Slovenia: Autonomous Spaces under Threat. For Communal Disobedience – Against Passivity

For the last year the autonomous spaces in the region were deeply marked by a tense athmosphere fueled by constant threats and some serious attacks. In the summer of 2016 the mayor of Ljubljana Zoran Janković ordered the attack of a private security company with neonazis in its ranks on the Autonomous Factory Rog. The community managed to successfully repel the initial attack only to be later confronted with an ongoing and attritive court procedures that threaten to leave individuals with heavy financial and other penalties. In the winter of 2016/17 a new squat Argo in Izola/Isola that had only started with activities was targeted by the machinery of »the bad bank« or BAMC. The latter hired a private security gang which soon after the turn of the year forcefully emptied the squat. Not far away in Koper/Capodistria Inde has been under intense siege since the winter, at first by the orders from BAMC and lately by some enthusiastic local entrepreneurs. Sadly it seems that the battle for Inde is over. Sokolski dom in Novo mesto has been for an entire year dealing with repeating calls from the local autorities to stop with activities and the court procedures are under way.

Even Autonomous cultural center Metelkova mesto in Ljubljana that seems to be in a good shape is always just a step away from a new police intervention. Two such incidents happened on 5th March and 14th April 2017 when police units in full battle gear with shields invaded the interior of the buildings and harrased people, clearly employing racial profiling in the process. At the same time different state regulatory institutions are tightening their grip on Metelkova by terrrorizing visitors and forcing the principles of regular commercial musical-food&drink establishments to its practice. Claiming the mantle of »law and order« the police daily harrases visitors, supposedly due to transgressions that are trivial at most and by this produce an athmosphere of violent siege and lack of freedom.

To summarize: at the time when the state has announced the end of crisis and a return to the comforts of the welfare state (for the select few) the autonomous spaces in the region face direct and repressive as well as more indirect pressures. All these have the same goal: to neutralize the subversive potential of the autonomous spaces. And yet, the latter remain spaces of community building, which many of us who are pushed to the margins of society, are calling our own. They remain spaces of disobedience to the dominant politics and they remain nodes of a different and inclusive sociality.

As active users of autonomous spaces, which we consider simultaneously as an expression of those of our needs that go beyond wage labour or bare survival, but also as tools through which these needs can be realizate, we are compelled to a serious reflection, including on how and with whom to proceed further. Coming from the comrades that are active in the autonomous spaces this communique is a sincere contribution to this effort. At the same time it is an articulation of the current situation as we understand it and a call for discussion and organizing both within our spaces and in the wider anti-authoritarian movement. We do not demand from anyone to position him- or herself in relation to what we had written down here. We will however be happy of any and all constructive engagements with it. As for us, we remain commited that our words will continue to correspond to our acts. While it is true that we do not wish to be alone in this, we also are not afraid of it.

Autonomous spaces and the logic of extreme centre

The many different forms of attack and pressure to which autonomous spaces are subjected are merely specific expressions of ‘politics of state of emergency and fear’. Through it the authorities impose conditions of insecurity, discord and hate as conditions on people’s lives, so that in the background and under disguise of austerity and crisis management they can continue to pillage social wealth. For many the presumed end of the crisis means just a consolidation of a regime under which as precarious workers we continuously move from one contractual arrangement of the struggle for bare survival to another. Key horizon of everyday life remains a continuation of processes of devastation. A window of opportunity for radical changes, that an insurgent explosion has opened now a long time ago, was closed by the ruling elite after long maneuvring and internal realigments. Let us remind ourselves: in conditions in which the existing political elite as a whole lost any trace of legitimacy in the eyes of the people, the electoral project new faces (of the same elite) succeeded first to keep the same elite in power and then to consolidate its grip under the banner of extreme centre. Central to this process was deployment of the combination of extremist politics of razor wire, intense propagation of the narrative of emergency situation and militarization. Appearance of positive statistical data on economic growth in current government propaganda efforts is a clear indication that the stage is set for a new round of the classical ‘Slovenian success story’, including the daring projects of managerial takeovers and strategic foreign investements that will bring »new working places«.

Bank Assets Management Company (BAMC) is a mechanism through which capital, by leaning on the repressive power of the state, regained control over the areas that it left devastated after the previous cycle, including over some that have in the meantime, due to the self-organized activity of the people, aquired new communal functions. The most obvious cases are Argo, Inde and communal garden Čolnarska in Ljubljana, which was the first to experience the same fate. It is through the tentacles of BAMC that big projects of respected economists and saviours of national economy directly clash with everyday lives of communities of active users of autonomous zones. The attack on Inde is thus not only an adventure of some local entrepreneurs, it is a vehicle for capital’s drive to subject all social life to the insatiable logic of profit and competition. Everywhere its dominance produces ruins, opresses lives of the majority and builds palaces for the few.

For us, for the disobedient in the autonomous spaces, they are not some kind of youth clubs, bottle-fed by the state through funds for improvement in employability of the vulnerable social groups. They are also not centres of creative and bar-entertainment industry. For us they represent a historically valuable achievement of the anti-authoritarian movements. They always grow out of the local reality, are intertwined with it and the latter is being shaped by them in turn. Squats don’t fall from the sky and they don’t exist without strong, conscious and politicized community. They represent an alternative model of social organizing and mirror what in society in general is found lacking, is overlooked or even opressed. Let’s make a short reminder: as an heir to antinationalist and antimilitarist tradition of Ljubljana and Yugoslavia alternative Metelkova emerged during the war that hacked to pieces the social fabric of former Yugoslavia. Rog was opened at the height of the golden age of tycoon credit, economic growth and investments as a practical rejection of totality of capitalist domestication of space in the centre of the town. Later, already during the crisis years both Inde and Argo appeared as expressions of the need of many on the coast for life, whose only horizon would finally escape the labouring away at the port or in the tourist industry as being the only measures of success.

In autonomous spaces our needs and desires for a different organization of social life are being realized. In them and through them a passion for freedom is kept alive. Still today they make it possible for not insignificant many to engage in free development of relations built on questioning of the dominant patterns of power, agression, exclusion, appropriation, sexism and hierarchy. For those of us, that for a long time now are neither young, nor have our own start-up company or career, autonomous spaces are this rare community in our towns, that help us maintain our mental and physical well-being and power also in times of an ever progressing social devastation.

Autonomous spaces are heterogeneus and contradictory

Autonomous spaces are intrinsically linked with political movements of autonomy, antifascism, anticapitalism, struggle against imposed hierarchies and against the state which uses so many of its tentacles to stiffle life. They are nodes of imagination and laboratories of political thought, practise and organizing. To be inside while rejecting these basic premises is to position oneself on the outside of the autonomous spaces, to the position of active sabotage of factors of their reproduction.

When it comes to squatting the most prevalent, if not even the only, format in the region is »the cultural squat«. Due to the heterogeneus character of activities and ways of organising it enables the emergence of a very open community where many different initatives can be realized. This opennes is a positive characteristic of these spaces, yet at the same time it also makes them more vulnerable to the emergence and development of a specific tendency in their midst, of the one that is liable to become a vehicle for transformation of social life in accordance to interests and procedures of state and capital. This tendency has more in common with bussiness ventures, nongovernmental sector and similar structures, whose aim is to maintain existing social order, than with the anti-authoritarian movements and alternative visions. Within autonomous spaces the expressions of this tendency are commercialization, institutionalization, dominant role of wage labour and spread of project-oriented mindset. Often it arises as an effect of individual responses to the core question that in the age of devastation is being asked everywhere: »How to survive?« Despite quite probable claims of good intentions by the individuals involved their activity negatively affects the capacity of autonomous spaces to develop further. Characteristically they lack affinity and loyalty to the movements on whose achievement they are building. The less spaces themselves are politically defined, the more successful neutralization of their subversive potential.

Ours is an era of modern totalitarianism, a system in which logic of capital colonizes all social spheres and in which there is no space for alternative models of social relations. Searching for individual answers to this rampage many people recognized squats as theirs, even if they had never given a lot of thought to the idea of a politicaly engaged life or had even openly rejected it. Crucially arising from the individualistic search for personal comfort, this kind of ambivalent relation to the space, that originaly had been constituted precisely around the idea of autonomy, is in practice spontaneously expressed through defense of inertia, discreditacion of argumented intervention and of even the very idea of organization. To advocate in favour of being apolitical is to advocate for maintainance of the existing balance of forces in the society in general and in favour of impossibility of any alternative. This is no less true in the context of an autonomous space.

A call to comrades

Our proposal to all the comrades from the autonomous spaces is: it is necessary to insist that these spaces are explicitly antifascist and anticapitalis, that they are organized on the principles of self-organization, political in all its aspects, that in them respect and solidarity reign. We also should not run away from conflicts, neither from those within ourselves, between each other nor with the police and other gangs. We should rather organize for them in an appropriate and communal way. Autonomous spaces can only be political or there aren’t any. It is being constantly forgotten that they are won through struggle and that in order to keep them it will be necessary to struggle some more, despite occasional periods that seem calm. Any legalization represents the subjection to the authority of the state and a loss of exactly that which makes autonomous spaces different. Many experiences confirm that any illusions that negotiations with this or that representative of powers-to-be will bring a positive final solution (and redemption) is senseless. Autonomy of a place is being built, developed and reproduced through a continuous political conflict which might occasionally take on the form of physical confrontation with forces of the authorities. We can not and should not run away from that.

Also in the autonomous spaces groups, that are organized around drug dealing and petty thievery are becoming more visible, which is in alignment with the general state of affairs in the society of capitalist devastation. These groups exist in more or less organized forms and their aim is to establish a degree of control over certain territory with a purpose to develop a very specific segment of market economy, from which the participants derive revenue according to their position in the hierarchy of the gang. The fact that many of us are in the search for our own survival forced to act on this precarious terrain is directly linked with basic premises of capitalist order, namely with egoism and brutal struggle for resources. It should come as no surprise thus that these gangs find ready recruits among those, whose legal status, language or other aspects of their personal biography, are used to push them to the margins of the society. By taking note of the position of those among us that find themselves between Scylla of total poverty and Carybdis of socially destructive economic activity, we can get some insight into the specific reality of life on the margins of the society.

Today a large part of the society is thrown into the condition of social cannibalism, where for many it seems that the way out from unemployment, poverty or homelessnes can only lead through domination over others and their exploitation. This is incidentally exactly the same vision that the ruling neoliberal paradigm is trying to convey to us, people without papers, people without future. Exactly the fact that social cannibalism is a part and parcel of everyday practice of the ruling regime, including of its ruling ideology, makes it a fundamental terrain on which we, as lovers of freedom and autonomy, must to build our alternative. Primarily with practice of community self-defence and sincere communication with all the individuals involved and then with a call to respect the autonomous spaces, its procedures, users and guests. The struggle for autonomy from the state and capital is at the same time a struggle for autonomy from thieving and drug-dealing as well as from chauvinist gangs.

Autonomous communities need active individuals while plurality of political thought additionaly strengthens them. In the squat there should be space for different collectives, affinity groups, working groups that in a dynamic process together build space of heterogenous and intertwined practices. Key is that inside the squat there is a support for independent activity of smaller initiatives of others, until the latter do not deny the core political and organizational principles that are set by the assembly of all. Support for the development of the numerous particular initiatives should not in any way mean devaluation of the central role that the assembly as a meeting space and decision-making body plays in the political process of the squat as a whole. An assembly or a forum remains a fundamental tool of self-organization that is paramount at making sure that procedures in relation to the key issues that affect the whole community have collective character.

If we want autonomous spaces we need to put our bodies on the line. Sometimes we will succeed, sometimes the forces against us will be too strong. But through this struggle new alliances, comradeships, love, inspiration and power will emerge. Disobedience brings us together and has the capacity to catch the forces that threaten our spaces off-guard and take away the floor of legitimacy from under them. This opens new space in which we can connect with other movements, individuals, collectives and populations. What do we do with a free squat in an unfree town? At the moment when we immerse ourselves in the comfort of our own illusion of autonomy, we become alone, behind the walls, cut off and alienated. Faced with the pressures of gentrification, turistification and police our solution is not (only) to build barricades, but also not in retreat and servile subjection. When pressures from all sides take our space and suffocate our lungs, our scream needs to be louder than ever, our desires need to go further than what we are being told is only possible.

What brings us together…and where we shall meet

According to our analyses and experiences any squat that takes seriously its autonomy and politics needs to take into account some basic principles and values that – at the risk of repeating ourselves – we summarize here: autonomy on all levels from any public or other self-appointed authority, including when it comes to decisions concerning space, activity and organization. Non-hierarchy which stands for self-organization according to the principles of free association, where there is no power outside or over the community concerned. Anticapitalism which means that in the everyday economic practice we explore possibilities of communal economy and keep the flame (of the idea) of classless society alive. Disobedience, even if it means conflict with the police or any other gang. Heterogeneity which means that we don’t all hold the same positions on every issue and we encourage development in different directions. Beyond the fundamental antifascist and general libertarian positions there is still a whole field of experimentaiton, proposals and solutions. Within this framework we stand for respect – of ourselves and of others and of their practices.

Also nominally anti-authoritarian spaces can become breeding grounds for authoritarian politics. This danger is especially strong when moments of crisis arrive and with them the necessity to form more complex communal self-defense processes. Then the above mentioned principles can serve as a compass, also at the moments when we do not know exactly where we are and where it is, that we are actually heading. Yesterday an autonomous space was enough. Today we want autonomous neighbourhoods. Tomorrow towns and regions. We are conscious of the fact that in this struggle we are not unique and we know that we are not alone. Where shall we meet next?

For 24th anniversary of ACC Metelkova mesto, Ljubljana, 10th September 2017

Anarchist Initiative Ljubljana – AIL // AIL is a member of Federation for anarchist organisation – FAO which is a member of International of Anarchist Federations – IAF