Help save Plečnik Stadium of Ljubljana

The Stadium of Ljubljana is a part of our cultural heritage and a central part of our community life, but it is being scrapped for more skyscrapers, shopping malls and casinos

Ljubljana is the capital of Slovenia. It is a European city of 300,000 inhabitants.The people of Ljubljana are proud of architect Jože Plečnik and his works, which were mostly built within the city in the first half of the 20th century. With his specific style — a combination of neoclassical and modern architecture — he is Slovenia’s only architect that is well known and recognized by a global architectural public. His works are all listed as national cultural monuments, many of them are nominated for the UNESCO World heritage list.

One of his works is a stadium, built in the north of the city centre, between the years of 1925-1935 in an existing gravel pit. The Bežigrad Stadium (now known as Plečnik Stadium) is a simple structure, consisting of only a perimeter wall, entrance colonnade, glorietta grandstand, two small pavilions and tribunes. For many years, it was the central Slovenian stadium, hosting important athletic and football competitions as well as outdoor concerts. Still, the stadium was always open to public and community use and the pupils of elementary school standing right next to it were freely using its running tracks and athletic facilities.

Photo: Our Stadium – Our Pride, a post card from 1930s.

Photo: The stadium today, by Marusa Vehovar.

In 2010 Ljubljana built a new, much bigger and contemporary stadium for more than 16.000 visitors less than 3 kilometers from the old stadium. Since 2007, the old stadium is under the threat of being destroyed by a new owner, a public private partnership — BSP. It consists of a private developer Joc Pečečnik, the Municipality of Ljubljana and the Olympic committee of Slovenia. Joc Pečečnik is a nouveau riche who made his fortune by manufacturing electronic roulettes for casinos and whose company was the first European company to be granted a licence for running a gambling business in the US.

The old stadium will be rebuilt as a Disney world like stage set

The proposed project for a new ‘sports’ park includes a skyscraper, shopping mall, casino, two thousand underground parking places — in all, more than  220.000 square meters of commercial spaces. The new development would only preserve 5% of the existing structures. The rest would be demolished and rebuilt as replicas.

Photo: The BSP project – cross section. In the red square it is indicated what is left of the old Stadium – drawing prepared by Dr. Miloš Kosec for Outsider.

The BSP project also envisions building commercial facilities on the communal gardens that have belonged to the Fond housing estate, since it was built in the 1930s beside the stadium. The gardens have since become the property of the city of Ljubljana in the process of the privatisation of state owned apartments, not long after Slovenia declared its independence. They now represent the city’s share in the partnership.

There is currently strong opposition from the Slovenian and international professional public. The stadium was included on a 7 Most Endangered 2020 list of Europa Nostra, the leading citizens’ movement to protect and celebrate Europe’s cultural and natural heritage, and a Heritage in Danger site by Docomomo International, a non-profit organization dedicated to documentation and conservation of buildings, sites and neighborhoods of the Modern Movement. But the developer, strongly supported by the city mayor, is insisting on the realisation of the BSP project as planned.

Photo: The BSP project – aerial view, GMP Architekten, Germany.

Ljubljana does not need another commercial development — Slovenia is already among the countries with the highest number of  square meters of shopping malls per inhabitant. Furthermore, on a human scale, it entails the destruction of a green open space that has been an integral part of community life in the area. Most importantly, such a development will mean the permanent loss of a national monument that is part of Slovenia’s national cultural heritage.

Since 2008, the stadium has been fenced-off and exposed to decay. Currently, the BSP is still waiting for a building permit, after the already issued consensus from the Agency for protection of cultural heritage was withdrawn by the Ministry of Culture.

Unfortunately, according to an extremely unhealthy current political situation in Slovenia, strong pressure from many powerful and influential politicians is to be feared. It is my great concern that the BSP project will soon be given a green light, despite this project’s devastating consequences for our community life and cultural heritage.

Slovenia is currently governed by an extreme right wing neoliberal government, led by Janez Janša, an ex hard core communist. Inspired by the developments in Hungary, he is trying to gain control over the democratic society and all its subsystems, through the meticulously planned placing of his supporters in all relevant positions, especially in the media and police.

We are calling for support to build a strong public opposition to the project

We ask that the Olympic committee of Slovenia to step out of the partnership, and demand that the Municipality of Ljubljana and the Ministry of Culture buy back the Pečečnik’s share of the Stadium. We ask that they organise a public, participatory process for a new project. This new project must aim to renew the Stadium to its original form and return it for a free use to all the citizens of Ljubljana.

This campaign is part of DiEM25’s Campaign Accelerator project.

DiEM25 members are currently discussing possible actions to address the issue discussed in this article. If you’d like to be involved, or if you have knowledge, skills or ideas to contribute on this, get in touch

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