INTERVIEW WITH UROŠ PAJOVIĆ “SELF-MANAGEMENT IS SIMULTANEOUSLY A FORM, A MEANS, AND A GOAL OF SOCIOPOLITICAL STRUGGLE!”
As part of our website's relaunch, we have started a new interview series. The second to come forward is Uroš Pajović—Serbian, Berlin-based researcher and writer dealing with the intersection between architecture, the politics of space and visual arts, the post-Yugoslav landscape and self-management, as well as the East-West divide.
- You belong to a thriving contingent of young people from the region who work across countries and the old “East-West” divide. Considering your working experience across scenes, we are interested in your background: first of all, from an academic/educational perspective; second of all, from an artistic/practice-based one.
I have been—both endearingly and dismissively—called “a designer trapped in the body of an architect,” “more like an artist trapped in the body of a designer” (these two happened one right after the other), “a researcher trying to be an artist,” as well as even “a poet who decided to write theory.” (I choose to think some of those may have been intended as compliments.) With most things I have done, I have felt a duality in my approach, somehow simultaneously beneficial and digressive.
The different ‘channels’ preoccupying my work have for me always—both intentionally and not—intertwined and informed one another. In the broadest sense, my educational background is geographically and discipline-wise diverse: I studied architecture at the University of Belgrade (and, for one exchange year, at the University of Missouri-Columbia) and, after completing the Master of Architecture program, I moved to Berlin to study at the weißensee kunsthochshule berlin (Weißensee Academy of Arts Berlin), where I obtained an MA in the Raumstrategien (Spatial Strategies) department, which—put shortly—combines art in public space with urban theory and sociology.
This broad illustration is, in a way, emblematic of how I approach both the ‘theoretical’ and the ‘practical’ aspects of my work, and both architecture and arts (these two pairings not being used here in an analogous manner). Within architectural projects or working in the role of an artist, I have always heavily delved into theoretical implications of a subject at hand; so much so that the theoretical efforts would often take over, and themselves become the gist of the work. Conversely, when dealing with research and theoretical explorations, I have just as often felt the need to nudge them back towards practice, be it through talks, workshops, roundtables, publications. (I here, of course, use the terms theoretical and practical in a rather all-encompassing manner, which can raise a lot of discussion; for the sake of efficiency, I will leave it that way, noting that ‘practice’ and ‘theory’ are by no means as separate and exclusive as my previous thoughts may imply to the particularly critical reader.)
I don’t call myself an architect, and I don’t call myself an artist; I lean toward theorist/researcher/author (and oh, those are still three!). Good thing, I guess, I am a big fan of (overusing?) footnotes, parentheses (always a point of gentle conflict with editors) as well as slashes (/), so I use every chance to lean on punctuation to illustrate certain multiplicities.
- Your practice is very extensive, not only in terms of being firmly rooted in coherent theoretical standpoints, but also in terms of being varied and having multiple modes of expression (text, installation, workshop, design, lectures). Can you please tell us about the role of research in your practice (perhaps give a few examples of previous projects where research played a key part), as well as the influence of urban theorists like Lefebvre?
Recently, writing has become the main medium of my practice, but research has always been an all-encompassing basis that I go back to. For example, the art project Kotti Deluxe GmbH which I run with my friend, artist/researcher Victoria Claire Anderson, and which takes the form of a fictional Serbian-American investment company and marketing agency, examines how new ideas of integrated live-work-shop environments are blurring the boundaries between a space of socially-driven production and market-driven investment capitalism. The project deals with contemporary (commercial) developments in urban as well as digital space, and often relies on satire in order to highlight the ridiculousness and the brutality of the ever-growing list of trends and techniques within and of contemporary/late/brutal capitalism. In order to be able to do satire, we must at all times remain au courant with these shifting dispositions; furthermore, this is personally extremely valuable for my theoretical writings, as a lot of my research about the urban, the social, the political is based on historical research and theoretical precedents—allowing me to, except for being able to look at precedents, also be aware of the changed dispositions of the contemporary moment.
One example of such theoretical precedents would indeed be the writings of Henri Lefebvre, whose theory has informed a lot of my work, especially in the last few years, largely thanks to one of my teachers at weißensee (and my friend), the incredible cultural and urban theorist Elisa T. Bertuzzo. Lefebvre, who lived for most of the twentieth century (1901-1991), was a French Marxist philosopher and sociologist and, even though most famous for his writings on space and cities (he coined the now ubiquitously famous “Right to the City”), his bailiwick was much more extensive, as he also wrote about labour, philosophy, language, political systems, everyday life, and many other subjects. As I will later lean on it, I will here also mention one of Lefebvre’s (many trialectical) models which I have found of great value for approaching many subjects of research as well as artistic practice. In the 1974 Production of Space (Production de l’espace), he introduced a trialectic system of (fields of) space: perceived—conceived—lived. Within it, perceived space represents the physical space, i.e. the structures and infrastructures where everyday life (routine) unfolds, as well as how inhabitants use those structures. Conceived space presupposes the ideas (representations) of space stemming from different positions of power, be it capital, state, or architectural and urbanistic projects. Finally, lived, or social space implies social interactions and actions (mostly) at the scale of the everyday, informed by social values, traditions, desires, dreams and memories of inhabitants and users; importantly, for Lefebvre it encompasses the previous two, while at the same time being a ‘function’ of them.
This multitude of alleys through which he conducted his research (and I am here running the risk of sounding pretentious) is one of the reasons I felt close to his work, along with his keen fascination with the commonality of things, autogestion (both of which I will get to soon), and the way in which he writes, which is neither purely academic nor can be described as absolutely poetic, but rather a combination of the two which—and I find this particularly inspiring—often elaborates on notions and concepts only a while after introducing and using them to develop arguments, somehow simultaneously guiding the reader and allowing for space for them to develop an understanding of one’s own ahead of being offered Lefebvre’s. I find that somehow reverse to how theorists usually develop and present concepts (especially those they come up with themselves), and very bracing. Besides Lefebvre, I of course am constantly inspired and challenged by the work of other theorists and researchers, many of who I will (or have already) mention throughout this conversation.
- You also seem to be interested in the commonality of things, seeing the urban fabric as the context that brings together multiple facets of everyday life: cities, places, people, spaces, architecture, multiple identities, and contemporary forms of art. How are you using this focus on a shared, communal life in your work? Your workshop series City Place People Space seems incredibly valuable in this regard. Can you talk us through its premise, modus operandi, and output?
City Place People Space (now also operating under the title Commonotions) began with a ‘workshop series’ format intended as a platform for explorations of the urban. The first iteration took place across three months in late 2015 in different open spaces, artistic and cultural institutions in Belgrade, the capital of Serbia. The goal was to introduce the participants with spatial actions, contemporary architectural practice and art scene, as well as spatial entities in relation to their architecture, history, culture, politics and identity. Participants engaged with the urban space and the acteurs within it, with hopes of experimenting with the different ways artistic and research techniques, social research, activism, and urban forms and processes can be brought in contact with each other, and which new tactics and strategies they can provide through these encounters, some of which were presented in the final exhibition at what is now Ostavinska galerija.
The year 2015 was the year which saw the beginning of a (still persisting) wave of demonstrations of the citizens and various grassroots organisations in Belgrade and Serbia against the urban developments in the city planned by the (still-ruling) government and their associates, domestic and foreign, particularly the Belgrade Waterfront project, which has, now partly completed, proven to be a disruptive presence in the architectural-urban and socio-economic life of the city alike. The protests against this and other detrimental developments and reconstructions, the dubious financial speculations behind them, and the criminally bad labour conditions of construction workers building them significantly inspired this first iteration of Commonotions, especially when it comes to such subjects as structures of togetherness, ways of organising, the right to the city, methods of defiance; on the other hand (and probably just as importantly), the ridiculousness and the audacity of the actions of suppression and commodification coming from instances of Power. I clearly remember being at one of the protests organised across from a historic building turned into a showroom for the project by the city officials. They were meeting with investors during the demonstration and, in order to hide the protestors, an order was sent to two tram drivers coming from opposite directions to stop their trams so that they form a wall blocking the line of sight between us and the arriving investors. Of course, it wasn’t too effective as it only made the thousands of gathered people chant even louder, but the bizarre ‘ingenuity’ of that act of using public means of transportation to form an ephemeral architecture intended to prevent people from fighting against a largely preposterous development so insolent to their basic rights really stuck with me, and I have used it as an emblematic example of the abuse of power and commodification of the public (space) both within the workshops and subsequently, along with many other examples which have unfortunately since appeared, in Serbia and elsewhere.
The second (2016) and third (2017) iterations of Commonotions both took a somewhat more formal approach. The former was as well organised in Belgrade in cooperation with Eho Animato, an art group focused on theatrical research, as part of their Project Rosmersholm—What happened to our ideals? aiming at using artistic research and analysis in order to deconstruct, explore, and reinterpret the aesthetic and political aspects of the play with the same name. The third iteration took place in Bonn at the invitation of the DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service) and dealt with the forms and voids of the city’s architecture, observing the former West German capital as a witness of years of societal change. The most recent, fourth (2018) iteration of Commonotions was part of a larger event in Berlin, the School of Continual Education which included several other workshops organised by artists and researchers at the beautiful complex of the former Australian Embassy to East Germany, which was home to ateliers of over 30 artists and writers from the summer of 2017 until August this year. Once more, the focus of the workshop was the relationship between Power and urban space, this time focusing on corporate developments in urban space, such as Ikea’s plans to build city districts, Google’s (or rather, Alphabet’s) Sidewalk Project in Toronto envisioning a ‘smart’ city which follows (records) the way inhabitants use open space and adjusts accordingly, or Apple’s new ‘Town Square’ project, which goes one step further, commodifying language along with open space, turning public space into privately controlled, and turning architectural designations into pure branding. Unlike most other projects and research I am currently developing or part of, Commonotions is not necessarily a continual development. It is rather an interdisciplinary funnel which I employ when I encounter a topic that I feel could be explored in an interesting way through a common work of many different participants, which has so far always been the case—it has truly been a joy and an honour to think with and learn from all those who contributed, be it as invited guests offering activities and provocation, or ‘participants’ willing to share their practices and experiences joining the workshops without previous knowledge of what they would entail. Also, Commonotions has proven to be another important technique to ‘organise’ and bring together the different spheres and thematic frameworks which I am essaying to swim in.
- The role of Yugoslavia in establishing a network of peripheries, of uniting people into a sole purpose has been immense in the history of contemporary dissent. What can we learn from the Yugoslav case & how do you use Yugoslav tools (for instance self-management) in your writing/publishing and exhibitions? Tell us more about your Communiqué publication, as well, in this context.
In a 1978 interview, Lefebvre says: “I am talking about the failure of centralised planning in the Soviet Union as well as the failures of autogestion [self-management] in Yugoslavia [...] The movement comes from below or it does not come at all. […] A state that proclaims autogestion from above paralyses it by this mere fact and converts it into its opposite.” Put briefly, self-management was Yugoslavia’s reply to both Western capitalism and the Soviet centralised model of communism, conceptually based around social, rather than state ownership of the means of production, and the right of workers and people to self-determination and decision-making. (It has been the main focus of my research for a while now and is, along with 1968, the topic of my essay in Kajet’s second volume.) Lefebvre, however, didn’t lose his late-60s enthusiasm for the concept: in 1986, he based a theoretical proposal for New Belgrade around self-management; I mention the proposal briefly in the Kajet essay, as I do mesne zajednice, which I was back then still translating to English as ‘place-communities.’ I have since, departing from Lefebvre’s aforementioned trialectical model and referencing the concept of mesne zajednice in former Yugoslavia as well as its successor states, proposed a model of platiality, a technique to ‘read’ history across the three currents of its spaces (physical, mental, social). I propose platiality (linguistically completing the space:spatiality/place:x equation), not solely as a determinant of this level of organization of urban life, but also, in an appropriated sense, as a technique to re-evaluate concepts and paradigms of the past for the contemporary moment and in relation to the multiplicities and complexities they were simultaneously constituting and being constituted by; I have tried to make an effort to, with the example of Yugoslavia and some of its contradictions and disruptions, extend the concept of platiality into a call-to-action, a slit in a dominant understanding of “the East,” and an opening towards other histories and forms and instances of political experience, especially at a time where, in the words of economist and theorist Catherine Samary, an “increasingly barbaric globalised capitalism takes us back to the nineteenth century by seeking to criminalise revolutions and anti-capitalist resistance movements of the twentieth century, reducing them to their failures.” This is a quote from the foreword to the Samary’s book Komunizem v gibanju [Communism in Movement], published in Slovenia in 2017, and kindly adapted by the author for the first issue of Communiqué, an online-cum-pamphlet publication I started in late 2018 as another platform to bring together different points of view around a single subject, this time self-management.
The concept, which I briefly explained above and wrote about in Kajet, first began to interest me as a research subject in 2016, as I was attending a seminar on performance led by another professor-turned-friend at weißensee who influenced and inspired my work significantly, the marvelous cultural theorist Giulia Palladini. I was preparing a lecture about performance art in Yugoslavia for the seminar and I discovered a then-just-published book by Branislav Jakovljević, Alienation Effects: Performance and Self-Management in Yugoslavia 1941-1945, in which he draws deep, significant connections between democratisation of the arts and industrial democracy, performance art, industrial performance, and mass performances organized by the state, the protests of 1968, and many other subjects crucial to the understanding of self-management, Yugoslavia, and how the collapse of one meant the collapse of the other. This brilliant book not only boosted but also helped shape my pre-existing interest in Yugoslav (architectural and urban) heritage, leading me to bring together the research of architectural heritage, forms of urban organisation, and the political and societal aspects of self-management. This led me back to Lefebvre, and his many writings on self-management (autogestion), several of which also discussed Yugoslavia, as he had close connections to a group of Yugoslav theorists and thinkers from the late sixties onwards. This concept, in my opinion loaded with potential and power also for the contemporary moment, has ever since been, on the one hand, the focal point of my work, as well as, on the other, a pool of methods and techniques I try to employ and experiment with throughout my work. This duality is very important to me and the way I have been developing my understanding and application of the concept, which I will briefly expand on here.
Self-management is—at the same time—a form, a means, and a goal of sociopolitical struggle, where the power of decision-making and control over resources and means of production are brought back to the subject of that struggle. As a form of struggle, it is a way of organising which, within the contemporary political landscape, transforms the principles of communities across society from self-organisation into a politically much more potent self-management. As a means of struggle, it is never predefined or prescribed; it is employed and experienced, developed and defined during that struggle, at different scales, and towards a reorganisation of society based on that struggle. As a goal of struggle, it is, during every instance of self-managed action, constantly the horizon of struggle; a vision of an entirely self-managed society, which isn’t a sum of units managing themselves, but an ensemble of overlapping and interconnected self-managed instances. Self-management is not about erasing and forgetting the existing modes of everyday life and gathering, the mechanisms of community, the architectural and urbanistic practices, but about adjoining to them, about enriching them—transforming them to include the principles of self-management, completing them for the given, contemporary conditions, and maintaining them throughout time, constantly reexamining and improving its own principles. Self-management is not the management of self! It is only through a constant reworking, questioning, and interaction of instances of self-management that a self-managed society is preserved. Never predefined, or prescribed, true self-management can only exist if born and established—“happened”—in the low, bottom, everyday, or, to quote Lefebvre, weak points of society, and then brought to the top, encompassing all conditions and spheres of life. True self-management is never “top-down” because it must have without question, previously ‘climbed’ “bottom-up.” Self-management is inseparable from space—as perpetual struggle, it questions, reappropriates, and ultimately does away with the reproductions of space coming from Power; simultaneously, it supports and follows closely the production of social space. Disrupting principles of self-management—access to resources, decision-making, self-production, solidarity and inspiration, and more—leads to the destruction of social space. Consequently, self-management is embedded in platiality, understood in a twofold sense: firstly, as a way to read and reappropriate concepts across the three Lefebvrian fields of space, where they all intersect throughout time; secondly, as a quality of platial communities, which are the vessels of the struggle of and for self-management, in turn also construed across the fields of space. Self-management, therefore, applies to any and all points of society and assumes various forms accordingly, but always to (re)appropriate alienated space—physical, mental, and social alike.
These are some of the aspects of self-management that I intend to keep exploring with Communiqué, beginning with the spaces that (could) carry it, the ways it has persevered until today, and the lessons we could potentially draw from it.
- Another important component of your work is the interest in the non-alignment movement, or more precisely in Yugoslavia’s non-alignment path. Can you tell us more about this empowering framework? Furthermore, do you think that a community of struggle across borders can exist in the context of a “third way”? Ultimately, if we expand on this, do you believe in the possibility of creating a pan-peripheral movement, one where the notion of Eastern Europe is re-defined not by its opposite relation to the West (as it was constructed in the bipolar geopolitics of the Cold War), but to its affinity to the Third World, as it was likewise positioned in socialist internationalism? And lastly, can this emphasis put on marginality and periphery give way to the possibility to create a competing master narrative to the Western hegemonic one?
If there were two concepts we could consider the pillars holding up the positioning of socialist Yugoslavia, those were self-management in internal policy and non-alignment in foreign politics. Yugoslavia fell apart in the early nineties, as did the system of self-managed socialism. The Non-Aligned Movement nominally survived, but doesn’t represent what it used to during the Cold War. When looking back in history, it is fairly easy to fall into a dual trap of either rose-glassed nostalgia for the ‘good ol’ times’ when everything worked better or a priori judgment and dismissiveness based on the ability to only see the failures and demises of systems that once were.
Speaking of Yugoslavia, and once more utilising the Lefebvrian trialectic system of fields of space, I would claim that, if the perceived, or physical space of the now non-existent country covered bridges, roads, towns and cities… ‘from the Vardar River to the Triglav Mountain,’ the physical post-Yugoslav space is a fractured, dissociated collection of border crossings between minor nation-states on the edges of Europe. If the conceived, or mental, space of Yugoslavia was one riddled with contradictions stemming from the ‘proto-paradox’ of a top-down self-management system which, however, still reinforced principles of brotherhood and unity, non-alignment and anti-colonialism, direct democracy and self-determination, women’s rights, social and national egalitarian rights (some more consistently than others), the mental post-Yugoslav space is that of forced separation of identities, a maelstrom of thems and uses, and dominant revisionism from centres of nation-state powers reinforced via an a priori refusal of socialist principles, concepts, and history of the region. If, finally, the lived, social, everyday space of Yugoslavia was that of struggle for a fully self-managed society, albeit one suffocated by the (incomplete) recognition coming from above, only occasionally disrupted so that it bursts into its fully realized form (self-management as means and goal of struggle, simultaneously; for example, during the first days of the 1968 protests when students organised into committees; the self-managed institutions of arts and culture that came thereafter, working towards establishing a critique of the concept’s official employment; the everyday life of platial communities all over the country, where citizens from all strata of the Yugoslav society gathered to decide and act on different aspects of spaces they inhabited), the everyday post-Yugoslav space is that of, on the one hand, scattered instances of struggle waiting to be organised, brought together, and unified, and, on the other, romanticised nostalgia waiting to be politically activated. It may seem I am an opponent of nostalgia in any and all its forms, which is untrue. Though cautious, I think there is great power in it, power with potential to be transformed into pertinent, proactive political struggle shaping times to come; this, if I may add, could in this context be particularly true of Yugonostalgia, in great part thanks to its uniqueness, especially the former country’s relatively greater openness to the rest of the world in comparison to the Communist systems of the Eastern Bloc / Soviet sphere of influence, making it somewhat harder to dismiss as redundant or reductive by predominant neoliberal discourses eager to weaponise Communist pasts.
Indeed, thirty years after the fratricidal wars that marked the end of Socialist Yugoslavia, the world is slowly beginning to rediscover its history and its legacies. This is as important as it can be dangerous. Dangers lurk in the unbearable lightness with which current trends separate Yugoslav legacy from its political meaning and historic struggle, either via formal nostalgia or criteria-free denial, diminishing spaces of socialist history into anything from visually attractive commodities (see: ‘spomeniks’ monuments to anti-fascist struggle used as catwalks and backdrops, or Cyrillic alphabets and hammer and sickle in fashion) to just as uncritical a demonising disguised as political stance, reducing the Yugoslav system to its shortcomings and failures. Conversely, the importance of such rediscovery lies in the fact that the false binary ‘reading’ of the Cold War era is (slowly) being disrupted—that is, the oversimplified dialectic of Communism vs. the West. This should, and hopefully will, tear apart the remnants of the Iron Curtain still waving in the winds of contemporary discourses and practices, opening them up to a whole new place: other worlds in-between (and beyond) the rigid divisions inherited from the Cold War’s great forces.
My research expanded significantly into the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), of which Yugoslavia was a member and one of the co-founders (along with India and Egypt) through a collaboration with the amazing researcher and artist Naeem Mohaiemen. Our collaboration took form of a theoretical ‘discussion’ between my research on Yugoslavia and his three-channel film Two Meetings and a Funeral, which premiered at Documenta in 2017, and of which two parts (of planned three) were so far published in Mezosfera #5 and ARTMargins #8.2. The idea of non-alignment itself can be traced back at least to 1955, when the Bandung Conference took place in Indonesia with the goal of promoting Asian-African cooperation, especially in opposing colonialism and neocolonialism. The principles of this conference were revisited one year later by the President of Egypt, Gamal Abdel Nasser; the Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru; and the President of the SFRY, Josip Broz Tito in the Brijuni Islands. This meeting would pave the way to the founding Conference of the Non-Aligned States, when representatives of twenty-eight countries gathered in Belgrade, the capital of Yugoslavia, in September of 1961, as the Cold War was in full swing. The founding Conference, like many thereafter, was an event many voices of which—even though not in perfect harmony—were heard over the world in unison, and to different reactions. Despite the various struggles, there was a significant level of agreement among the leaders of the states gathered in Belgrade. They settled on several postulates of foreign policy, mostly as a Third World response to the Cold War division into two blocs as well as nuclear threats. In other words, a call to non-alignment: non-membership in any military or ideological bloc dominated by one of the great powers; a commitment to equality in relations between nations, large and small, powerful and weak; the right of every country to self-determination; avoidance of force as a method of settling international disputes; focus on economic development; condemnation of colonialism (not disregarding economic subjection in the framework of colonization, whether in states which were never—formally—colonised, or those crippled by economic aid as a neocolonial practice).
Through this collaboration with Naeem, I have been trying to unravel the (dis)contents of the NAM, as a precedent for anti-colonial struggle towards self-determination, as a socio-political concept relative to workers’ and people’s self-management, and—similarly to, but more drastically than countries of Eastern Europe—a world ‘lost’ in the hegemony of Western histories, narratives, and memories.
The reason behind bringing these concepts together is the hope that it should, and hopefully will, across these other worlds, of self-management, of non-alignment, of anti-colonial struggle (and so much else) also bring to light the many instances of (bottom-up) disruptions to the established systems and mechanisms, their principles, and the need for their successors, across physical, mental and social spaces alike: that, once the remnants of the Curtain are truly gone, there would open a window onto the the East as more than a mere Other Entity and a prop of the West, as well as onto the East-West’s (Global) South, and ultimately, the potentialities of redrawing the lines and dots between all of them within a more just, and more bottom-up framework towards reclaiming commodified spaces and efforts.
- There are certain nostalgic and hopeful overtones in your work. What types of thinking and practices do you think are needed to re-imagine the future of Europe and Eastern Europe? Is there a new thinking possible beyond “the end of history” or “after the end of post-communism”? Is it possible to strategise and come up with a revised vision for the future of Europe, not in a totalising manner, but perhaps to provide a toolkit that would allow to think about this condition, to counter the intellectual/political hegemony of the West, and propose a more habitable setting through a new set of discourses and practices?
If there is one thing to always stand for and demand from social movements and political concepts coming from below, it is hopeful disruption, closely followed by perpetual questioning and reconfiguration of principles, means, and goals of struggle.
If there is one thing to learn from the Non-Aligned Movement, it is to simultaneously look across and beyond Europe, even when speaking of reimagining its future as well as that of Eastern Europe. Scattered throughout the footnotes, sidebars, and afterthoughts of dominant historic and political discourse, the experiences of Eastern Europe, Third World, and the Global South must be thematised, explored, and interpreted anew, keeping in mind those very sidelinings and their effects; at the same time, they must be brought in connection to one another, as well as those from the West, keeping in mind social divides along class, rather than solely geographical lines, and identifying—throughout shared struggles and across (what, for example, Lefebvre would call) residues of dominating systems—the potential carriers of possible revolutionary thought and action, towards a redefinition of the future from below, including by those who hadn’t ever had the access necessary to (re)define anything.
Similarly, if there is one thing to take away from the experiences of self-management, in Yugoslavia and elsewhere, historically and today, it is that such struggle must always come from below. Never ‘handed over’ from those in power (for it never truly would be), it must constantly remain both the tool and the goal of change, and continually be questioned and redefined in relation to the changing sociopolitical landscapes.
To conclude, I would like to illustrate these thoughts with two ideas, based in history and theory, hopefully bringing them up here, towards the future and towards practice.
The first is, one final time, Lefebvre. Updating Lenin’s famous argument that socialism is Soviets plus electrification, he, in “S’agit-il de penser” (Le Monde, January 29, 1964), replaced Soviets with grassroots organisations, and electrification with modern electronic devices. Four years later, in “On Self-Management,” he wrote that “the utilisation of electronic devices such as computers capable of providing decentralised management with a continuous flow of information [can] create new possibilities. But on condition that they be used to promote the withering of state and bureaucracy [the ultimate aspiration of true self-management], and not to strengthen institutions technocratically.” Reading this in the last months of 2010s, I wonder: a grassroots-social-media-based-self-managed socialism? Why not. But on condition it be used to promote the withering of state and bureaucracy—and corporations!—and not to strengthen them technocratically. The risks and possibilities of such forms are something I also hope to delve deeper into, with Communiqué and otherwise.
The other illustration is the Gallery of Art of Non-Aligned Countries “Josip Broz Tito,” founded in 1984 in Titograd, not only reflecting the solidarity with the anti-colonial and liberation struggles, but also emphasising the aforementioned notions of intertwinement, all the while perpetuating a unique collecting practice. Titograd—capital of Montenegro—has since changed name to Podgorica, and the Gallery has in 1995 become the Centre for Contemporary Art of Montenegro, which besides its other activities continued to take care of this collection of over 500 artworks sent by communities and artistic, cultural, and governmental institutions of non-aligned countries. The Gallery can, in some ways, be considered an ethnographic institution, primarily due to its collection nomenclature (African, Asia, European, and South American), which prevails until today, despite the reconfiguration into a contemporary art centre in the broadest sense. The uniqueness of the collection concept lies within what my friend, museologist Marija Đorđević (who I am very grateful to for having introduced me to this collection) tentatively labels “reversed colonialism,” referring to the manner in which the ethnographic and artistic objects are gathered. To quote her: “Although the Western European museum method of classification has been retained, the selection of objects is not made by the outsider with an already well-adopted exotic gaze towards ethnographic objects. Rather, the selection is championed by the groups and individuals who made them, as a means of representation. Similarly, the model of the artistic residency established practically immediately after the founding of the Gallery can be observed as a forerunner of contemporary model of artistic residency, pushing the envelope of how we understand the concept of ‘hospitality’ and to be interpreted through and along the declarations of the NAM, i.e. the struggle toward an active status of neutrality through a non-qualifying acceptance of differences (defined by those very communities).” I am bringing this up as a less direct inspiration than the first Lenin/Lefebvre idea, and more as one final reminder of the many precedents which lie unknown to us across non-Western histories, and of the importance of international connection and joint struggle against dominant and hegemonic voices.
Thankfully, I am here not proclaiming any great new truth, nor am I a lone voice in these calls—there is, to borrow your words, a thriving contingent of people making an effort to bring this knowledge to life, and make it relevant for the future. And, there are platforms—such as Kajet—bringing them together and helping them be heard, for which I am beyond grateful: thank you.
1. English translation in Klaus Ronneberger, “Henri Lefebvre and the Question of Autogestion,” in Autogestion, Bitter & Weber (eds.), p. 98.
2. According to Yugoslav law, mesne zajednice, the platial communities, were associations of people living in the same area, who made decisions regarding the settlement organisation, housing, communal utilities, child and social care, culture, physculture, consumer protection, environmental protection, defence, etc.
3. An essay developing this concept more closely will be published in a book I co-edited, Lefebvre for Activists, to be published this February by Adocs Hamburg. https://adocs.de/en/buecher/raum/lefebvre-activists
4. Catherine Samary, “A Crisis of Self-Management—or of the Political System?,” Communiqué no. 1 (November 2018) readcommunique.co
5. Benjamin T. Busch on Self-Management and the Stack in Making and Breaking, issue 1. Online here: https://makingandbreaking.org/article/self-management-and-the-stack/
6. Parts of the preceding two paragraphs were adapted from my essay “Begin Transmission: For a Platial Delayering of the (South-)East,” published in Autogenesis Magazine #002.
7. Parts of the preceding paragraph adapted from my essay “Shifting Landscapes: On Remnants, Echoes, and Potentialities of the Histories of Non-Alignment” in Mezosfera #5.
8. A very good overview of examples can be found in Dario Azzellini (ed.), An Alternative Labour History, and Imanuel Ness and Dario Azzellini (eds.), Ours to Master and to Own.