupation became a permanent and autonomous endeavour focusing on more solid and continuous value production from numerous users, such as the Skatepark, the concert hall, and the various political and social groups around ROG. Whereas some of the previously very active user communities have now left ROG (which will be discussed in a following post), there is still value produced, albeit arguably to a lesser extent due to the reorganisation of the core inside ROG.

However, even when ROG was massively active (particularly during the summer of 2016 and the demolition attempt), it was probably quite hard to justify the burning question of what value is produced. In a country that has only recently been introduced to wider circuits of capital and just started to operate under the mantra of “urban regeneration” and “revitalisation” under neoliberalism, the production of any kind of surplus value that is deemed abstract, unjustified and unrealised through the realm of exchange processes of consumption is a hard concept to grasp (Soya, 1980). From our discussions with users of ROG and urban practitioners, this appears to be a contributing factor to the reluctance of the public to accept ROG as an area where alternative culture thrives and important social and political work is undertaken. In the case of visual arts production in ROG, Tomsich (2017) highlights the difficulty to frame and contextualise the surplus value from such activities in a squat, partly due to the ephemerality and temporality of art projects, and partly from the artists’ own reluctance to engage in further political commitment, and therefore a more open approach. He points out that the frequency and indeed political importance of the value of art production was mostly realised during the main conflicts between the users and MOL, particularly in the summer of 2016, where a series of alliances and exchanges between different studios and groups happened. The norm in ROG though is that the surplus value of the visual arts activity becomes internalised within the space and is realised only by a few people who work in ROG, despite the recognition of the factory as an arts and culture hub.

Even the most-used space in ROG, the skatepark, which is frequently visited by people of all ages, fails to showcase effectively how the use of these facilities delivers important social value via sports activities. Indeed, it seems like the skaters are already operating as if they are “with their one foot out at the door”, a statement to their non-involvement in the political conflict and to their passivity in terms of further defending their space should another eviction attempt occurs. In this regard, the production of surplus value in the most active space in ROG is also left unrealised outside the skating community. A similar sentiment about the loss of value and the failure to externalise it to the wider public can be assumed for most of the spaces in ROG, as the necessity to remain anonymous and operate in the margins due to fear of another lawsuit or eviction attempt prioritises survival first to the detriment of surplus value production.

Interestingly enough though, the question of value in this under-developed part of Ljubljana is one that even MOL does not seem to have an answer to. Since MOL bought the ROG building, there have between numerous attempts to deliver a technocratic project that would revitalise and gentrify the area. The initial idea of commercialisation of the ROG area has been attacked numerous times by the majority of the public in Ljubljana, and paved the way for a different endeavour that steered away from private investment and the public-private partnership approach to the creation of the ROG Center, which would focus the renovation attempts to the main building and would house the creative/cultural industries. Apparently this is now again not the case, and the focus of the future ROG Center activity has shifted to production of sustainable materials, 3D printing, and other practices that resemble more the initial use of the space, as the bulk of creative and cultural activity is meant to be housed in Cukrarna, a soon to be renovated facility just 400 metres from ROG.

In a rationalised way, the development of a new ROG centre could indeed point to a reorganisation of the urban space in a way that would allow its new value functions to be realised and enjoyed as part of a collective process of production and consumption practices by a wider audience. However, this uncertainty regarding what uses, and by whom, will be delivered in the building in the future bring the institutional side in a precarious position as well, which is also notable by the lack of a concrete plan after all these years. It remains to be seen whose groups’ approach towards the externalisation of surplus value can have a bigger impact in the status of ROG factory, with the caveat that immaterial production might have reached its peak in ROG, and maybe it is time for a shift into other material uses that can more easily bring out the surplus (but also diminishing) value of the area.

REFERENCES

Harvey D (2008) The right to the city. New Left Review 53: 23–40

Kurnik A & Beznec B (2008) Rog: Struggle in the city, available at: http://eipcp.net/transversal/0508/kurnikbeznec/en/print.html

Soya E (1980) The socio-spatial dialectic. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 70(2): 207-225

Tomsich F (2017) ROG is a symptom: Notes on the history of art production in Autonomous Factory ROG. Časopis za Kritiko Znanosti 45(270): 91-104.

ROG Factory visit – Cirkusarna NaokROG

After our first visit at Ambasada ROG, it was evident to us that we need to understand how other spaces work around. Our next visit to the factory was at a space where art, music, creativity, and physical exercise is combined. Cirkusarna NaokROG is operating at the ground floor of the main building, and it serves as an exercise space for different circus affiliated practices as per the ROG website, including aerial and silk dancing, acrodancing, and hand standing. Apart from its use as a gym, the space also accommodates rehearsals, theatre performances, jazz sessions and jam nights. Our first visit to the space was during an AcroDance class, and even though at first we did not intend to participate during it, we decided to take part and experience how the space is realised by the temporal users of ROG.

We take out our shoes and leave our stuff outside the main space where the class is taking place: the space is full of different objects that are used by the circus performers or the musicians that come to Cirkusarna once a week. With our presence, the class was a bit crowded for the size of the space, but this did not deter or annoyed the rest of the frequent class members. The section, usually taught in Slovene, was now explained in English to make it easier for us to follow. The idea behind acrodance is to explore different rhythms and interpretations of dancing with the help of basic acrobatic movements, and the use of different objects and techniques. The exercises and the different movements are explored through partnering with another member. It is a quite exhilarating experience for someone that is not familiar with this way of exercising, as it requires a combination of rhythm, experimentation, and control to master some of the movements. After the first shock and uncertainty though, one can immerse to the experience and appreciate not only the physical benefit, but also how the space contributes to a different understanding of one’s own body.

Giving full attention during the class…

As the class progresses, there is also a sense of playfulness and freedom that goes hand in hand not only with the act of dancing, but also with the very idea of squatting. Each movement contributes to it of course, but it is also the very act of being-in-place that actively makes people part of the squat, even temporarily. In this sense, the Cirkusarna space is one that is infused with multiple meanings and the experience of each individual, which adds to the necessity of preserving this place in a state that allows such type of experimentation to happen.

Trying to memorise the movements..

Furthermore, whereas for some of the participants the act of being in a place like ROG is only incidental to the actual activity, it shows that such participation largely contributes to the creative co-production that is happening on a weekly basis in Cirkusarna and other active spaces, which stems from the richness and multiplicity of the sensorial and emotional experience of place-making (Warren, 2012). This is an important achievement that adds to the extra-ordinarity of a place like ROG, and allows for a reciprocal exchange between people and place, which is based on openness and change rather than boundedness and stability (Cresswell, 2004).

The class draws to a close with a partnering massage and everybody on our team is now feeling a bit more relaxed. The rest of the regulars are taking a little break, as they are apparently also taking part on the hand standing class that starts after acrodance. We thank the instructor and also arrange to meet to discuss a bit more about Cirkusarna and the activities that the circus people are involved in ROG. That will not be our only visit in the space though…

REFERENCES

Cresswell T 2004 Place: A Short Introduction. Oxford: Blackwell.

Warren S (2014) ‘I want this place to thrive’: volunteering, co-production and creative labour. Area 46(3): 278–284.

ROG factory visit – Ambasada ROG

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…

Autonomy and the City

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LJUBLJANA IS NOT A CORPORATION

A Brief Introduction

Tovarna Rog has been a conflicting issue in Ljubljana ever since the initial occupation of the former bike factory’s derelict buildings in 2006. A small scroll around the internet will reveal a wealth of information about the place’s conflicting past, as well as an ongoing battle for autonomy against the municipality of Ljubljana’s plans for regeneration. The story is well known throughout Slovenia and has lead to heated debates and power struggles on various areas: at Rog factory’s buildings, on the street, across media outlets and at court.

As the economic stagnation brought forth by the global financial crisis of the past decade, halted the municipality’s regeneration plans, the occupation of the industrial complex flourished with a wealth of grassroots activity ranging from activism, to artistic expression, to music and parties as well as athletic events. Across this broad spectrum of activity, consensus might be hard to achieve (since there is no single hierarchical representation) however, the preservation of the place’s autonomy appears to offer some common ground or common perspective to Rog’s groups of users.

And indeed, for the time being Rog’s users have managed to buy some valuable time ever since the court battle between Rog and the municipality has led to a standstill: the municipality’s ownership rights not withstanding, individual eviction notices will have to be served against hundreds of Rog users, as Rog factory lacks any legal status and any centralised form of representation and management per se. It follows that such a task can be impossible to enforce and administer, whereas any intervention by way of private security and demolition attempts is met by the community’s backlash.

Adding to the uncertainty that arises from the current situation, the plans of the municipality seem to lack any concrete focus: the primary aim has been to redevelop the land as a hub for the creative industries, following an overall strategic/ neoliberal theme for the city of Ljubljana as a whole. Prior to that, attempts for commercial and residential redevelopment where met with a lack of relevant funding, a story that has been well-known around Ljubljana and which has resulted in the addition of many a construction-site-in-progress around the city.

It appears that in a city that still struggles to re-invent itself in the global neoliberal setting, answers about the common use of urban surpluses can be found in the spaces of Tovarna Rog, as they are currently used. What remains however, is a power struggle or a game of dynamics between the lawful ownership, aiming to assert its presence and legitimacy top-down, and the current state of affairs within ROG, which is however characterised by lack of common vision from the part of the groups, as well as by the progressive degradation of the physical environment and the lack of infrastructure, all of which point to a rather unstable and unsustainable future.

As the physical needs of ROG become even more pressing, issues of place use and management come to the limelight with increasing speed. Any solution about ROG ought to stem from ROG as such. It is an interesting endeavour therefore, to map and analyse what ROG is in order to envision what its future can be.