Reciklaonica – Creative Resistance in Squat Culture

By Connor Newson

Occupying the space of an abandoned building to house social events or reclaiming an unused building and utilising it for your temporary living quarters, your residence. To squat. The term, act, and people (squatters) often has negative connotations attached and perpetuated by the media – lazy scroungers and dangerous hippies. However squatters holds more importance than these bias stereotypes. From bringing to light the extent of housing shortages within the city, to the wider urban struggle and nonconformative, anticapitalist movements, the counterculture of squatting has long been a tool for political protest and dissent.

Reciklaonica Rooftop
Rooftop Morning Coffee

In 1969 the London Street Commune (LSE) occupied 144 Piccadilly, a mansion house on Hyde Park Corner. Travellers, hippies, youths and the homeless began filling the multi-storey building, a make-shift drawbridge was erected to keep out the disagreeing community, and banners hung from balconies and windows. “ALL HOMELESS WELCOME”. Their original agenda? First of all to provide shelter for the homeless, but also to protest and challenge the contradiction between the lack of available housing and the many unused buildings dotted about the city.

Movements such as these have been, and still continue to be echoed all over Europe. They are seen as a strong force for change, not just for the homeless plight but for the wider disenfranchised community. Squatting highlights a much deeper and subversive agenda of resistance against the dominant hegemonic forces of neoliberalism.
Reciklaonica (literal translation: Slaughterhouse), based in Zagreb, Croatia,  is an example of a squat that challenges the capitalist political system through creative resistance. It subverts the prescribed social norm of work, eat, sleep; of working to survive whilst the monopoly of multinational corporations reap in the benefits of their worker-slaves.

17888830_1662519583762389_1855013180_n
ANTI-

I first stumbled across this self-imposed, isolated community with my friend, Jean, as we were hitchhiking around Europe, camping or crashing at various kind strangers’ houses. I had stayed at a friend’s house the night before (Stan, a PhD Chemistry student¬† met at Medika – an independent cultural and creative hub in Central Zagreb). In the morning he got in touch with some friends of his at Reciklaonica, to see if I could stay a night at their squat. They were happy to house us both for a night.

So we caught a tram across the city and landed outside a modern shopping mall. We passed through and walked into an abandoned complex of dilapidated industrial buildings. I felt as though i had suddenly stepped outside of the city. A forgotten land with overgrown grass and sprouting weeds surrounding concrete floors and small brick structures. Street art peered out the darkness behind broken walls until we came to a dirt track that ran down the side of the complex. In the distance I could see two figures, an average-sized male wielding an axe and a taller male dragging a basket with a much larger axe slung over his shoulder. We were heading towards each other with no one else around. Stan’s unflinching gait was the only thing to comfort the impending interraction as he continued unnervingly towards these two ominous strangers as if he knew them. He did know them. They were housemates of Reciklaonica.

We introduced ourselves and they very kindly told us to let ourselves into the building whilst they went out to collect firewood. Stan, having been there before, led the way past a door with the words Free Shop graffitied above, and around the corner to another steel door. To the right was a large wall painting of a guy I am told used to live here but has since passed away. The writing beside read ‘One Of Us’.

 

17887610_1662519477095733_144918808_o
“One Of Us”

 
We continued through the door and up a flight of stairs, passing yet more paintings and slogans plastered across the walls. Upstairs was another door with a contraption made from a half-filled water bottle and a rope that fed through a hole in the door – its purpose was to give weight so the door would shut automatically after being opened – ingenious. Inside there was more art strewn creatively on every surface; homemade furniture and sculptures gleaned from scrap materials; stickers and slogans of activism and equality, freedom, anti-nazi, pro-feminism, anarchy, pro-life. The multiple bedrooms, a kitchen, preparation room, living area with a rooftop garden (accessible by crawling out of the window) boasted enough space for the seven or so hospitable housemates. In fact, after eating homemade pizza’s together that evening Jean and I shared a guest bedroom with about six double beds to choose from.

The first obvious sign of Reciklaonica’s resistant qualities is clearly the fact that they occupy this space illegally, choosing to live in a space for free and not pay any sort of tax to a government they don’t believe in. Within the neoliberal paradigm urban space is determined by its potential profitability, which means housing is given to those who will pay rent or tax. Here the housemates defy that rule simply by residing in an unused building to avoid paying tax.

Similarly, graffiti and street art is deemed illegal because of its inherent nature of being applied to any surface of the urban topography. Therefore it is very difficult for local councils to create capital from a subcultural movement that acts to avoid being commercialised. The community of Reciklaonica used this transgressive creative act like the wider street art culture does (or at least the origins of street art does), to express personal and collective desires through art.

17888118_1662519430429071_1434787787_n
Using street art, political or otherwise, to undermine the neoliberal appropriation of urban space (space reserved for practices that yield capital) is subverting the capitalist system as much as squatting itself is. Likewise, the FreeShop we walked past earlier, which allows anyone to take, leave, or swap items of clothing for necessary weather conditions, is also subversive. It is within these subversive acts that a resistant community is built.

Reciklaonica is not a community that aims highlight homelessness and a housing shortage like the LSC, however it is an autonomous community that tries to defy the neoliberal paradigm by acting against it in whichever way possible. Of course to resist the system in this manner may seem contradictory because Reciklaonica uses the products of the system, but it is by working within the system and against it that resistance begins, for it is arguably impossible to operate completely outside of capitalist system.

image

Relax with the fish

By Connor Newson

Recently I have found myself feeling weighed down with being constantly busy, however not from having to navigate around a different country or adapt to other cultures as you would expect when abroad. Instead my mind has been occupied with less exciting matters such as planning English lessons or where to go next, stressing over visas and money and what my plan in life shall be, even thinking of different ways to publicise this travel blog (suggestions are welcome – it’s tough). It all seems to be at the forefront of my mind right now. And no matter how ludicrous it seems, becoming mindlessly conditioned to the normality of life is easier than you’d think, even in the most spectacular environments. The reality of this normalisation means that the culture and beauty that surrounds me constantly can sometimes be taken for granted. Fortunately, it is my day off from teaching and the staff at Bulan Anda Baba Resort have managed to distract me from these overbearing concerns.

The day begins the same as it has for the past week – walking down to the bamboo restaurant for breakfast and continuing with some sort of chore on my laptop. The sights from this slight elevation are as breathtaking as it always is, so I really shouldn’t have much to complain about. Especially with a stunning panoramic view of Laemsak bay with its tall trees, calming sea, and towering rock islands. As I tuck into some delicious vegetable fried rice, with traditional dessert wrapped in banana leaf, a three-person canoe is carried down the short hill and left by the water. Prayo, a student of mine and Teo’s, explains that the three of us should grab our life vests because the canoe is waiting for us. It is at this point that I decide to sack off the work and agree to take a break to enjoy what is around me – something I feel we all tend to forget the value of doing.

DCIM100GOPRO

A few minutes later the three of us are sat inside our little red canoe, beginning to paddle as we sway gently to the small waves passing beneath us. Ahead of us is a vast openess of water, of which we need to cross. I’m not sure if it because my mind is stuck in work mode, or whether I am just excited to be out on the shimmering turquoise waters – perhaps a bit of both – but I begin with a overly heavy stroke; one that would suggest urgency. It wasn’t until Teo called to me from the back seat to relax and enjoy the moment that I realised my lingering tension. Despite being out in the open waters of southern Thailand, my mind and body remain stressed. So I begin to slow my thoughts and my breathing, and give the water on each side of the canoe a gentle push.

After half an hour of cruising, we had crossed the bay and drifted to the edge of a floating fish farm. Its vast crosshatched wooden structure is supported by the frequent positioning of large polystyrene blocks to keep it afloat. In the centre is a platform with a roof for shade where Pu, another of our students, had been waiting for us. She is harvesting seaweed from a net-like contraption that I can only assume is some sort of catalyst for its growth. We pull ourselves up and rest in the shade for a few minutes, watching as two local fisherman replant some smaller pieces of seaweed in new and empty nets.

However, a few minutes of shade is all we need before we begin diving and jumping into the fish-filled waters. Despite the warmth of the midday sea, to say that the sudden rush of water is refreshing is an understatement. In fact it is enough to persuade us to keep on swimming out into the open waters once more. I turn on my back and float for a while, staring into the clear blue sky with the sun beating down on my body as my submerged ears listen to the silence of the ocean. My thoughts are calmed once again. Soon enough we arrive at another isolated fish farm, not too different to the one we had just come from – only this one had its own little shack and hammock.

DCIM100GOPRO

With Prayo by our side we are able to communicate with the stranded farmer, Nong, who invites us on deck to show us around. I climb aboard the wood that runs around the large nets beneath the water. As I do so I spot a lobster clutching the inside of one of the nets. Nong, the fisherman, begins reeling in the net to allow for a closer look. He takes a few steps to one side, urging me to follow as he reels in the adjacent net to reveal a hoard of large fish splashing as they rise to the searing heat of open air. There are maybe ten more nets containing some sort of sea life on board this floating farm.

“Coffee?” he asks, in surprisingly well enunciated English.

We of course accept, eager to listen to the story and life of a floating fisherman. We walk over to his small bamboo shack which has two lightbulbs fitted to the ceiling and a solar panel attached to the roof. As he serves us coffee, I lay down in the hammock with a view of his birdcage, the rippling sea, and the mountainous islands in the distance. Nong begins to explain Рwith the help of Prayo translating Рhow he used to be a guide for tourists in Koh Phi Phi before building his fish farm here in Krabi. Much to my surprise, the life of a fisherman here is pretty comfortable. With two of his seven lobsters due to be sold next month for 200,000 Baht (approx £4600), this, plus the income from his various other fishy inhabitants makes for a fulsome living wage. Despite his success, what captivates me more than this is the location, or more importantly, how relaxed I feel now.

As I sway with the waves inside this hammock, effortlessly listening to Nong’s story, I am taken back to a few hours earlier. I was sat in the tranquillity of an deserted bamboo bar surrounded by sights that are otherwise seen inside exotic travel brochures, yet my head was buried in the world of a touchscreen laptop, stressed and tired from the worries of life. But for now I relax, breathing in the salty sea air and taking some time out to slow from the frustrated modern world.