Ex Cuem was founded by a group of students at the University Statale di Milano. They reopened the CUEM, an independent 40 year-old bookshop that went bankrupt in October 2011 due to debt and false accounting, closing its 150m2 premises. CUEM’s closure created a monopoly for the sole remaining university bookshop, CUSL, well-known for its connection with the right-wing political and Catholic movement Comunione e Liberazione.
The occupation had many reasons: to provide and exchange cheaper books and lecture notes, to use a big open space for free circulation of critical knowledge, for study and cultural events or meetings, and finally to prevent the waste of space and skills. The space was run non-commercially by volunteers, with open weekly meetings and frequent events like book presentations, movie nights and political debates.
Shortly after its first year of occupation, on April 16th, the dean of the university, Gianluca Vago, decided to evict the students. Vago explained his act as a response to “an escalation of irresponsible acts performed with arrogance by a violent minority”: that means that some students interrupted the board of directors of the university and used to host unwanted events at ExCuem. He added that he wanted to “give it back to the students with a regular tender”. During the eviction furniture and walls were damaged.
As a response, the students occupied a smaller room. At that point, on May 6th, the dean called the police who, for the first time in the last thirty years, forcibly removed the students from the university.
Shortly after, the hashtags #VagoDimettiti (Vago resign) and #StandUp4ExCuem appeared on twitter. Many asked why the dean had only now, one year after the closure, started to express so much interest in the bookshop. Others pointed to the weird concept of justice where an open, free and self-organized bookshop promoting the right to education is considered illegal, while rooms lying empty are perfectly in harmony with legality. The scanning of books, helping students to save money, was also deemed illegal.
The wave of indignation led to a demonstration in Milan, attended by hundreds of students, and smaller solidarity demos in Naples and Rome. Finally, on May 8th, books were returned to ExCuem, now reoccupied by students. Even though the police blocked the entrance to the university, the students managed to pass books in through the windows.
These events must be seen in connection with the eviction of Bartleby in Bologna, another independent university space producing knowledge beyond commercial boundaries.