Vojkan Trifunović and Bojana Minović come from the Alternative cultural centre “Hero Maričić” from Kraljevo, from, as they say, “a little freedom oasis in a street named after national hero from nearby Žiča, Živan Maričić.” This space hosts gigs and social gatherings, as well as workshops, exchanges, benefit events, support to marginalized communities.
1. Let’s start with facing a cruel fact – autonomous and self-sustainable activist spaces in Serbia are not only extremely marginalized but also frequently attacked as if we are constantly hearing the message that there is no space and there shouldn’t be any space for any progressive thought. Yet, it happens that spaces such as ACC “Hero Maričić” sprout, gather the community and survive. What is your story? How do you achieve self-sustainability, which also, I assume, provides you with a high degree of independence?
The existence of ACC “Hero Maričić”, is, in fact, the result of a decades-long struggle for Kraljevo to get any sort of space to function outside the systemic institutions, self-organized, based on the principles of freedom, equality and brotherhood/sisterhood. Even in the late ‘90s, there were such attempts by then young alternatives of Kraljevo, and us, who were even younger, have built upon that. The older crew inspired us to continue following their traces, alongside, of course, later contacts with many spaces of freedom across Europe, which we were visiting during our journeys or band tours, so we wished to bring that spirit into our little town.
Due to circumstances, somewhere around 2010/11, we were in touch with local NGOs which were sharing a house in Kraljevo centre, and using it as their office. They offered us (by us, I mean Positive Youth, the organization we have founded and through which we work) to feel free to use their premises for meetings, gatherings etc, which we gladly accepted. Some years later, those organizations vanished, and we were left alone. With a mutual agreement between us who survived, we decided to stay, whatever happens. Again, due to lucky circumstances, there were comrades living abroad for decades, who used to be a part of the NGO sector or various non-formal organizations, who have offered us help. They made a crowdfunding link for fundraising for us to stay in this house and, with their selfless help, we are managing to survive throughout all of these years.
What also worked for us was having a lovely landlord, who had an absolute understanding of our late rents. In some cases, she would pardon us for several months, because she has always had understanding for what we do and she was happy that her family home is used for some right things.
So, to summarize it, we mainly rely upon solidary help of our comrades or those who have at some point spent some time in this space, and there are hundreds of such people from across the world, with some help aside, such as the one coming from your fund or our own, mainly empty pockets.
2. What about the local community? Small towns are (unduly?) marked by passivity and famous apathy, unchanging things, retreating from any sort of positive social changes. Add modest wallets and the lack of practice of individual donations as a transformative political act. (How) do you manage to motivate people from your environment to support the further work of “Hero Maričić” at least through small contributions? Does it require some special persuasion and enticing the community or does the community itself already recognizes the importance of what you do?
Our experiences with the local community are not really stellar, not to use some worse word. Namely, the local administration would always award us some miserable crumbs on their already fixed competitions, so we gave up on that. We were in a situation in which, for some petty money, we were taking part in a circus and legitimizing an open mugging, so we stopped participating in that famous competition. I can see that this year they have divided the money among themselves again, good luck to them.
To be able to fund a “project” like this, besides the support we get, we would also sometimes organize various benefit dinners or selling art shows. These are the opportunities to gather, hang out, eat some good (vegan) food, but also raise some money for the space to function. In the past year, it was impossible due to well-known reasons, so what remains to us is to closely follow the situation and, at some point, to invite the people for some tasty food again.
3. So, solidarity is also present on your side – you welcome and diversely support the local Roma community, artists, travelers, bands, you organize benefit dinners… And solidarity is one question with an endless number of answers. What makes the base of your solidarity? How do you manage to operationalize it in moments of the scarcity of assets?
Besides our friends in the crowdfunding campaign, we have received significant support from RWF, not only financial and logistical but also in form of understanding the specific context in which we act and a true encouragement and appreciation. On the other hand, we redistribute the support we receive and that way we help our friends from the margins. Which is what we find to be the key to solidarity.
4. In a generational perspective, how do you see the future of “Hero Maričić”? Does it seem to you that further future will have the people at the local level who will continue preserving the memory of partisans and progressive struggles, opposing revisionism, preserve punk, gather the community, connect with endangered fellow citizens, resist right-wing attacks and lead progressive stories self-sustainably?
Unfortunately, the future is vague and dark. Kraljevo, like other towns in Serbia, is completely ticked in its irrelevance and patriarchal-nationalist discourse. Any sort of progressive idea is immediately doomed to fail and judgment of various puritans. They don’t care about the town being clean, because it is typically dirty and dingy, but you know them, those people who count blood cells (in absence of immigrants, there are always our neighbors who moved here from Kosovo after 1999), who defend the streets from the “red menace” and diverse other “deviant” groups etc.
Yet, our little freedom oasis in the street named after the national hero from nearby Žiča, Živan Maričić, keeps on standing defiantly by the gorge and fight against those and such guys.
Interview by Galina Maksimović