Cesta na Rožnik 4
City of Ljubljana
Mestni trg 1
Ljubljana, November 28th 2017
Open letter to mayor Zoran Janković and deputy mayor prof. Janez Koželj and all responsible at the City of Ljubljana
It came as a surprise to us when we found out that the City of Ljubljana is suddenly selling Hostel Celica – a Slovenian, European and World monument – without any notice and warning. After 14 years of activities, Hostel Celica gained worldwide reputation. It was honoured with several top domestic and foreign prizes, such as »the hippest hostel of the world« (Lonely Planet, 2006) and was placed in the top 10 most prestigious hostels in Europe only last year (Guardian, 2016). This means that it's definitely not a Story of success that belongs to the past, but one of the most established tourist brands in Slovenia. In 2013, it deserved its spot on the list of 501 World Tourist Destinations – the only one from Slovenia next to Grand Hotel Toplice. A luxurious hotel by Lake Bled, offering views on the castle, island and Triglav, vs. "just" a creative concept. The Slovene Tourist Organisation acknowledges Celica as the "recognized Slovene symbol across the globe". It placed Ljubljana on the World map of youth and cultural tourism which should be the sole reason for every city authority with good intentions to protect it as the apple of its eye.
The ownership change of the building which works in the public interest to private property is clearly an issue. The vision and created artistic concept was based on public service, therefore Celica and Ljubljana received several exceptionally valuable gifts of art and the copyrights were also settled in this way.
Fact is that Celica was given to, belongs to and is a witness tothe City of Ljubljana.
Among others, the Finnish architect Juhani Pallasmaa and English sculptor Antony Gormley – both indisputably recognized stars of World culture, gave their works to Celica. Celica is active as a lively cultural centre with more than 110 cultural events around the year: from concerts and exhibitions to literary evenings and philosophical gatherings and professional debates. As a successful business project, it covers a big part of financial means for these activities alone. Let us not forget that Celica, once a Austro-Hungarian prison, has a prison museum too. Civilians were being imprisoned many times in history, especially many inhabitants of Ljubljana in the Second World War during the fascist and Nazi occupation. This point of witnessing and suffering of all these people cannot be sold! On the contrary, this historic memory and creative openness must be given forward.
The attempt of selling Celica is not just about changing ownership. The public tender clearly says that Hostel Celica is being sold merely as a real estate, a place of business without any equipment. First of all, the separation of the object from its multi-layered content means that Celica, being a World tourist attraction which unites a contemporary hostel, cultural centre and museum, is endangered.
The creators of Celica and KUD Sestava appeal to the responsible authorities at the City of Ljubljana to immediately stop the contentious selling procedure which endangers a tourist attraction, cultural value and a place of memory and is at the same time one of the few successful projects of worldwide recognition in independent Slovenia. The City's basic assignment is to protect and cherish its cultural heritage and not destroy it! On our initiative, city councillors wrote down in 1998 that the ex-prison must be "preserved as a city, national, historical and testimonial monument" with given "proper basic program and content activities". Last year (18 years later), Guardian experts highlighted that: "It is hard to imagine a better use of an ex-prison from what the Slovenian Hostel Celica team came up with." Such values and a point of memory must not and should not be destroyed. Numerous cultural contents must not lose its home.
We already prevented the demolition of old prisons twice – firstly with our own bodies and secondly with a testimony at the City Council – which enabled us to bring Celica to reality. For the third time, we will openly insist in front of the home public and, if needed, for the first time in front of the world public as well.
Janko Rožič, architect
program coordinator at Hostel Celica
Vesna Krmelj, Art Historian
and KUD Sestava president
Žiga Okorn, academic painter
Jiri Kočica, academic sculptor