history Background


AKC Metelkova mesto (Metelkova City, Alternative Cultural Center) is an artistic space in the heart of Ljubljana, Slovenia, formerly a republic of Yugoslavia. It is a non-residential squat for artists and activists. It pays no taxes, sells liquor without a license, and has never had any legal status within the city. Metelkova can therefore be thought of as its own city comprised of the subcultures of the surrounding metropolis. The complex consists of four buildings, which hold art studios, galleries, music venues, cafes, bars, and dance clubs. Two other buildings at the site, Hostel Celica and Metelkova 6, collaborate with Metelkova but have separate legal status. The Hostel Celica is legally owned and run by the Student Organization of the University of Ljubljana, while Metelkova 6 is owned by the Ministry of Culture and contains offices of various non-profit organizations.

There has been a long and complicated history between the city of Ljubljana and Metelkova.  Unlike the Eastern Bloc, Yugoslavia during the Communist era was open to Western influences and its citizens were free to travel to Western countries. When punk spread throughout England and the U.S. in the late 1970s, many in Yugoslavia took to the development of their own cultural scene. The punk scene in Yugoslavia was well received by mainstream media and flourished. By the time Slovenia declared its independence, punk and alternative culture were already well woven into the region. With the development of Metelkova, this culture found a home.

Following the independence of Slovenia from Yugoslavia in June of 1991, the Yugoslav People’s Army abandoned its head barracks on Metelkova Street. The Network for Metelkova, which was established in 1990 in order to reconfigure social and artistic space.  It requested that Ljubljana permit the use of the former barracks as a cultural center.  The Network was still forming and in regular negotiations with the city of Ljubljana when on September 10th, 1993, the government attempted to illegally demolish the buildings. In response, about 200 people squatted the space and began holding concerts and artistic exhibitions. Throughout the fall of 1993, the center held around 200 musical and artistic events. The subsequent public and media support for the squatters helped foster its growth. However, this did not dissuade the government from attempting to demolish Metelkova. Successful attempts occurred in 1997, when the “Old School” was demolished, and in 2006 with the destruction of the “Small School.” Metelkova’s relationship with the government has been an ever-changing process as Ljubljana’s City Council members have come and gone. As of June 2009, Metelkova has a much-improved relationship with the surrounding authority. A constructive dialogue has developed and there have been talks over the last year about Metelkova becoming city-owned. This would allow Metelkova projects to attain more solid legal status, but some AKC activists fear signing a contract with the city would threaten the voluntaristic, experimental orientation that has been a hallmark of Metelkova Mesto.

an uncertain future

the struggle over power...

SkaterWith constant struggles throughout the community’s history, it is not surprising that Metelkova is facing an uncertain future. This uncertainty is not based on maintaining the physical space; in fact, many people are certain that the physical community will continue to exist. The troubles come from the larger community of Ljubljana, where the city government has plans to legalize Metelkova by placing it under a contract, possibly changing the entire structure of the community. One member of the Metelkova community was able to articulate the irony, explaining that fighting against the more conservative government of the recent past was easier than protecting themselves from the liberals who, in their current support, may drastically change Metelkova.

This situation and the compromises Metelkova may face are similar to one art space’s struggle in the United States. The Charm City Art Space, located in Baltimore, Maryland, is a collective of culturally-minded community members. Although the space is far smaller, as well as younger, it is a well-established concert venue and alternative community space. For several years the CCAS has been struggling with achieving legal, nonprofit status; however, logistical factors such as handicap accessibility and the necessity of establishing power hierarchies that do not align with the original structure of the project have prevented the group from attaining institutionalized legality. While it continues to work towards this goal, the collective faces rising property costs, changing landlords, noise complaints, and vandalism.  In addition, over-zealous (and often misguided) police activity, and the challenge of keeping the space drug and alcohol free in order to reduce these police incidents, pose continual challenges. Deeming the space substance free also promotes the straight-edge lifestyle in which many of the members believe, making it a socially-minded decision, as well as one motivated by legal strategy. The members of this group also face constant struggles in maintaining an aging Baltimore house with few resources, financial and otherwise.

Through its struggles, the Charm City Art Space has been able to remain a solid force within the Baltimore music and arts community. This is possible because of several very dedicated long-term members and local connections that help to maintain the physical space. Local bands that play at the space do so for free, and touring bands receive enough money for gas and whatever the space can spare at the time. Members also pay small monthly dues to help with upkeep. 

In Metelkova, though recognition and support from the city may seem to be the answer to a questionable future, it is possible that it would change the formation and the community. Without legal status, Metelkova is able to be maintained through a great amount of volunteer work, minimal hierarchies of power, and a concentrated community of support based on appreciation of its social and political history.  Some are worried that if legal status is gained, Metelkova could become a mainstream bar and concert venue, catering to large audiences in order to survive and remain financially viable; it would lose the qualities that make it an alternative community, and that make it Metelkova.

Currently, many musicians, no matter the crowd draw, are able to utilize one of Metelkova’s venues. If a contract is implemented, the music approval process may be forced into considering financial gains in order to pay taxes and fees. This change in structure may also mean a change in the machinery of Metelkova. While currently volunteers are welcome to come and go, a legalized Metalkova would mean creating jobs that have been traditionally volunteer, such as bartending and ticket-selling. These changes would also lead to hiring managers and redistributing power in a way that is not currently promoted by Metelkova’s formulation. 

The complexities in becoming legal are shared by cultural organizations, across many societies. Although for many community arts projects, involvement with and support from government authorities seem to be a great way to protect and improve an arts community, the trade-offs could also make spaces like Metelkova and Charm City Art Space less able to fulfill crucial cultural and artistic roles.

“Metelkova city became a nightmare of the municipal authorities in Ljubljana, acquiring and never again shaking off the reputation of being dangerous, because it has never been under any (in)direct control of the structures of authority and capital, because it still is an autonomous field of urban, artistic, cultural, social, (sub)political public life and creative production.” - The Noise from Below

history of autonomous media in slovenia

religious, social, and cultural movements...

SkaterIn the 1920s, Slovenes were not in the best position. They were facing ethnic discrimination in neighboring countries, and religious and linguistic persecution followed soon after. In 1923, teachers in territory controlled by Italy were given the task of religious education and schools were forbidden to teach or speak Slavic languages. The Slovenian dialect was most persistently defended by Catholic Slovenian priests who were revered as cultural heroes and were later immortalized by organizations such as TIGR (acronym for Triste, Istria, Gorizia and Rijeka) who conducted anti-Fascist work.

In the 1930s and 1940s, various groups circulated independent publications in order to further their political ideologies. Communists, Catholics and socialists, among others, invested in their own versions of autonomous media in order to connect with fellow members and challenge dominant beliefs at the time. In 1940, communists, political and cultural representatives, students and TIGR members were arrested by Italian authorities for unlawful activity. When their personal spaces were raided, an illegal library, three printing presses and a radio station were discovered. For these and other offenses, 22 people were sentenced to death. 

When pressured by Yugoslavian forces to quell secular beliefs, a religious periodical entitled Druzina came into circulation in 1952. An organization called The Press Commission suppressed numerous magazines due to inappropriate writings about cultural and social issues between 1951 and 1958. Radio Student was founded by college students in order to provide musical adventurousness, alternative points of view on social ideas, and artistic criticism, and has been broadcasting continuously since 1969. In 1982, the publication Nova revija debuted and, striving to uphold the traditions of the magazines squashed by TPC, attempted to give Slovenians a strong political foundation for the increasingly important democratization process after Tito’s death.

There are several other time periods that could be discussed that are out of the scope of this article. However, there seems to be a historical pattern of independent sources of information being used as forms of resistance against dominant forces in Slovenia, as well as these outlets being seen as threatening and dangerous. The recently departed conservative government assisted in the takeover of the anti-administration newspaper Delo, with serious consequences for its political coverage.  Alternative sources of media and information remain important for Slovenia.


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