A Croatian Artists' Squat
I spent Oct. 20-Nov. 21, 2018 cycle touring unsupported from Milan, Italy to Split, Croatia this post recounts part of that journey.
The Rojc Center is a massive 55,000 square foot building housing 5 stories of arts and community organizations in Pula. The building was originally built and used by the military and became an artist squat in the ‘90s. The building was abandoned but the water and electricity was never turned off.
Today 111 organizations call the Rojc (named after WWII hero Karl Rojc) and operates under the vision, “Rojc is a center for social activities in Pula with an innovative management structure that simultaneously allows autonomy and community. Rojc is a trigger of social change promoting autonomy and community.”
Organizations include a daycare for children with disabilities, a community radio station, artists’ studios, yoga, magic, martial arts, dance and theater. Each organization pays only for it’s electricity use, the rent in the building is free. The building is owned by the City of Pula and co-governed through the Rojc Alliance and sees roughly 1,000 visitors per day.
There’s no entry fee or restrictions to enter. We simply found an open door and wandered in. The vibes of anarchy are alive and well in the building. Some doors are open welcome visitors into individual studios. Other doors are padlocked shut or have been replaced with intricate steel gates. The walls are covered from floor to ceiling in graffiti and art works hang from the ceiling. On one floor a working telephone pole and street light have been installed in the hallway.
Some of the walls are tagged in English and Croatian. While some are works of art, others are crass sayings scrawled in messy handwriting. The attic smells like piss and there aren’t doors on the stalls or paper to be found in the bathrooms. It’s dingy and gritty. It’s incredible anything productive happens in that space. And . yet it does.
The center is internationally renown for it’s civic engagement and hundreds of events put on by the organizations that work out of the space. A skate part is on the property in one of the parking lots. There’s a farmers market, concerts and film screenings. It’s a functional community center in a space that feels abandoned and a bit forbidden. It’s the epitome of a cool, arty underground place where the magic happens.
It is incredible to see such peace and community between a local government and squatters-turned-residents of a building that used to symbolize war. Now it symbolizes the future, collectivism and total freedom to innovate, be creative and dream big without the financial burden of renting a space. So much good is coming out of this building that could have just as easily been demolished for private development. I’m so glad it wasn’t.