Thank you. In the next few minutes, I want to give you a brief introduction to the commons as a very old but also very new paradigm for human governance. In introducing the commons, I hope to persuade you that it is a potentially transformative idea for politics, economics and culture.
The following remarks are excerpted from a talk that I gave at the Vis Green Academy in Croatia, on August 25, dealing with the commons and its potential to remake cities and city life. My interview on the commons (in Croatian translation) with the Croatian environmental magazine H-Alter.org can be found here.
I have been asked to address what the commons might have to say about urban spaces and urban life. The short answer is, a lot!
First, the language of the commons helps us assert a moral entitlement to public spaces again. It lets us challenge the unholy alliance of politicians, developers and professional architects and planners, and insist that city spaces serve our needs as ordinary people. This means, first of all, that commercial considerations cannot crowd out vital common purposes – as we see when the market or authoritarians take over.
I like how Pulska Grupa, a group of architects and urban planners from Pula, Croatia, put it in their Kommunal Urbanism Social Charter. They write:
“We imagine city as a collective space which belongs to all those who live in it, who have the right to find there the conditions for their political, social, economic and ecological fulfillment at the same time assuming duties of solidarity. This concept of the city is blocked by capitalist dialectic based on difference in public and private good. From these two poles State and Market emerge as the only two subjects. We want to escape this dialectic, not to focus on eventually “third subject,” but on a group of collective subjectivities and the commons that they produce.”
One of the treats at the Vis Green Academy in Croatia last week was seeing an exhibit of photographs by Marina Kelava, of Bjelovar, Croatia, who works as a journalist and photojournalist for Croatian Internet magazine H-Alter.org, which focuses mainly on environmental issues. The exhibit included a number of photos documenting various enclosures of the commons in Croatia as well as photos taken while covering large international events, from the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen and the World Social Forum to the beginning of Radovan Karadzic’s trial at the International Criminal Tribunal.
Kelava graduated from the Faculty of Political Sciences, University of Zagreb, with a degree in journalism. A larger collection of her photos can be seen on Facebook at Marina Kelava Photography.
I met Marina when she interviewed me for H-Alter.org. Then I saw her photos on the wall and was impressed by their power in depicting the personal, social and emotional dimensions of commoning, the social practices of defending and celebrating a community's shared wealth. The photos are simultaneously political and human, which is not always an easy thing to combine in rich, subtle ways. Kelava's photos do.
View from the untouched hill of Srdj above Dubrovnik, Croatia, where a huge golf project is planned and the civil initiative "Srdj is Ours" is fighting against it.
To my readers -- my apologies for my infrequent posts over recent weeks. I’ve been overwhelmed with a writing deadline on my Commons Law Project, happily sidetracked by a vacation, and attending a conference. But I promise to be posting more frequently in coming weeks and months.
My visit to the Vis Green Academy in Croatia last week taught me more about the transnational scourge of enclosure and the potential of the commons as a lingua franca for resistance. The occasion was a major gathering of 200-plus Green Party activists and elected officials throughout eastern Europe, but especially Croatia. Held on the lovely island of Vis, a former Yugoslavian military base until 1992, the gathering was entitled, “The Crisis of Political Imagination – and the Transformation of Green Politics."
The recurrent pattern of enclosure in Croatia, Slovenia, Macedonia, Herezogovina and other parts of the region is commercial development of urban public spaces and government collusion with speculators and developers in giving away prime coastal real estate. Corruption is rife. Political transparency is rare. Civil society is weak.