Community Center Oktobar: The concept of mutual support, besides parallel harsh opposition to the dominant ideology of capitalism

A collage of photos from the CC Oktobar

Community Center Oktobar is the place where progressive analysis and perspectives regarding actual local and global socio-economic situations are exchanged and spread, but also where different groups of people connect with each other, from activists to LGBTQ+ community. Their activism and work are based on solidarity and self-sustainability, which makes this place a rare,  free, uncontrolled, and independent progressive place in Belgrade and in Serbia. Oktobar functions for almost one decade, and their work is already well known – however, from time to time it is important to remind ourselves why Oktobar and similar places are vital spots in activist community. Therefore we are very glad we had a chance to talk to the members of the CC Oktobar collective.

1. Community Center Oktobar was opened almost 10 years ago and represents a unique spot on a cultural and activist map of Belgrade. What inspired you to establish the Community Center Oktobar? What were the main changes within Oktobar, regarding its policy and the way of functioning during the last 10 years?

Community Center Oktobar was founded in 2013. with the idea to create the space for left-oriented groups and individuals. October offers a critical perspective and analysis of the current socio-economic and political situation in a local and global context, and in that way opposes the dominating social values and politics of the neo-liberal system in our society. In this sense, our focus has not changed since the beginning.

CC Oktobar is a leftist community center that strives to achieve sustainability – mainly not through projects and donations,  but primarily due to the fact that its members invest their free time into the idea of importance of having such an autonomous center while other progressive groups can also use its premises free of charge.

Regular programs in Oktobar, so far, have included: movie nights on Tuesdays (programs involved socially engaged movies and movies that analyze and deal with different social phenomena and challenges), Oktobar’s kitchen night every Thursday (cooking vegan and vegetarian food, with no fixed fee, for donations only, by various collectives and individuals, using donations from kitchen nights to support their own activities; Oktobar’s Saturdays ( music evenings dedicated to informal gatherings), Oktobar’s library cataloging (the working group which organizes and categorize library books, for the purpose of establishing an accessible and functional library for all interested community members). Besides regular activities which we carry out, there are occasional ad hoc activities in Oktobar, such as discussions, forums, book promotions, ect. in Oktobar’s own production or through collaboration with other collectives.

Oktobar is open six days a week for informal gatherings, and besides them, there are forums, movie screenings, workshops, Solidary kitchen, ect. in Oktobar’s own production or through collaboration with other groups. The topics we are dealing with include: labor, precariat, labor rights, anti-nationalism, feminism, marginalized groups, protection of animals, struggle against transphobia, ect.

2. Oktobar has organized and hosted many benefit events, which supported different de-privileged groups and individuals. Which events and actions were particularly important to you and why?

One of the backbones of the work of Oktobar is the community – from the very beginning we have been dedicated to establishing and empowering community. In that sense, the creation and development of the network of support were integral parts of our politics/policy. Due to the lack of systematic support, we support each other and build a parallel network of solidarity. We cannot single out a particular action as specifically important, but the most important for us is this very process going on in the background, including connecting and supporting each other, and solidarity among various groups and individuals who, perhaps, if there was no place like Oktobar would have no opportunity to meet, to discuss, to understand each other or to organize some activities together.

3. Benefit parties and actions organized by Oktobar are not primarily humanitarian ones, but always send a political message. What do you think – why people gathered around your center donate? What  solidarity and local philanthropy mean for you, personally?

Our main ideas are mutual support and solidarity. We are guided by a simple idea – from each according to ability, to each according to needs. We are aware that in today’s world, we all are forced to seek help, sometimes from humanitarian organizations as individuals, and sometimes from donors as organizations. But we consider it important not to confuse humanitarian work with political activism.

Humanitarian work is not by definition a leftist concept, but we can see that many right-wing groups (but also quasi-liberal and quasi-leftist ones) abuse the concept in order to propagate their destructive ideologies behind the facade of humanitarian work, whether it’s about nationalists, nazists, fascists, Terf or different opportunistic groups.

The only systematic solution is a total change of the socio-economic system that makes dignified living possible. In that sense, the concept of mutual support, besides parallel harsh opposition to the dominant ideology of capitalism, for us should go along in that direction.

 4. Oktobar has survived and worked all these years  as an independent and self-sustainable community center, despite many challenges, crises, and attacks, which is very praiseworthy. What motivated you to continue your work and how do you see Oktobar in the future? 

Oktobar currently gathers seven persons – activists, both female and male, who equally decide on all issues regarding Oktobar’s work.  Our collective primarily deals with the everyday maintenance of our space and programs, as well as events that take place there, whether in own production or events organized in collaboration or hosted by other leftists, feminists, or similar progressive collectives. All seven of us who take part in the work of Oktobar have other jobs, which are our source of income, and overall Oktobar’s maintenance is our solidary contribution to the existence of such a center.  It is a space dedicated to various leftist and progressive ideas, where we do not tolerate nationalistic, homophobic, transphobic behaviors, or any type of sexual violence.

 That way of operating carries a number of challenges, but not unsolvable. Sometimes we, ourselves, wonder how Oktobar manages to survive, but we are happy it does. 

Naturally, in the existing social system and environment, that is not an easy task, and we were the target of various attacks.  The most horrific attack we experienced happened on March 31, 2016. when a group of seven nazists rushed with the poles into Oktobar, in which at that moment were four persons from our collective; during the attack, one person’s nose and arm have been broken, and another person has an injured arm, in the space, also,  several windows have been broken and all inventory has been scribbled-scrambled.

On the other side, during the last few years even within so-called progressive or leftist movements the right – wing influence gains momentum– whether it’s about nationalism, liberalism, transphobia, or spreading some banal political opportunism. Since Oktobar always confronts such phenomena, it is expected to be the target of the attacks of those who are on the opposite side. The political struggle, which we have led and the side we have chosen, carry the risks, but the alternative to struggle is silence. We can not do that. ☺

5. As the meeting spot of different activists, both female and male, Oktobar is well known as a pet-friendly space, which has always had its own pet. For a long time, it was the cat named Moćko, who used to have its own FB page, and as we heard, currently, there is a certain kitty cat, named partisan Mašinka. As we heard, she even had a benefit party. What is the relationship between your pets and local philanthropy?

Over the years we have collaborated with many groups and individuals who deal with animal protection/rights, also in Oktobar’s kitchen mostly vegan food is prepared. We stand up and fight for different treatment of animals and change the perspective, so that would include, as well, the welfare of no-human beings. To be on the right track, for all of us, in accordance with all political issues, the most thankworthy was cat Moćko, Oktobar’s first boss from the shadow, and that engagement continued nowadays his inheritress, kitty cat Mašinka.

Interview by: Diana Miladinović