Contested Heritage, Troubled Future: Memory Wars in the Urban Fabric

Urban Inequalities Forum

Sofia, 21-23 June 2024

In times of crisis, urban heritage becomes more contested than ever. The present crisis overwrites the past. As Walter Benjamin says, “not even the dead will be safe from the enemy, if he is victorious”.

Monuments and other artifacts of memory are under constant attack by relentless historical revisionism. Entire neighborhoods are erased from living memory by organized amnesia and then subjected to a process of gentrification, which simply displaces misery. A plethora of aspects of the city’s functioning, organization, and development are called into question. Economic practices that fall outside the purview of capital-friendly consumption such as farming and craftsmanship, as well as leisure activities, such as outdoor sports, dancе, and the use of public baths, are fast becoming contested legacies. Infrastructures ensuring affordable public transport, early childhood care, or public water supply are increasingly privatized and thus relegated to the domains of contested heritage. Meanwhile, in Gaza, an entire people, along with its history and built environment, are becoming obliterated and consigned to a past that is expected to be forgotten, too. In some places, people die twice.

Today more than ever, crises are the new normal, disrupting the existing urban fabric by treating it not as a lever for social development but rather as a means for profit. Disputes over diverse types of heritage often belie deeper political disagreements about the present and the future development of our shared life. Some of these quarrels function as smokescreen hiding more important current conflicts, while the future itself depends on the resolution of others. Yet, how do we tell one from the other?

What are the sites of memory in the contemporary city? How about the sites of forgetfulness? What kind of role do museums and public art play in a post-national context? What is and what ought to be the fate of socialist monumental heritage in Eastern Europe? What about Ottoman heritage in the Balkans? How do literature, cinema, and the media shape public memory about the city? What are the economic legacies of the (post)modern city? In what ways do dissonant legacies intervene in the contestations of inequalities characteristic of modern cities and the policies supposed to mitigate them? What scars has the transition from industrial to post-industrial development wrought on the city? What is the future of urban agriculture in the face of an irreversible climate breakdown? What sense do we make of the past when it’s too late to save the future? Is the future itself already turning into a contested heritage?

Join the third edition of the Urban Inequalities Forum, organized by the KOI collective with the financial support of Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung, to discuss these and related issues with Bulgarian and international scholars, activists and experts.

Cover photo: Dan Diffendale

Friday, 21 June

10.00

11.30
Farming in and for the City

Urban Agriculture as a Tool for Overcoming Social Inequalities: Challenges and Opportunities
Dona Pickard

Donka Mihaylova

From Territory to Landscape: Tracing Land Transformations in a Special Economic Zone
Ina Valkanova
12.00

13.30
Contesting Hegemonic Memory

Occidentalism Оf and Beyond the City Model
Manuela Boatcă

Israeli Spatial Hegemony and Palestinian Semi-Nomadic Women’s Counter Spaces of Eco-Social Resistance
Manal Shqair

Evoking the City’s Past, Recollecting the Citizen’s Memory in a Post-Conflict Urban Setting: The Case of Suriçi, Diyarbakir
Berçem Kaya
14.30

16.00
Decommunization, Democratization, Privatization

Reparation vs. and Decommunization? Globalizing Post-Socialist Mnemonic Battles by Using the Framework of Decoloniality in the Realm of Statue Wars
Andrea Pruchova Hruzova

Crafting Contested Heritage Narratives in Times of Democratic Crisis: Comparison between 1993 and 2023
Ina Belcheva

Becoming Waterless in the City of Mineral Springs: Bathing, Drinking, and Resisting Dispossession in Velingrad (Bulgaria)
Miladina Monova
16.30

18.00
Areej Ashhab: Between the Pine Forest and the Cactus Hedge

Saturday, 22 June

10.00

11.00
New Traditionalisms

The “Skopje 2014 Project” at Its Tenth: an Ode to Resilience
Naum Trajanovski

Post-Soviet Peripheralization, Anti-Communist Memory Regime: Nation, History and Marketization in Georgia after Socialism
Bryan Gigantino

Contested Modernity: The Heritage of Twentieth Century Architecture Between Imagined Tradition, Populism, and the New Conservatives
Aneta Vasileva
11.30

13.00
People’s History of Dispossession

Regime of Memory and Value in Neoliberalizing Kraków 
Saygun Gökarıksel

Me, Myself, I, Us, We, Our Own: An Inventory of the New Normal. The Case of Post-Yugoslav Banja Luka
Sonja Lakić
14.00

15.30
Dotan Halevy: Ruins, Destruction, and Cultural Heritage in Interwar Gaza

Sunday, 23 June

10.00

11.30
Memories of Socialism

Sensitive Memories, Sensory Heritages? Searching for Radiotočka, or the Diverging Sounds of Communism in Bulgaria
Olivier Givre

Yugoslav Urbanities on Film: Documenting and Remembering Socialist Communal Spaces
Dijana Jelača

The Marketplace Is the Shame or Pride of the Socialist State? The Central Public Market of Sofia against the Anthropology of Socialism
Nikola A. Venkov-Rose
12.00

13.30
Contemporary Art and Cultural Heritage

In Search of Places Lost
Tsvetelina Hristova and Krassimir Terziev

Art and Contested Memory in Athens and Skopje: A Comparative Approach
Sofia Grigoriadou

Contemporary Arts and the City
Ovidiu Tichindeleanu
14.30

16.00
Heritage and Colonial Erasure

Resilient Roots: Art, Culture, and Decolonizing Heritage in Urban Palestine
Himmat Zoubi

Ottoman Heritage between Past Erasures and Future Possibilities?
Ivo Strahilov and Slavka Karakusheva

Who Cares About Heritage?
Elise Billiard Pisani
16.15

17.30
Alexandra Kowalski: Forget “Мemory”? Critical Insights on Critical Memory Studies
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