Hacklab Belgrade 2013 Report
Hacklab Belgrade is relatively small in populace, area, and aspiration, but remarkably solid and cohesive in spite of - or because of - it's modest scope.
Existing not in commercial space at all, but a donated first-floor apartment, Hacklab, if used for it's orginal intention, would be warming, showering, and dishwashing the everyday lives of at most 2 Serbian citizens. As it is, the living room and bedroom house the main hack area, which when I arrived was the combined chamber for 6 serbs attending the the weekly python workshop. In the middle of git-pushing their work and rearranging the furniture for that night's screening of the torrented "The Pirate Bay, Away From Keyboard," I managed to strike up a few interviews with the ragamuffins in exchange for some swigs of the 2.5L bottle of lager, and local wax-topped 'Rakija'.
In no particular order:
Hacklab and gender-minority involvement
Of the eight people that were at Hacklab before I arrived, three of them were women. Impressed by this minor imbalance I questioned one such female, Daria (pictured above), if she could conjecture a reason. Yugoslavia, she answered. Communist and socialist Yugoslavia had strong feminism-activist lines and ideals. Inclusion was a theme that was taught and practised in aspects of everyday life of the multi-ethnic Yugoslavia, which of course predates Hackerspaces. Although Daria and the other Serbo-hackers lived only their infancy before the state divisions - fracturing arguably because of intolerance - she still insists that some perhaps nostalgic heritage lives on.
Arandjel, an ex-student-activist, was more skeptical to draw this link. He spun his phone on the table as Milosh, the reason why Serbia has the most active Wikinews of any language, theorized a connection between the hackerspace and the Yugoslavic tradition of socially-owned companies. Socially-owned companies were to Yugoslavian socialism as cooperatives are to capitalism, and enjoyed considerable success. A civil engineering firm run by anarcho-feminists became a vanguard example of what socially-owned companies could achieve, even granting their own internal diplomas that were later externally recognized. Such a genetic code, I commented, would be a fertile breeding ground for hackerspaces. Milosh answered yes, but that it wasn't until post-war Serbian salaries had increased to include a monthly fat of 1,000 dinar ($13) that a hackerspace became viable. This, Arandjel noted, would actually be an argument for a Yugoslavian mentality lending a predilection for self-organized communities, with the price of a few happy-meals being the only barrier to realization.
Infamous experimental composer John Cage once wrote a solo organ piece entitled As Slow As Possible which contained no tempo marking to the musician, but only indicated that the composition should be played as slow as possible. Whether or not a fan of Cage, Boyan, a hacker-organizer, tipped me onto the philosophy of how he ran his Coq class. The Hacklab Coq class, a mirror of the U Penn graduate course, is identical, except ran siiiiixxxx tiiiiiimmmmeeesss assssssssss slooooooooowwwwww. It's scheduled to take 50 weeks to complete, and there's no outside homework - everything is done in-space. The benefit of which Boyan exhorts is that no one is ever behind, and makes the course accessible to even the most time-stretched individuals.
If this sounds a bit like the slow-food philosophy, then the analogy is likewise complimented by the fact that Hacklab Belgrade keeps restaurant-like hours. The space has no locking mechanism except for the keys which are conservatively distributed. Access isn't a problem however because the space is operated on a weekly schedule with known opening hours. This doesn't mean that there is never any free time - open hack is on Tuesdays.
Membership and Finance
Hacklab Belgrade sidesteps the membership question with a simple decree: No membership. You turn up during the times that the calendar purports classes are or don't. In fact after the third weekly meeting in which the schedule was determined Hacklab Belgrade stopped meeting weekly since there was no further need in their eyes. Monthly meetings are still held, and Arandjel advocated for, and succeeded in adopting the Noisebridge consensus model for meetings. Vlad cheered their bent towards do-ocracy "those who do have the advantage" he summarized. As such the status quo rolls along sustainably at Hacklab. The most recent moment of crisis was winter when heating pushed their monthly budget from approximately $350 to $500. A call to the more flush members to kick in $26 instead of $13 will float them this year. However Milosh confided in me that if they had to pay the $250 in rent that is currently largessed by the hackerspace mother, Hacklab Belgrade wouldn't be able to exist.