- Bosnia and Herzegovina
- All Balkan Countries
There are no longer any legal obstacles preventing local authorities from leasing or loaning empty sites to arts groups – but getting hold of one remains a challenge.
|Opening of the first street gallery in Belgrade | Photo courtesy of Mikroart|
Arts organisations have long struggled with the complex procedures for renting public spaces, mostly because municipalities didn’t know how to formulate the contracts and couldn’t give precise information on which public spaces they even owned.
One year after the law was changed to address this matter, things have not changed as fast as campaigners would like.
Since the new law was adopted in 2011, most municipalities have not fulfilled their obligation to compile a list of properties they own, which makes it hard for arts organisations to locate available public spaces and apply to use them.
The law now gives local municipalities three years to list their property assets. If they fail to do so after ten years, the state has the right to take them into state ownership.
Meanwhile, giving out leases for these spaces is still a matter of choice of the municipalities, and in most cases arts groups can only obtain them following long and tortuous negotiations.
Lists of vacant sites not compiled:
Armed with the 2004 Law on Free Access to Information of Public Importance, the Civic Initiatives Youth Programme launched an official appeal to all municipalities in Serbia in 2009 to declare what assets they had and what people needed to do to get hold of them.
Most of Serbia’s 167 municipalities responded by stating that they still did not possess a record of their municipal assets.
The campaign had previously hit an institutional wall when activists realized that these properties were ultimately in possession of the government when it comes to negotiations on space issues, not municipalities.
That appeared to change with the Law on Public Property from 2011, which made cities and municipalities owners of all public spaces in their territory.
A decree passed three months ago, on the conditions of obtaining and alienation of a real estate, directed that such public spaces can be given out under a lease through a public competition.
They can also be allocated without a public competition in a lease under conditions that include that the applicant is a cultural or a non-profit organisation.
Until now, only a few cultural organizations managed to obtain such public spaces with or without paying for them.
According to them, these were achieved following years of negotiations, and in some cases by using so-called “guerrilla tactics”, such as squatting.
Marija Dimitrijevic Miskovic, from Civic Initiatives, said that the biggest problem is that most municipalities still do not have a list of public spaces on their territories and even if they have, they haven’t developed the procedures to allocate such spaces to anyone.
Although this situation appeared to have changed with the adoption of the new law and the decree, there is still a lot of work to do for cultural and non-government organizations if they wish to make a rule out of the change, rather than an exception.
“We are trying to develop a dialogue with local governments and get all the necessary procedures adopted, as transparent and accessible to all citizens, which has not been the case so far,” Dimitrijevic Miskovic said.
Hitting a brick wall:
Negotiations between cultural organizations and local authorities take time and effort, mostly because of the unsolved property ownership issues.
Until recently the most common problem was that it was unclear whether the property belonged to a certain municipality, or to the government.
|The building of Inex film | Photo courtesy of Mikroart|
The art group Mikroart, for example, came across a vacant site in the Belgrade municipality of Karaburma, the building of the former Inex Film company.
Without any negotiations with the owner, who was unknown to them, Mikroart and 10 more art associations just took over the building in 2010, painted it and started to organize cultural programmes there.
Dobrica Veselinovic, from Mikroart, told Balkan Insight that they opted for the “guerrilla route“ because after launching an “Open about public spaces” campaign, their initiative ran into “the walls of institutions and a chaotic legal arena … we saw all disadvantages of our efforts in the long run.
“One [wall] is formal-legal [the old Law on Assets in Public Ownership], but a ‘thicker one is the misunderstanding of was what is required from the authorities”, Veselinovic said.
Veselinovic recalled that after they illegally moved into the Inex Film building, they found out that the building had a private owner with whom they then reached a deal.
|The building of Inex film | Photo courtesy of Mikroart|
“Our negotiations were very ‘light’ and there was a ‘gentlemen's’ agreement with the owner that the building could be used by us until he finds an investor to build on the plot,” he explained.
Iva Cukic, also from Mikroart, which opened the first street gallery in Belgrade, said the negotiations over a space near Bezistan, a passage between Terazije and Nikola Pasic Square, lasted for almost two years.
“It was not clear who this space belonged to,” Cukic said. “After a year, when it became clear that the space was the property of the municipality of Stari Grad, the municipality gave us this space to use for three years with the possibility of renewal.”
Cukic stressed that this was the first project in Serbia where a public space was given for a gallery setting and the first such agreement between an association of citizens and a municipality.
Many sites still ‘invisible’:
Most municipalities still haven’t even made a list of public property on their territory.
A public space is deemed municipal property if the Republic’s Directorate of Public Property approves the request of municipality.
Goran Radosavljevic, state secretary in the Ministry of Finance, says municipalities are advised to keep the record of their public spaces, but compiling such a list is still “not a legal responsibility.”
“There is no property list in the Republic of Serbia, so municipalities should make those lists, so that we can add them to the records of the Republic’s Directorate for Property,” Radosavljevic said.
He noted that the deadline for the process of listing the property was three years.
If the local authorities fail to do this, they have an additional 10 years. But if the property isn’t listed by then, the Republic becomes the owner of it,” he added.
“Some municipalities did it quickly but some require more time.”
He said that because of the lack of a single database, some property remains “invisible” to authorities.”
But Goran Radosavljevic notes that under the new law, the state has no say on whether municipalities should lend out their spaces.
The recent decree only defines to whom municipalities can give public spaces without paying rent, -and cultural organizations are on this list.
Civic Initiatives thinks that the key now is to raise people’s awareness that empty spaces are possible to obtain and fully revitalize.
“There is no legal obstacle to the allocation of empty spaces,” Marija Dimitrijevic Miskovic said.
“What we need is both the recognition of public spaces by local governments and citizens’ awareness that they have the right to use and fight for them.”
This article is funded under the BICCED project, supported by the Swiss Cultural Programme.
Donors spent hundreds of thousands of euro building a new museum in Gjirokastra - but the results were questionable and it ultimately closed over an ideological dispute.
Is everybody in? The ceremony is about to begin…