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All posts ELMO series: CEE housing movements resisting neoliberal urban transformations

Central-Eastern European housing movements resisting neoliberal urban transformations

The Eastern European Left Media Outlet – ELMO will be launching a multilingual and inedit thematic article series, consisting of 4 parts and this introduction, in which we seek answers to the question: How are housing and urban movements resisting the post-socialist imperative of transforming Central-Eastern European cities into extensions, copies and satellites of neoliberal Western cities? The articles will be published simultaneously in several languages on ELMO member platforms (entirely on LeftEast/EN, Platzforma & Gazeta de Artă Politică & Baricada România/RO, Mérce/HU, Mašina & Radnička prava/BHS, dVersia & Baricada Bulgaria/BG, A2larm/CZ and partially on Spilne/UA, Krytyka Polityczna/PL and Kapitál/SK) between 14th-28th June and a concluding panel discussion will be held on the 30th of June at 18 CET with invited speakers Alona Liasheva (Ukraine), Ana Vilenica (Serbia), Enikő Vincze (Romania), Táňa Zabloudilová (Czech-Republic) and Vitalie Sprînceană (Moldova), moderator: Nóra Ugron.

Since 2020 we have been experiencing a deadly pandemic that made the already ongoing housing crisis palpable: worldwide many of us had nowhere to stay “home”, nowhere to stay “safe”. As the current housing crisis has metamorphosed into a crisis of the home, longstanding processes of neoliberal Westernisation are still the background of this injustice in the context of Central-Eastern Europe (CEE). The crisis is exacerbated even further in the face of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, when internally or externally fleeing refugees are faced with overcrowded cities, lack of social housing and other vital social services, and left to grapple with a prohibitively priced housing market. 

Post-socialist cities have been deemed by neoliberal advocates, just as the societies they are part of, as incomplete, chaotic, uncivilised. For over thirty years, our cities have been violently pushed by municipal and central regimes into the mould of the so-called civilised Western neoliberal city. This spectral city is the one catering to a middle- and upper-class lifestyle, it is resistant to the Other, efficiently dismantles all social and common resources, all while submitting to the will of transnational real-estate developers. 

In this context, local and regional social movements are fighting against forced evictions and for housing rights while at the same time creating space for radical leftist values guided by visions of redistribution, occupation, and radical social justice. And they’ve been doing so in a context where other actors, be they NGOs, social movements, political parties, etc. are working hard at materialising the white, Westernised, neoliberal city. 

In this 4-part articles series, we are seeking answers for not just how leftist actors are organising for housing justice in the CEE context, but also how they are confronting the colonial ethos of “catching up to the West” pervasive to political and activist milieus alike. 

To introduce the context, we have identified the following processes that CEE urban spaces have been undergoing in the last thirty years: 

  • mass privatisation of public housing in the name of anti-communism
  • the (re)creation of an upper middle class through mass restitutions of nationalised buildings to pre-World War private owners accompanied by the eviction of current owners in the name of “enacting justice”
  • dismantling of the public and social housing stock
  • the systematic dispossession and displacement of the working class coupled with a symbolic delegitimation: the cities are not for the working class anymore
  • class-based and racialized histories of property regimes: issues of access, redistribution and dispossession 
  • mass evictions, displacement and segregation of poor and racialized communities out of middle-class neighbourhoods and city centres followed by the beautification and the gentrification of these areas
  • gentrification and touristification of cultural and economic capitals in the run for attracting big, foreign, private investors
  • favouring transnational, private real estate investors with little to no regulation 
  • deregulation of the of real estate and rent markets leading to intensifying overcrowding conditions 
  • privatisation of public utilities and driving the population into accumulating household debt
  • the intentional degradation of the public housing stock by municipalities so as to legitimise privatisation
  • evacuation of the state from the housing question and transforming the market into the only regulator of the housing question

The articles in our series tell, illustrate and analyse how these processes overlap and play out in the specific contexts of several CEE cities, all while keeping the broader regional perspective. In her article Becoming Western: the story legitimising neoliberalism, violence and dispossession in Central and Eastern European cities, Romanian engaged theorist and radical housing justice activist Veda Popovici aims to reveal the workings of an aspirational Westernising paradigm in CEE post-socialist urban transformations by mapping out the story of Western superiority through which violent and high impact changes are legitimised. Bernadett Sebály, Hungarian community organizer and PhD candidate researching the policy impact of social movements gives a brief overview of the last thirty years of the Hungarian housing movement and housing policy in her article “We alll have to live somewhere.” The Hungarian housing movement – a bottom-up view – 1989-2021. Romanian sociologist and radical housing activist George Iulian Zamfir analyses how the Westernising idea of the smart city promoted by the authorities of Cluj-Napoca is linked to forced evictions and housing dispossession of the Roma, while it upholds the belief that being European requires sacrifices. Ukrainian sociologist and urban political economy researcher Alona Liasheva explores in her article Without shelter: housing policy in wartime the intensification of the housing crisis that internally displaced Ukrainian war refugees face in Lviv. [1] 

Series curated by Nóra Ugron (LeftEast, ELMO coordinator), Sonja Dragović (LeftEast), Veda Popovici (Gazeta de Artă Politică), Vitalie Sprînceană (Platzforma)

Read the introduction in CEE languages on ELMO member platforms:

To join the online panel discussion and for more info see the Facebook event: https://fb.me/e/2HvLHo2vF
Notes

[1] This article was originally published in Ukrainian and English on ELMO member Spilne/Commons. The editors decided to include it, even though it is not original content produced for the series as they consider it of utmost importance to talk about housing in the context of Russia’s invasion on Ukraine, as well as to show solidarity and support for our Ukrainian member platform. If you wish to donate for Spilne/Commons and support their work, you can do it here: https://commons.com.ua/en/donate/