Local governance in the Balkans region has often been met with protests. Several reasons account for this, and perhaps most importantly, citizens and residents of cities feel that decision-making does not represent their interests, and so protests have been used to voice opposition to decisions that impact at the community level. Public space, and the urban commons, or perhaps what many consider are common resources to all in society, are increasingly shrinking, due to their enclosure. Private-Public partnerships often come at the heart of this conflict, especially in Albania, where concessions have proliferated to such an extent that they have attracted large scale opposition and criticism. When willingness exists from communities to take up responsibility and to transfer the investment of resources from the private to the civic level, the alternative lies in the establishment of a public-civic partnership. To find civic actors who would take up the responsibility in managing and investing in common resources or public spaces is often not an issue, but the main obstacle remains the willingness of local governments to agree to such terms and to move on from private to the civic partnerships.
Perhaps the closest example of a public-civic partnership in the Balkans is that of the Rojc Community Centre in Pula, Croatia. In the recent study on Commons in South East Europe, Tomislav Tomasevic detailed the history of the partnership between civic actors and the local government, the challenges, the governing model and institutions, community, and particular aspects of why the building can be classified as a commons according to Ostrom’s 8 principles of Commons Governance. Full text below:
Rojc Community Centre, Pula, Croatia
Author: Tomislav Tomasevic
DESCRIPTION OF THE GOVERNING PRACTICE
History of the Rojc Community Centre begins in 1870, under the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, when one of the biggest buildings in the city of Pula was constructed for the marine military school. The building was used for the same purpose when this territory went to Italy between the two World Wars, but also when it became part of Yugoslavia after World War II and was named after a fallen partisan hero, Karlo Rojc. In 1991, when the war began, the Yugoslav National Army left the building and until 1997 it was used to host around 600 war refugees and several humanitarian organisations. After the refugees left, some organisations started to squat there—they illegally occupied the devastated building for their use.
In 1998, Pula’s local government decided to place around 30 cultural, environmental and youth organisations that requested space for their work in the Rojc building. These organisations invested and renovated the space using their own resources and did not pay any rent. They had to find a way to cooperate to use the building, so some form of non-formal self-management was initiated and its body was called “Council of Rojc”. It represented all the users with the goal of making basic common rules about the use of the building. The City of Pula held a public tender in 2002 for new organisations interested in using the building spaces, and in 2007 there were already around 100 organisations that had a space in Rojc. The City of Pula was paying for the building maintenance, but this process was not transparent to the users and, according to the users, there was a lot of mismanagement.
In 2008, user organisations organised a big public protest and pushed for a meeting with the mayor of Pula, complaining about the management of the Rojc building by the public company “Castrum”, owned by the City of Pula. After these protests initiated by the user organisations, the “Coordination of the Community Centre Rojc” was established in 2008 in order to co-manage the Rojc building by the users of the building and the City of Pula, which is the owner of the building and pays for its maintenance. In order to better coordinate the use of the Rojc building among the user organisations and to better negotiate with the City of Pula about the governance of the building, the “Rojc Associations Alliance” was established in 2012. It formally elects three representatives of the users who constitute half of the membership in the Coordination. Ever since, the representatives of users have been continuously pushing for transparency in financial expenditures for the community centre and for better management. For example, telecommunication companies illegally put mobile phones antennas on the roof of the building and for years, due to the lack of City’s interest, they paid the City an amount smaller than the amount of electricity they were using. Thanks to the engagement of Rojc Alliance representatives in the Coordination, they were finally forced to pay an annual rent of around €35.000 in addition to the electricity bill. These funds are used to finance necessary investments in the Rojc building.
Resource of the Rojc Community Centre is the building, which is one of the biggest buildings in Pula. The building was built in the 19th century and it is a rectangular shape with an inner yard. The floor surface of the building is around 3.259 m2, while in total, with all floors included, the total surface of the building space is an enormous 17.068 m2. A big part of the building space is painted by artists, which effectively also makes it one of the largest galleries. The building has a huge inner yard, green areas and recreational areas that surround it and a large parking place. It is owned by the City of Pula and maintained by the city-owned company Castrum, which also maintains other buildings in the city’s ownership.
Community of the Rojc Community Centre are the 108 organisations that are using the Rojc building. All these organisations have rent contracts with the City of Pula for using a particular space in the building, and they are also entitled to use the common building spaces like halls, corridors and toilets. When looking at the issues they cover, 34 of the user organisations work on art and culture, 22 on sport and recreation, 8 on national minorities, 12 on psycho-social work, 17 on children and youth, 5 on war veterans, 4 on technical culture and 6 on some other issues. Most of these organisations undertake activities and events that are used by citizens of Pula, both in and outside Rojc, so users of the building go way beyond the 108 organisations, but they are not considered a community. All 108 user organisations are on the same mailing list for exchanging information, but there is a subgroup of these organisations which is governing the Rojc Community Centre as commons. These are the 19 organisations that are members of the Rojc Association Alliance. The Alliance is responsible for taking care of the common space in the Rojc Community Centre, like the “Living Room”, which is a multifunctional space that all organisations in Rojc use for events but is also open every working day for all citizens of Pula. The Alliance also elects three members of the Coordination of the Community Centre Rojc. Currently two out of these three members are women, one of whom is the president of the Coordination.
Institutions for using the Rojc Community Centre are mostly defined in a document called “Decision on the Use of Office Space in the Community Centre Rojc” which was adopted by the mayor of Pula in 2013 after consultations with the users. This Decision, which defines mostly constitutional rules, enlists all 108 user organisations and regulates their contract period, with obligations to invest in and renovate their rented space. The Decision also regulates how user organisations pay for electricity consumption and, exceptionally, for water consumption, if they are large water users. The Decision defines the membership and mandate of the Coordination of the Community Centre Rojc, which proposes the Centre’s “House Rules”, “Maintenance Plan” and “Long-term Development Plan”. Operational rules for daily use of the Rojc Community Centre are defined in the House Rules of the Centre, which were adopted by the mayor in July 2011, after consultations with user organisations. The House Rules define what is and what isn’t allowed in Rojc in terms of daily use. For example, the building is open for public from 7 am until midnight, which is controlled by the professional porter and security service. After midnight, user organisations can use the building for their office work, but they have to report that to the porter, while in case of activities like concerts, which are open for public outside normal working hours, user organisations have to receive a special permit from the City of Pula.
Challenges of the Rojc governance as commons are several. First, the community of users does not have the power to manage the building as they see fit, but have to seek agreement with the city administration of Pula. This relationship is quite unstable and because it lacks a more formal institutionalised framework, it sometimes relies on the goodwill of a few individuals in the city administration. According to the Alliance members, local government is not interested in developing the Rojc Community Centre further, so they have to advocate within the Coordination for better management, transparency and further development of Rojc. These tensions with the local government are risky for most of the user organisations as they are afraid they will lose their space. An example of this wa the City of Pula’s recent decision to charge rent, even though there was no legal basis for that in the existing contracts. Out of 108 user organisations, only Green Istria and Monteparadiso decided to oppose the amendments to their contract which would have them pay for rent. The second challenge is that the three representatives of the user organisations within the Coordination are doing this work voluntarily. It is in fact a big responsibility, because they are approached by both the porter and security service and the users when something doesn’t work, which often happens on a daily basis. This is part of a bigger challenge as only a small minority of user organisations are members of the Alliance that contributes to the common governance of Rojc. There are also no clear criteria for receiving the building space for user organisations, and since all the contracts expire in December 2018, there is an opportunity for the community of user organisations to define it. This could make all user organisations see it is in their interest to participate in common governance, which would put the community of users in a better negotiating position to demand that the City of Pula go a step further and institutionalise the new governance model.
ANALYSIS OF THE GOVERNING PRACTICE USING OSTROM’S 8 DESIGN PRINCIPLES
- a) clearly defined boundaries
The Rojc Community Centre as a building has clearly defined boundaries that prevent access to unauthorised users. It is a building with several entrances controlled by the porter in daytime and security service in night-time, while all the entrances are locked from midnight until 7 am. During the night, entrance is forbidden and staying in the building after these hours is only allowed with permission. The authorised users are the 108 organisations that have contracts for renting a particular office space, which is locked and the keys are in the possession of the organisation using the space.
- b) congruence between appropriation & provision rules & local conditions
There is insufficient connection between rules for use and rules for taking care of Rojc as commons. The appropriation rules apply to all 108 user organisations and are mostly defined by the users and the local government in the Decision and the House Rules. However, when it comes to provision rules, which would in case of Rojc be the maintenance of the building, there are minimal requirements by the user organisations that consist of paying for the electricity costs and rent, which comes up to around €0,33 per m2 per month with all taxes included. The income from the rent from organisations goes to the City of Pula, while the income from the rent from telecommunications companies covers the investments in the Rojc building. However, this only makes for a smaller part of around 200.000 eur of annual costs for running maintenance and minimal investments, so the rest is covered by the City of Pula. The budget of the Rojc Community Centre is spent by the public company Castrum and decided on by the Coordination.
- c) collective-choice arrangements
In terms of decision-making, all users can participate in making rules for using the Rojc Community Centre, but the final power lies with the City of Pula, which owns of the building and pays for its maintenance. Operational rules of the Rojc Community Centre are mostly defined in the House Rules, which are proposed by the Coordination and adopted by the mayor of Pula. The Coordination has three members who represent the City and three members who represent the Rojc Association Alliance. However, out of 108 user organisations in Rojc, only 19 decided to become members of the Alliance, which takes care of the common interests of all user organisations and the future development of the Rojc Community Centre. When the House Rules were adopted in 2011, there were consultations in which all user organisations could participate.
- d) monitoring
When it comes to monitoring the use of the Rojc Community Centre, there is a complex system in place, as there are various actors involved in the governance.
The local government advised by the Coordination monitors whether the 108 user organisations are respecting the legal obligations from the rent contract, while the public company Castrum monitors whether user organisations are paying the rent and electricity costs. The porter and security professionals, paid from the Rojc Community Centre budget, monitor the daily use of the Rojc Community Centre and whether Hose Rules are respected. The monitoring of the implementation of the annual budget by the public company Castrum and implementation of the Maintenance Plan is done by the Coordination, and mostly by its members from the Alliance. These three members of the Coordination, and especially the president of the Coordination who is currently from the user organisation Green Istria, are actually monitoring whether all the rules are being implemented.
- e) graduated sanctions
There are clear sanctions for not following rules and these are graduated for violators. Constitutional rules are set in the Decision, which also defines graduated sanctions for violation of these rules. The Decision, for example, regulates that if a user organisation fails to pay Castrum for electricity and other costs for 2 months, their electricity will be shut down. This has happened several times, and when the organisations paid for their obligations, the electricity was restored. The Decision also regulates that if user organisations do not pay Castrum for 4 months in a row, their rent contract will be terminated and they will not be able to use that particular space in the Rojc Community Centre anymore. If the House Rules are violated, there will be a warning issued by the local government in consultations with the Coordination. If user organisations receive three warnings, they will also receive the gravest sanction—termination of the rent contract and expulsion from the Rojc Community Centre. According to the current president of the Coordination, this has never happened because all user organisations stopped violating rules after receiving warnings.
- f) conflict–resolution mechanisms
There are some conflict-resolution mechanisms in the Rojc Community Centre.
When there are conflicts between user organisations, they complain to the porter, who usually contacts the president of the Coordination and other members of the Coordination, and they then engage in conflict resolution. User organisations are starting to skip the porter and complain about violation of the House Rules directly to the members of the Coordination chosen among the users, although these members do not have formal mandates to resolve such conflicts. They do so because they know that the Coordination members can propose to the local government to issue formal warnings to the violators. In the past few years these were only minor cases, which were quickly resolved, except for one case when something was broken in the building and after the Coordination complained to the local government, they issued an official warning before termination of the rent contract.
- g) minimal recognition of rights to organise
There is recognition of the current co-management model by the local government of Pula. This is evident from the Decision adopted by the mayor of Pula, which clearly acknowledges the Coordination’s mandate and half of its membership being elected by the user organisations of Rojc through the Alliance. However, the power to validate these decisions remains within the local government, as the city is the owner of the building and pays for its maintenance. The Alliance aims to make the current co-management structure more formalised by setting up the Rojc Community Centre as a separate legal entity, which would be founded by the City of Pula on one side and the Rojc Association Alliance on the other. This would institutionalise the balance of power and formalise the existing public-civic partnership. For greater autonomy the user organisations would have to self-finance some of the maintenance costs for the building without the local government, and they are making some steps in that direction through a coffee shop in the Living Room, along with a future hostel and restaurant.
- h) nested enterprise
Not applicable as the Rojc Community Centre is not part of the bigger resource, but there is a possibility of it becoming part of a network of similar community centres in Croatia in the future, as there are certain eu project tenders which would finance and network similar community centres in Croatia.
The Rojc Community Centre could be characterised as commons, since it has a clearly defined resource, community of users and usage rules which are made by the users. However, the biggest problem lies in the fact that users are sharing the power to make and enforce rules with the local government of Pula, which is the owner of the building and finances all of the building’s maintenance costs. That is why this is not a typical commons case, but some form of co-management by the local government and community of users, which would be best described as a public-civic partnership. This is also reflected in the analysis of the case using Ostrom’s design principles, which makes it clear that all user organisations can take part in setting the rules for using individual spaces and common spaces of the Rojc Community Centre, but only a small part of users is participating in commons governance. It is also not sustainable that most of the responsibilities for negotiating with the local government, monitoring the rules and resolving conflicts relies on three user members of the Coordination who are doing this as voluntary work, and most of the user organisations are freeriding on the benefits of their commons work. There is an opportunity to resolve this because rent contracts will expire at the end of 2018, so new criteria for providing and using building space could be established by the community of all users. This is also an opportunity to define obligations for user organisations to contribute to the commons in labour and money, which would be especially helpful for those in the Coordination, who are the de facto managers of the Rojc Community Centre.
More information about the Community Centre can be found here.
Tomašević, T., Horvat, V., Midžić, A, Dragšić, I., Dakić, M. (2018): Commons in South East Europe: Case of Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina and Macedonia. Institute for Political Ecology, Zagreb.
Photo by Fabio Santaniello Bruun on Unsplash