Hacklab Belgrade

If you read my blog, you are probably a Wikimedian or someone close to the Wikimedia movement. So I suppose you probably know that I have become a candidate for the WMF Board. Within this one and my future blog posts I will introduce myself and my program in more detail.

My first post will be a personal story, a story about a great place and community which I have been devoted to for about more than a year. The place I am talking about is Hacklab Belgrade (hklbgd).

Even though its official date of creation is March 2012, the story of hklbgd starts in 2005. The Wikimedian community, which created Wikimedia of Serbia and Montenegro (today Wikimedia Serbia) at the end of the same year, at the time already had its regular meetings at Belgrade’s Youth Cultural Center. As we were the only free content group with a place for meetings, naturally we were willing to share it with other similar organizations.

It wasn’t long before the Linux User Group Belgrade appeared (it evolved into the group Skill Share — Razmena vestina). And so, on a number of occasions the Wikimedian community and LUG shared a large room for their meetings.

I met Marko Djordjevic, LUG’s leader, and we soon became friends. Whether it was localizing Creative Commons licenses, organizing local and regional events or participating in a feminist organization, during the past years we cooperated closely on a number of occasions.

But there was one thing missing: a hackerspace. I knew that Wikimedia Serbia would get an office eventually, but time was passing and it wasn’t happening.

That’s when we benefited from our extensive networking. During the summer of 2011 Désirée Miloshevic, former (and future?) Internet Society Board member, approached our friend Aleksandar Blagojevic, the leader of the Serbian Pirate movement, with the idea to create a hackerspace and donate her flat for it.

Aleksandar and Marko got in touch and then Desiree and Marko spent the fall and winter adapting the interior and exterior of Desiree’s apartment for the future hacklab. (Note that Hacklab opened more than half a year before Wikimedia Serbia got their offices. During that time the Wikinews editors and the WMRS Board had regular meetings in hklbgd.)

And this is where the main part of the story begins…

Marko and I spent a lot of time discussing how we wanted to build our hackerspace and how we did not.

We knew what some hackerspaces were like. And we concluded a couple of things:

  • We didn’t want to have a space reserved exclusively for geeks. We didn’t want to create a self-sufficient space, where the most interesting talks would be about arcade games, D&D characters, and programming in bf. We wanted a lively place, where people from other fields, interested technically and/or ideologically in free content movements, would be willing to come and participate.
  • Marko and I are feminists and we know how empty spaces can be without women. An important goal for us was to create a place where women would feel safe, a place where they would be able to participate equally.
  • A community filled with people of a similar age is a dead community. It is important to make it open and attractive to newer generations.

I owe you a detailed story about the goings-on during the past year: which stories turned out to be successful, which ones did not; which things fall within general truths and which ones come as a result of the social circumstances in Belgrade. (In the meantime, you can read Maximillian’s report from his visit to hklbgd.) But now I would like to return to the present.

Hacklab Belgrade is a non-formal and a non-hierarchical community. There isn’t a formal membership and active people can have more influence than the inactive ones, a rule which doesn’t exclude even the people who founded it. The membership fee is not mandatory, but those of us with good salaries usually participate with 10-20 euros per month.

Our program varies. Some ideas last, some of them reduce, some expand. Presently, this is what our week looks like:

  • Monday evening: Pirate movement meetings.
  • Tuesday afternoon to evening: PHP workshop consisting of a self-organized group, an initiative made by women.
  • Wednesday evening: Python.
  • Thursday: Drupal (has’t been too active for the last few months, but was once the most regular workshop)
  • Friday early afternoon: GNU/Linux administration workshop, lead by me.
  • Friday evening: Web frameworks in Python.
  • Sarturday afternoon: Electronics.
  • Saturday evening: Movie night.
  • Sunday afternoon: Computer science workshop.

A year after it was founded, after a lot of involvement from dozens of people, Hacklab Belgrade has become an extraordinary place. We have people from hacker spaces from neighbouring countries asking us: What’s the catch? How have you managed to make such a good hackerspace?

The answers are simple and written above: welcoming people who are just willing to be introduced to internet technologies and free content ideologies; women in the hackerspace; and a wide range of generations.

During the last year, the members of our community have become close friends. We support each other, teach and learn, go to parks and enjoy night life together. And we adopt every new member as a close friend, too.

I have a very particular benefit, as well. Some of you may have noticed how my English got better. Thanks to Milijana 🙂

~ by millosh on May 6, 2013.

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