Rogue builders did more, however, than react to a malfunctioning system. At least some of them found ways to manipulate this system to their advan-tage. Frustrated officials confronted with rogue construction claimed that builders were using the system to get ahead. Namely, as Branko Pesic, then only a municipal delegate, explained in 1961, they would erect four walls and a roof as quickly as possible and then move into their new “home,” knowing full well that the state would likely compensate them when it needed to tear down their building.30 The city’s planning methods had given them an easy opening, by earmarking numerous sites in the both the old city and the new city for public buildings that the municipal and district authorities could not afford to build. Such lots stood empty for years, inviting rogue builders to make their move. If the reports of municipal councilors are to be believed, builders had no fear of raising a ruckus, noisily occupying municipal offices until they had been assigned a new apartment in compensation for their half-finished house.
Councilors pointed to other clever strategies of resistance, in which builders made limited demands, in the expectation that this would allow them to make greater demands in the future. Councilor Draga Buric complained that if you gave them an inch, they took a mile: “those of us who have experience working in the peripheral districts have seen that a man will seek whatever plot they can find and say, ‘I don’t need roads or water, let me just put a roof on my children’s head. Before he’s put on the last tile, he shows up at the voters’ council and yells, is this socialism, why is it that those who live on Terazije [in the center of town] have this or the other.”31
Municipal authorities described rogue construction as a “political problem.” In spite of Yugoslavia’s relative tolerance for dissent, it was difficult to openly discuss and address disobedience, and authorities never went into detail about the nature of this political problem. Did the very existence of shantytowns undermine a regime whose legitimacy was founded on the realization of an egalitarian society? This is perhaps the case, but municipal authorities appear to have had much more practical problems on their mind. As sociologist Buro Burovic put it, it was a political problem because the inhabitants of rogue set-tlements engaged in such behavior as “criticism [kritizerstvo], the defense of violators [of the law], and political opportunism of all sorts.”32 Rogue builders mostly caused trouble in relation to their immediate concerns with shelter, but such statements also suggest that their settlements became seedbeds of petty crime and even sedition. Rogue settlements stood in stark contrast to planned settlements like New Belgrade, which were seen as accomplishing the opposite effect, civilizing their inhabitants through modern living and turning them into active citizens through their engagement in the local community.
While questions of law and order were most immediately on the minds of the municipal authorities, the press caught on to the threat rogue construction posed to the legitimacy of the state. Insofar as the political legitimacy of the regime rested on its promise to reward workers with purchasing power, the existence of a class of “homeless” and poorly housed workers was indeed prob-lematic. The households that were forced to share insalubrious basements or built their homes without any sanitation were not the urban poor of the capi-talist world the unemployed, immigrants and racial minorities, or those with mental or substance abuse problems, whose existence on the margins of so-ciety was explainable if not acceptable. Rather, these were workers, who were praised in official discourse as those responsible for the economic success of Yugoslavia and who had supposedly been empowered through the introduc-tion of self-management. War veterans were also victims of the housing short-age, which was particularly embarrassing, as they were regularly celebrated as national heroes.33
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The press published stories on a regular basis of rogue builders as innocent victims, unfairly penalized by a state that was incapable of providing them with homes. The authorities complained that newspapers were stirring up trouble with such stories.34 A typical article in Beogradska nedelja reported on the tragic story of Perica Radojcic, from the settlement of Prokop, which until the end of the First World War had been privately owned vacant land. The son of a widowed cleaning lady, he had lived with his mother and five siblings in a single room with a kitchen, until he had decided to get married, at which point he had moved to Prokop and built a house consisting of a room and a kitchen. Whether or not he had known the risks of such a course of action in the first place, he was certainly aware of them by now, as the newspaper reported that he had tearfully watched his neighbor’s home being torn down, until he couldn’t stand to watch any longer.35 The inhabitants of Prokop did not wish to live in insalubrious conditions, the newspaper noted, but they had no other choice. “Not one person in Prokop will neglect to show us his damp bedroom and kitchen walls,” the journalist noted. “There is not a housewife who will forget to talk about the fact that she stores their winter food stores under the bed. . . . All of them say write it down, we too enjoy bathing our-selves, but here no one has a bathroom.”36 nature of rogue construction, they would have recourse to many stereotypes the urban poor, the uneducated peasants, the exploited workers, even the nouveaux-riches. This rhetorical slipperiness concealed the fact that rogue builders at any given time were made up of a rather mixed population. At the very bottom of the socioeconomic ladder were the Roma and other low-wage earners who would occasionally be labeled as “social cases,” who built very basic housing out of low-quality, often recycled materials, in areas that would usually be referred to as “unhygienic settlements,” such as Prokop, Jata-gan Mala, and Bara Venecija. On the complete other end of the spectrum were those who built solid, multiple-story houses on Belgrade’s near periphery, of-ten on land that they bought from farmers, but in defiance of the urban plans that had set this land aside for another purpose. These builders possessed and invested in their housing much greater resources than the inhabitants of Prokop and obviously had no plans of moving. In contrast, a third group of rogue builders, whose identity is harder to ascertain, appears to have built makeshift housing on construction sites expressly to badger the authorities into giving them an apartment. However, these appear to have been extreme cases. The rest of Belgrade’s rogue builders found themselves somewhere in the middle, securing the best housing they could afford on their income.
The same variety in the builders’ sociodemographic profiles and the result-ing housing types has been noted in the case of Rome and Greek cities, remind-ing us that the root cause of the housing shortage was not a specifically socialist problem. The Greek and Italian states did not take over housing production in urban areas like in Yugoslavia, and real estate speculation played an important role in both Rome and Greek cities in driving up the cost of land. Nonetheless, beneath these apparent differences, a very similar combination of factors fu-eled rogue construction: massive migration to the city, coupled with inadequate public housing provision and the state’s inability or unwillingness to deter or punish rogue construction. In addition, the stringent limitations put on the existence of a real estate market in Yugoslavia did not entirely prevent real es-tate speculation. Farmers on the edge of the city sought to capitalize on their land by selling it to self-builders, and anecdotal evidence suggests that some self-builders sought to capitalize on their investment by including a suite they could sublet. In Belgrade, the high cost of having utilities installed had a similar deterring effect on legal construction as did the high cost of land in Greek cities and in Rome. Arguably, the “epidemic” of rogue construction was a Southern European, rather than a socialist phenomenon.37 The response to rogue con-struction in Belgrade was, however, shaped by its socialist context more spe-cifically by its ideological and institutional framework.