The conference “Activism” is organized by the Centre for Comparative Migration Studies, the Centre for the Study of Democracy and the Department of Political Science of Babeș-Bolyai University and will take place on 4 and 5 May 2023.
A call for contributions for presentations and panels was circulated in March. The signatories here organized ourselves and applied with two thematic panels: “The resurgence of the Romanian far-right and anti-fascist counteraction” and “Decentering Westernization: activism in multispecies, decolonial and queer-feminist worlds of the semi-periphery“. These were later accepted in the program. But soon we found out, to our surprise, that the organizing group invited Mayor Emil Boc to open the “Activism” conference.
We, as people involved in both activism and research, find Emil Boc’s presence at this conference totally unacceptable! We have formulated a response that we have sent to the organizing group in which we have communicated that we will withdraw from the conference if Emil Boc’s invitation is not canceled.
But the organizers’ response was negative: they did not cancel the invitation to Emil Boc and preferred that two panels with a total of seven contributions be canceled.
Below is our reaction to the organizing group explaining the reasons for the boycott. Briefly, such a conference cannot be compatible with an opening speech by Mayor Emil Boc, who has a major involvement in the housing injustices in Cluj and in the segregation of the Pata Rât community, as well as having links with various neo-legionary, antisemitic and fascist figures. In addition, the refusal to rectify the invitation raises questions about the autonomy of academia and a fair representation of local activist positions. Who is this conference for, after all?
Join our call and let UBB know that it is unacceptable that mayor Emil Boc delivers the opening speech in a conference on ”Activism”!
Veda Popovici (Polytechnic University of Turin, DIST; ERC Project, Inhabiting Radical Housing)
Adina Marincea (The Elie Wiesel National Institute for the Study of the Holocaust in Romania)
Nóra Ugron (University of Turku, School of History, Culture and Arts Studies, Department of Gender Studies)
Manuel Mireanu (Babes-Bolyai University, Cluj)
Maria Martelli (Independent Researcher)
Anton Lösche (University of Bucharest, Political Science)
Our panels and presentation titles:
I. The resurgence of the Romanian far-right and anti-fascist counteraction
Manuel Mireanu – From Paramilitaries to Training Camps: the Military Side of the Romanian Far-Right
Adina Marincea – The Rebirth of the Romanian Far-Right and the Neo-Legionary Movement. Tools and Tactics for Counteraction
Anton Lösche – Invisible Alone – Visible Together: These Streets are Our Streets
II. Multispecies worlds, decolonial methods and queer-feminist forms of activism in the semi-periphery
Veda Popovici – Breaking the consensus for Westernization: decolonial methods for anti-authoritarian and emancipatory activism
Nóra Ugron – Creating queer and multispecies Eastern European subjects: Queer-feminist literary and activist practices in Romania
Maria Martelli – Animal liberation knowledges: scholar-activism and the questions that multispecies sanctuaries ask
Dear conference organizers,
We write to you in our position as accepted panelists and panel organizers.
We have a major concern regarding the conference program: the opening address of the current mayor of Cluj-Napoca, Emil Boc. As, hopefully, you are aware, Mr. Boc is one of the main actors in perpetrating one of the most outrageous local injustices: Pata Rât, the largest waste-related ghetto in Europe.
Pata Rât is located next to the Cluj-Napoca landfill and consists of approximately 1500 inhabitants, a majority of which arrived there due to forced evictions and dislocations in the last decades. Most notably, in 2010, a community of over 350 people was evicted from Coastei street in the center of Cluj-Napoca and forcibly relocated there in unacceptable housing conditions. Mr. Boc, as leader of the governing party in Cluj and as incumbent mayor for 15 years overall, is one of the main culprits for this.
According to numerous activist groups and other civil society actors who have spoken out over the past 13 years after the mass eviction of Coastei and the continuous injustice of the whole Pata Rât community, the struggle to get out of Pata Rât is one of the most important in recent history in Romania. Their resistance represents one of the pillars of anti-racist, housing justice, environmentalist movements in Romania. Some of us, as organizers and as engaged scholars, have dedicated years in fighting alongside this community.
While, of course, Emil Boc was not the one to order the actual eviction of 2010, he has been behind numerous other evictions that led people to Pata Rât. He has been and still is in a privileged position to shape not only the practices of the local administration, but also the discourse that legitimizes the actions around the Coastei mass eviction. For example, even as early as 1999, Mr. Boc declared in an interview that the people living in Coastei street should not ‘cling to their homes there’, and move instead to the countryside.
Throughout the past ten years since Emil Boc has been in office, various activists and groups have petitioned, picketed and even sued his administration for the resolution of the Pata Rât problem, in all its social, environmental and economic aspects. Currently, a lawsuit against the forced dislocation of the Coastei community is underway at the European Court of Human Rights.
All of these calls are to no avail in the face of the Boc administration.
In addition, the Emil Boc administration has continuously accommodated and even encouraged the rise of the local far-right. We are listing below some examples of this position.
In February 2022, the City Hall made public an initiative to name a street after Nicolae Paulescu, one of the most virulent interwar antisemitic militants. The same year, shortly after the ultranationalist AUR leader George Simion burst into Timișoara City Hall with the far-right New Right group, Emil Boc warmly received Simion in the city hall while publicly exchanging positive impressions about each other.
In 2017, Emil Boc decided to keep the name of Radu Gyr street. Radu Gyr, who was a commander in the Iron Guard, was sentenced to 12 years for war crimes, which makes the preservation of the street name contradictory to the Emergency Ordinance 31/2002. His conviction is still in force, contrary to other opinions that speak of his supposed rehabilitation. Mr. Boc explained his decision by referring to a petition received from citizens. In fact, the petition was initiated by the Ion Gavrilă Ogoranu Foundation, known for its neo-legionary profile and involved also in the Vulcănescu rehabilitation. According to the Cluj press, one person involved in this petition was also the head of the culture office of Cluj-Napoca City Hall, Ionuț Țene, known for his extremist and neo-legionary positions, and for rehabilitating Marshal Antonescu.
Despite several complaints from intellectuals and members of Cluj civil society to Cluj-Napoca City Hall and Mayor Emil Boc about Ionuț Țene’s misconduct since 2017, the administration has not reacted and he is still in office.
In addition, in 1997, the Cluj-Napoca City Hall named Iosif Constantin Drăgan, former sympathizer of the Iron Guard and one of the biggest financiers and supporters of the post ’89 legionary movement, actively contributing to the rehabilitation of the Antonescu regime and the denial of the Holocaust, as an honorary citizen. Though Emil Boc was not a mayor at the time, he did not revoke the title during his terms in office. Drăgan had ties with the far-right leader Vadim Tudor and was also honorary president of the far-right organization Uniunea Vatra Românească, of which the notorious antisemitic Holocaust denialist Ion Coja was also an active leader. The description of Drăgan on the City Hall website, section Honorary Citizens, still in 2023 does not mention anything about his fascist leanings.
Considering all the above, the signatory panelists cannot under any circumstances be part of a conference that chooses to endorse Mr. Boc’s politics, by having him deliver the opening address. We consider this as a defiance of precisely our intellectual and activist work on the topics that we are supposed to talk about.
Moreover, the fact that he is invited is a major concern to us, even beyond this history. We cannot help to ask ourselves why is the mayor of Cluj-Napoca – a career politician that also held key positions in central government – opening an academic conference about ‘activism’?! This raises issues around the autonomy of academia and a fair representation of local activist positions.
We insist that you withdraw this address AND circulate a statement on the issue to the people that have received the draft of the program so far. Otherwise, we will all refrain from organizing our two panels and presenting at the conference.
Read it in Romanian at the Free Pages blog here.