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Metelkova: the alternative cultural center in Ljubljana

3 min read

If you ask any local in Ljubljana, they will point you in the right direction, 5 minutes from the city centre of Slovenia’s capital city.
The area now known as Metelkova (full name in Slovene: Avtonomni kulturni centre Metelkova mesto, “Metelkova City Autonomous Cultural Centre”) was once a military barracks, but you would never know it by its state today, covered in a psychedelic cacophony of colorful street art, graffiti, and every kind of punk rock visuals.

Originally commissioned by the Austro-Hungarian army back in 1882 and completed in 1911, the site consists of seven barracks buildings sitting over a total area of 12,500 m², making it a sort of city within a city, comprising a former prison (now Celica Hostel), several clubs, live music spaces, art galleries and artist studios. Formerly, the site was the military headquarters of the Army of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, then it became the Slovenian headquarter of the Yugoslav National Army.
The military used the little walled neighborhood until 1991 when the army abandoned the site as Slovenia attained independence from Yugoslavia. Once the site was vacated, it wasn’t long before groups of squatters began moving in, and making the old buildings their own. In 1993, the Slovenian government tried to demolish the old barracks, with the aim of reconverting the area into a commercial site. However, nearly 200 activists, artists, and protesters took over the site and saved it from destruction, for a time, creating “Metelkova Mesto” – an independent (anti)cultural centre. So, over 200 individuals got down to business creating living spaces, setting up concerts, exhibitions, readings and other events. Unable to extract the compound’s new occupants, city officials responded by cutting off the water and electricity to Metelkova Mesto and filing legal suits against its inhabitants, even if the new challenges only served to bolster the strength of the community.

The government never gave up trying to tear down the site, but the squatters and protesters that continued to hold it, never gave up their fight. One of the buildings, known as the “Old School” was successfully taken down in 1997, and another building, known as the “Small School” was also demolished nine years later, in 2006. However the remainder of the space remains still today as a rebellious artistic community space that is still in some amount of contention with the Government and the constantly threat by the commercial development, neo-conservative politicians and internal problems within the “autonomous zone”.
Metelkova has endured simply through the creativity, imagination, energy and determination of the many individuals who have fought to maintain the autonomy and diversity of community, often through non-violent resistance. For years the area hosted the only Women’s Centre in Slovenia and is still today the only place in the country with community-run clubs for disabled people, gays and lesbians, in addition to numerous campaigns against racism, domestic and institutional abuse.

On current days most of the buildings have been covered in graffiti, folk art, tile mosaics, weird sculptures, and punk rock statements. Dedicated to organising social and cultural activities for the public, the area has a nonstop events schedule and It also houses a bar, a nightclub and a hostel, as well as the free-living squatter population.

Article in collaboration: Ivan (text) and Anya (author of all photos and some corrections) ©️Random-Times.com

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