Regime of Memory and Value in Neoliberalizing Kraków

This paper examines the intersection of neoliberalizing urban spaces and anticommunist regime of memory in postsocialist Poland and Eastern Europe more generally. The policies of restitution, or what is in Polish tellingly called, “reprywatyzacja” (reprivatization), offer a concrete context to relate anticommunist memory politics to unevenly neoliberalizing cities through the lens of value. Understood broadly, value concerns intimately both the privatization and restitution of property (housing policies), and the devaluation of citizenship rights and practices of tenants/residents, who became a target of evictions and extortions that typically took place in the grey zone between legality and illegality. In Poland, as in many other cities in Eastern Europe, say, in Bucharest, restitution policies claim to “restore” property to their pre-socialist-era “original” private owners as a gesture of historical justice and rectification of “communist violence” and often involve the violent evictions of “dangerous” classes such as former working class and ethnic/racial minorities, especially in the inner city. However, these policies have faced militant struggles for public housing and social justice.
Situated in this context, my paper focuses attention on the restitution policies applied to the street of Zamenhof (ul. Zamenhofa) in Kraków, situated in the inner city close to the main market square, where I lived from 2009 to 2011 while conducting my fieldwork in Poland. Named after the creator of international Esperanto language, who was also embraced by communist authorities, the street has undergone patchy and fragmented gentrification, partly justified through restitution policies. In particular, I will focus on the case of my neighbor, a retired woman worker, who was threatened with eviction and who as a form of protest, placed a denunciation letter/note about the political authorities and her situation on her window looking onto the street. I will take this letter as a departure point to reflect on the fragmented and highly uneven neoliberalization of urban space, the rearrangement of citizenship, but also the genre of complaint letters that is reminiscent of the socialist-era citizenship practices. In doing so, I will explore how the memory of socialism surfaces in these attempts to erase it from the neoliberalizing public space and its memory politics; how the moral economy of socialism might offer a critical framework to critically engage and oppose the neoliberal regime of value and memory, especially, when it is able to ignite a collective struggle for social equality and justice.