National Geographic grantee Riley Arthur is documenting the Erased of Slovenia- 200,000 non-ethnic Slovenian residents who were not automatically granted citizenship after the country split from Yugoslavia in 1991. Without legal documentation, these people could not legally travel, own property, obtain medical care, vote, marry, attend school or work without a visa. A decade later, the community is still fighting for documentation.
Swirls of cigarette smoke encompassed the cold converted attic casting a thick fog upon the dimly lit room. The haze danced around in an attempt to veil the projector screen along with the red and black posters covering the walls. The cheap speakers did their best but the floor rattled from the bass of the band warm ups below, making it difficult to hear the film. Yet we all crammed into this space and listened, asked questions and tried to understand. Beer bottles clicked, lighters flicked, and the occasional chair screeched but otherwise we sat entranced in silent obedience. So it went this way for weeks every Thursday night we came to Info Shop, a small dwelling in the belfry of one of the main buildings at Metelkova, one of two of Ljubljana’s anarchist squats. A place where students, professors, activists, film makers, anthropologists, and the curious joined in thematic meetings which addressed regional history and present problems.
Metelkova gave a new life to formerly abandoned military barracks now a converted autonomous zone of clubs, bars, galleries, housing, and anarchist meeting spaces. Each exterior wall camouflaged by murals, mosaics, graffiti and sculpture provide a feast for the eyes. Inside every room lie a different design, feel and smell. Police don’t venture in unless they have to, so many bemoan the place as one infested with drunken teens and a haven for junkies. You will find both, but it is also a place where intellectuals come to share ideas in the night. Those who recall the restrictive former Soviet area still may not feel as free to discuss many topics in public. Info Shop at Metelkova provides such a sanctuary. It was there that met some of my first Erased people, for Izbrisani is still a dirty word that will turn a stranger’s head. As the meetings foretold, it is still a long path to change the public’s opinion on a group of people who refuse to be silent after twenty years of inhuman repression. I came to Ljubljana to try.
And so I found myself in Info Shop, the only person who couldn’t understand Slovene or anything, being said. Straining to understand. If there hadn’t been a language barrier it still would have been impossible. How do you begin to explain to a foreigner without a context how the government let this happen? Thousands of lives still in ruin, and thousands of others still deny it. What have I, a twenty six year old American photographer, gotten myself into?