Armed with the Law on Free Access to Information of Public Importance, the Civic Initiatives Youth Programme launched an official appeal to all municipals and cities in Serbia, asking what assets they had and what the way for young people to get them was. Two thirds of all 167 municipalities reacted to the appeal mostly by stating that they did not posses a record of municipal assets. Although at the very beginning, the campaign was in the gap between judicial resolutions becyause it turned out that the whole property was in possession of the government authorities and that municipalities and cities are the sole administrator. This argument, among others, was and still is one of the most frequent answers and `alibis` of the local authorities when it comes to negotiations on space issues. Since 2009 until the adoption of the Law on Public Ownership (September 2011), a great deal of assets and public spaces `got lost` and became privatised. In our subsequent work, we focused on areas where different groups and youth organisations had already started an initiative for obtaining space. At this point we have entered another campaign pillar, which is: strengthening youth groups seeking space.
There are only a few of them. They don't know how. They are often discouraged and unmotivated.
It is disappointing to notice how young people in Serbia act very little about public spaces and how pessimistic they are in acquiring them. By constant connecting, information dissemination, workshops, official and unofficial meetings, introducing to regional experience, we tried to strengthen all formal and informal groups, organisations and individuals who started initiatives for space acquiring. Through consulting, directing and helping in strategy making, negotiating with local authorities, conducting actions for public spaces revival, we reached a few examples of good practice.
Aradac. New Belgrade. Bezistan. Inex.
After a group maps a public space they want to `conquer`, they can start taking actions in it (arranging space, gathering, conducting various artistic interventions in space) or start the negotiations with local authorities right away. No matter whether the conquest starts with actions or negotiations, the most important thing is not to give up in case of defeat, negative outcome of negotiations or disapproval. Young people often give up after beginner's failure, they don't want to displease anyone, they are unorganised and pessimistic. Unlocking of public spaces...takes time. It requires a lot of action, ideas and persistence. In Aradac (near Zrenjanin), youth organisation Photo Expo has been using rooms of local community office. Associations Context, ApsArt and informal scene Carina were allowed to use an area of 100 square meters in the local community Studentski Grad in New Belgrade. Bezistan is the name of street passage in the centre of Belgrade, where MicroArt Company will make the first street gallery in town. More than 10 associations, youth groups and independent artists at this time are arranging and renewing a big abandoned building of 1500 square meters in Belgrade. The owner of this building, which was once the central office of Inex Film, gave the young people permission to use these rooms because he is not going to invest in reconstruction any time soon.
Local authorities and institutions? Closed. Centralised. Uninformed.
Public spaces and groups which take them are a very changeable entity which adjusts to modern circumstances. Inex Film is, conditionally speaking, a gained public space for a certain period of time and that is great! We are gradually changing the system through little initiatives and steps. Institutions and local authorities often have prejudice, in negotiations they are closed, uninformed, slow and centralised in decision-making. They do not see their benefits in opening to young people and that every given public space is a bonus. Their bonus. `Keeping` abandoned buildings, factories, parks etc., in order to gain economic benefits in some distant future, is of no use to anyone. "A famous director will come to open a multiplex cinema or a theatre." No, that will not happen in 2011, in the middle of an economic crisis! Megalomania blinds. Let abandoned spaces to those who have the knowledge, will, interests and ideas to make something out of them. You will see amazing things.
Openly about Public Spaces - the roof for all initiatives
Barracks in Novi Sad and Nis, abandoned facilities in Majdanpek, Inex, Livnica in Kragujevac, initiatives in Smederevo, Krusevac, Gornji Milanovac. No more painting for free. People are more and more using campaign terms, the topic is more present in the public, young people are beginning to realise that they will achieve more in gaining the public space through results and conducted actions in the space itself. It is a slow process, but things are changing. As an umbrella to all the initiatives and groups, the Civic Initiatives will, through "Openly about Public Spaces" continue to provide support, advice, contacts and will unite the actions in order to accomplish a hidden but very important agenda of this project and that is: citizen participation in community life. The citizens should be involved in everything that happens in their surrounding and the public spaces are one of the learning mechanisms.
Get informed. Make a team. Map. Create. Unlock public spaces...
The campaign is supported by the ISC and USAID within the Civil Society Advocacy Initiative Program.