The Social center Rog is an open, autonomous, cultural and political space, where people with all sorts of different backgrounds come together. It’s located in the center of Ljubljana, in the infamous and slowly degrading Rog bike factory. It’s well known, that the place and the community present a thorn in the paw of city officials, that’s why they’re determined to tear it down at the end of May 2016.
The humble beginning started at the end of the 19th century when an entrepreneur named Ivan Janež bought the land and built a small leather manufacturing facility. The facility grew into a factory and switched a couple of owners until it was nationalized after WW2 to later become one of the leading bicycle factories in former Yugoslavia. Unfortunately, like most Slovenian factories, it began a downward spiral after Slovenia declared its independence in 1991 and it slowly started to shut its doors.
Then, in the year 2000, after a decade of neglect, two large-scale exhibitions were held on the premises (Break 21, 4th International Festival of Young Artists and the 17th Biennial of Industrial Design), which led a group of artists, students and activists to occupy the abandoned 7,000 square-metre factory complex in March 2006. Their aim was to awaken it from hibernation and establish an independent art association, where they themselves would maintain the space, without any financial help from the Municipality of Ljubljana.
Young, striving artists are always in need of their own creative space, a problem shared by struggling creatives all across Europe and the rest of the world, for that matter. Sadly, the city officials took their actions as an attack and instead of helping them with their idea of self-initiative, they forged a plan to demolish the abandoned factory.
Since they failed to find a private investor, they tried to force them out of the building complex and disabling their access to water and electricity, so Rog nowadays runs on backup generators. When the Municipality applied for EU funding, the reply wasn’t the kind they hoped for – instead of coming up with new projects, they should continue developing the ones they already have.
It’s a fact, that formal bureaucracy runs in slow motion, especially if there’s a lack of private interests, but Rog, though being under constant threat, developed successfully … bit by bit. In its 10 year run, it has become one of two thriving centers of alternative culture in Ljubljana (the other one being Metelkova), with its spaces being taken over and manipulated by artists, skateboarding crews, dance events and activities, debates, etc.
It’s the place where petitions for refugees and ‘The Erased’ were created and, last but not least, they constantly contribute to the music scene advancement. Rog’s space is open to other European or cultural communities, to create and host events. For many people, it was and still is home.
The skate hall
There’s something eerie in the air … a sense of the inevitable end. In February this year the Office finally declared a date to evict the squatters and empty the space till the end of this month (30th of April). They’re planning to start tearing down the buildings at the end of May, starting with the smaller ones. Why now, you ask? … The answer is simple – their building permit expires in June. The city officials’ master plan is to build a ‘new Rog’. Special care was given to the renewal of the outer part, where the tourists often walk by.
The city’s economic growth is always the prime goal of such escapades, so the mayor’s going to propose new locations to coffee shops and small store owners, a plan for different communities and successful artists is also underway, with current residents supposedly being prioritized and short-listed. But nothing seems to be happening. Words don't seem to be followed by actions. The main problem resides in the lack of funding for the restoration. They’re being forced to register for next year’s European calls … but you have to have a finished plan for those.
The most possible and dreaded outcome is, that the ‘new Rog’ turns out to be something completely different. One thing is certain, the concept of working isn’t going to be the same … Rog won’t be a free community with social context anymore, which means, that the currently active artists won't get their space back.
This year’s past events have been of various genres. As for electronic music, the development was based pretty much on the local scene. There are at least five ‘cult’ places where things take place – the big hall, with the prevailing fragrance of beer-meets-sweat-meets-piss, the smaller hall with DJ gear next to the skate park hall, which is quite cheeky to find when you’re a bit drunk, the Blue corner, the cute little Plac Boris and the terrace, where the afterparties take place.
The hallway in the making in 2006, photo by Žiga Živulc
Rog is known for all electronic genres: from techno, house, minimal, juke, footwork, breakbeat, hip-hop, drum and bass and even trance ... as long as you’re a local or know someone, there’s no problem. Levanael, VidVai, Dacho, Roiss, AiA, Nitz, Illman, Krilc, Kareem Da-Li, Mique, Borka, Bakto ... are some of the names worth mentioning, but the list goes on and on.
The big hall on a Friday night
For me, Rog was that place, where underground vibes took charge and that place where you went to dance and hang out with friends when other parties ended, to laugh at skaters, who complained about wanting their skate park back in the middle of the night, even getting lost in the hallways or have a smoke in the bright and early morning on the terrace. It’s important, because of its atmosphere and the sense of safety from the outer world, which gives you a chance to spend a great night on your own.
Like many places, that work well and start off being non-exclusive, at the end become just that – exclusive. Because of its idea of freedom, its instantly followed by some form of disorganisation, which sometimes borders on chaos. Because of the weird secretive nature of the people behind it, Rog lacks a functioning mechanism to spread information, making the majority of the parties quite inaccessible. Maybe their indifference was a mistake. If they’re going to try to protect their beloved space and their beliefs, they’re definitely gonna have to include the general public in their protest at the beginning of May.