Context comes from con-textere // PART 2

A report from the meeting of Balkan Express (BE) network in Maribor, Slovenia, entitled Sustainability of Artistic Action, 28 till 30 November 2012 // PART 2

continues from here: https://balkanexpresss.wordpress.com/2013/06/06/context-comes-from-con-textere-to-weave-to-interlace-together-a-report-from-the-meeting-of-balkan-express-be-network-in-maribor-slovenia-entitled-sustainability-of-artistic-action-28-till-30/

Having all this in mind, I was impressed with the way our meeting was organized. And especially with CAAP – Centre of Alternative and Autonomous Production which hosted our sessions. As a sort of an introduction, we were taken around CAAP and talked through its various activities.

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CAAP is a community and social centre in Slovenia, and it opened its doors very recently, on 16 November 2012. What seems most interesting to me is that it combines different types of cultural practices, understanding culture as a way of life and not solely in its narrow meaning, as that which deals with events of the so-called “high culture” or what a “beautiful soul”(1) keeps on his Nachtkastl to “elevate” him spiritually before he goes to bed. In fact, as you can see, the world “culture” is not even present in the title of the centre, but what the centre deals with is by all means cultural production. CAAP gathers several projects and initiatives giving them space for their activities. These projects and initiatives are:

a) Digital nomadism whose aim is to do away with exclusion of socially marginalized groups from digital culture. One of the concrete applications of this project is Zero Dollar Laptop, a recycled computer which runs Free and Open Source Software. The project does not only include giving away free laptops but also consists of workshops which enable participants (for instance homeless people) to access technical knowledge.

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b) Etnomobil – a travelling autonomous space that is formed every 14 days in various neighbourhoods with a large number of socially vulnerable groups and happens through drawing, singing, playing, dancing, juggling, talking, reading, interviewing, photography.

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c) Teleport – a project whose aim is to develop conditions for sustainability of cycling programs in the local community, i.e. creating conditions that make people prefer cycling, public transport or walking over transport by private cars.

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d) Seed Library – collects and holds seeds for people to “borrow” and return, once the plants have grown. Helps maintain the diversity of crops with the free exchange of seeds. The aim of the project is to strengthen the local community through growing vegetables and various linked activities

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e) Sustainable Local Food – Zadruga Dobrina (Cooperation Dobrina) – a program that enables the strengthening of small farmers and their local communities, and supplies urban population with high quality food, created with minimum footprint.

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f) Community Urban Garden – a program which enables citizens to apply for an allotment in the city followed by workshops on self-organisation, gardening, organic and biodynamic farming, permaculture and the use of community space. So far 80 gardens have been awarded and there are dozens of people on the waiting list.

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All of these activities are a part of a two-year program Urban Furrows (Urbane brazde) whose main aim, as we can see from above, is to empower communities (vulnerable communities in particular) via various activities that are conceived to improve the quality of their life. Due to the fact that Slovenia has the lowest level of fruit and vegetable self-sufficiency among EU countries, the project focused on various strategies around the production and distribution of high quality food. Urban Furrows was one of the key programs of Maribor European Capital of Culture 2012.

Amongst other things, within the framework of Urbane brazde project, the first book by a Roma writer Jasmina Ahmetaj was published in Slovenian, together with the Roma-Slovenian dictionary.

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This presentation coincided very well with several remarks that Marta Gregorčič gave during the discussion later on. As the main person behind the programme strand Urban Furrows within Maribor ECOC 2012, Marta also gave us an insight into the difficulties that Urban Furrows project will be facing when the funding runs out by the end of 2012. But I will get back to that later in the text.

After seeing the space and getting to know about Urban Furrows project and CAAP, Vesna Vuk Godina, a very energetic and engaging Slovenian anthropologist and a public personality, held a lecture portraying in wide and general strokes the specificities of Maribor’s cultural history. What follows is a summary of her lecture.

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As an anthropologist, Vesna Vuk Godina understands culture as a series of symbolic and functional, but also ethnical solutions to concrete situations that benefit the society (which is an idea that fits well with CAAP’s understanding of culture). In order to understand what is going on today, Godina claims, Slovenians address history, they ask about the history of regions or concrete ethnic groups and question why people establish special types of social solutions.

For a long time, Maribor was a trade centre with a very vivid economic life. Its citizens were traders, and those in villages surrounding Maribor were farmers. Throughout the history Maribor was mostly under Austrian or German political systems.

To be Slovenian does not simply mean to be of a particular ethnic identity, but it also means to share a particular type of social functioning, to share certain solutions to problems and ideas on what is supposed to be done.

Maribor is rather special in comparison to other parts of Slovenia, and different kinds of social practices exist here. In ex-Yugoslavia, Maribor was the strongest industrial centre, a lot of factories were operating well. This helped creation of a strong identity of being proud to be a Slovenian in Maribor which was connected with this economic experience.

The inhabitants of Maribor feel inferior to Ljubljana citizens and this reflects the feeling of inferiority that they felt towards the Germans. The formal institutions were, for most part of the past, in the hands of the Germans. However, this sense of inferiority also created a strong ethnic identity against the Germans. And one of the main cornerstones of this identity was the intolerance of inequality. Unlike most other nations, Slovenians have never had their own ruling class thoughout the whole of history. They have systematic problems with ruling classes.

To be a Slovenian from a historical perspective means to be equal – and equally poor as everybody else. There is an ethical position in this – to be a moral individual means to be poor, and to be equal with everybody else. And to be Slovenian means to decide in a traditional way, with regards to the opinion and participation of common people. People in Maribor can tolerate to be poor. Also, if those who rule are foreigners, they will accept the fact that they are ruled by someone. Because they have the historical experience of always being ruled by foreigners, by Germans and Austrians. However, they will not tolerate not to be on equal terms with their co-citizens and compatriots. .

It is said that if an uprise was to start, it would start in Maribor, or rather, when Maribor moves, the whole of Slovenia will move.

The practice of self-management during communism corresponded well with the general identity of Maribor citizens, or rather, helped its establishment. The workers participated in decision-making.

The fact that Maribor was a strong industrial centre in Yugoslavia, also contributed to the strength of workers’ social networks. Although informal social networks had been forming the very basis of social organization throughout the history in these areas known today as Slovenia, Maribor was the place with strongest informal connections.

Today, however, there is no equality, the workers are not involved in decision making, and there is no work. However, informal social networks are still functioning even though some of the factories were closed years ago.

Slovenian community is organized in such a way that one is copying one’s neighbor which seems to be a functional solution for survival, from the historical point of view. However, this tradition was even stronger in Maribor due to the collective type of social organisation. The unit is not an individual but a community. Such type of organisation is traditional for villages.

The culture of workers was also about community, not about individuality. One of the main problems of the fact that the factories were closed down with the downfall of communism was that informal networks suffered as well, even though they still exist. So, it is not only about closing the factory, but also about a threat to informal social networks.

What socialism was often criticized for, was that workers were stealing from the factory, things like toilet paper. But Godina claims that this followed from a particular type of village mentality: in the same way that the village belonged to the workers, so did the factory. But there was also an implicit control in place – the control by co- workers. Therefore, it was a self-regulating social system.

The workers did feel that the factory belonged to them, because they were the ones who built it. As Maribor was bombed during the WW2, there was nothing left, there wasn’t a single factory. So, all these factories were built by the workers – they controlled them and made all the decisions.

If you want to introduce “Western solutions”, you need to indigenize them, to adapt them to local conditions, to enrich them with your own tradition. This is what makes Japan and China so successful.

Renault in Novo mesto is an example of economically successful factory, precisely because they imported Western solutions but managed them in a traditional way. The foreign managers understood that they need to include the workers in the decision making processes. This was of utmost importance. After a bad beginning, French managers gave the workers self-management back and this resulted with Novo mesto Renault factory being the second most productive factory in the whole international network.

Transition to capitalism in Slovenia was the smoothest in all of ex-Yugoslavia. Ex- socialist leaders were highly social, a good example is president Kučan. They visited factories, talked to the people and listened to them.

With capitalism came the new political elite which is very asocial. It is incredibly important to treat people with dignity, which new political elite is failing to do. They are not including people into decision making processes, and do not understand the value of socially responsible acting.

(1) […] Hegel’s beautiful soul, who claims precisely to have exited the evil world. […] Hegel does not claim that the world may or may not be evil—he doesn’t claim that what is wrong with the beautiful soul is that it is prejudiced and rigid in its thinking. The world is not some object that we can have different opinions about. No: the problem is far subtler than that. The problem is that the gaze that constitutes the world as a thing “over there,” is evil as such. […] Evil is not in the eye of the beholder. Evil is the eye of the beholder. Evil is the gaze that sees the world as an evil thing over yonder. (from Timothy Morton’s essay “Beautiful Soul Syndrome”, english.ucdavis.edu/people/directory/tbmorton/mortonuclatalk.pdf)

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3 responses to “Context comes from con-textere // PART 2

  1. Pingback: Context comes from con-textere (to weave, to interlace together) // PART 1 | BalkanExpress·

  2. Pingback: Context comes from con-textere (to weave, to interlace together): a report from the meeting of Balkan Express (BE) network in Maribor, Slovenia, entitled Sustainability of Artistic Action, 28 till 30 November 2012 // PART 1 | BalkanExpress·

  3. Pingback: Context comes from con-textere // PART 3 | BalkanExpress·

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