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Reclaiming the Cities in the post-Yugoslav space

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - ReCitYu (Reclaiming the Cities in the post-Yugoslav space)

Reporting period: 2018-09-01 to 2020-08-31

The project ReCitYu explored instances of urban activism in the post-Yugoslav space, specifically in Croatia, Serbia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina, by examining the diverse ways in which grassroots groups have responded to projects of urban restructuring and to the privatization of public space and services. The comparative research provided new theoretical insights for the understanding of how movements in post-socialist countries resist the neoliberal restructuring of their cities. Moreover, it illuminated the extent to which urban grassroots initiatives are shaped by both the struggle for the right to the public space at the European level and the opportunities and/or constraints offered by the EU enlargement process.

This project is important for society as it explores the different articulations of citizen participation in the decision-making process concerning the future of urban space in countries that are at different stages of EU integration. Furthermore, it investigates the extent to which the mobilization for urban space could represent a unifying factor in a divided society (like in BiH), and/or can develop into political experiments such as electoral platforms, showing thus the trajectories that lead right to the city groups and urban social movements to enter into the institutional arena.

ReCitYu aimed to– Contribute to theory development to understand the emergence, growth and operation of grassroots groups opposing urban restructuring in a post-socialist environment, and in particular – Analyse why urban movements chose different frames, tactical strategies and organisational models and how they conceive their activism in relation to the dimension and notion of citizenship, – Compare the different impact of the European integration process in supporting/hampering citizen engagement in practices of urban restructuring, and in relation to their inclusion in the EU, and to illuminate the extent to which the embeddedness of RTC groups in European activist networks shape their dynamics.
The most important project results can be found in the publications and can be summarized as follows:

1. Urban activism is a feature in the post-Yugoslav space, which increased in importance over the last decade.
2. In post-conflict, divided societies such as Bosnia and Herzegovina, grassroots mobilization to reclaim the urban space offered the opportunity to re-appropriate cultural buildings and public space which were at times contested. Moreover, it contributed to trigger collective reflection upon the notion of urban commons. The research disclosed that in a post-conflict and post-socialist society like BiH urban commons can bear a unifying potential as they favor trust reconstruction processes and strengthen community ties
3. In Croatia the attempt to move from the squares to town halls in 2017 proved successful to the extent that members of the municipalist platform “Zagreb je naš” (Zagreb is ours) entered first the city assembly and later the National Parliament upon forming the political party and platform “Možemo” (We can). Contrariwise, in Belgrade the electoral list “Promena dolazi” (Change is coming), running for elections in 2018, did not manage to reach the necessary threshold. In BiH no electoral platform was created given the lack of resources and an institutional system that discourages the formation of progressive political platforms
4. In the three cases analyzed, the attempt of Right to the City groups and political platforms to redefine the notion of citizenship unfolded in two directions: on the one hand, it was inspired by successful European experiences of local governance from below. On the other hand, it reappraised the socialist experience of self-government and the participatory tools it envisaged.

These findings have been exploited by means of publications (a monograph, two published articles, three accepted with minor revisions, one article and a Special Issue underway, op-eds, policy reports, etc.) and communication and dissemination activities, such as presentations at conferences and conventions, as well as regular contributions on the media and in the press by means of interviews, public lectures, articles, op-eds and blog posts. The exploitation will continue in the upcoming years.
The project ReCitYu went beyond the state of the art by shedding new light on underexplored articulations of citizen participation, such as right to the city movements and urban activism in the Western Balkans, exploring furthermore their development into electoral platforms and green-left coalitions. The project brough to light the diverse trajectories of these groups, as well as the factors that accounted for the shift of certain of them from the contentious to the institutional arena. In a context characterized by democratic backsliding like Serbia and Croatia, ReCitYu advanced the scholarly agenda by unveiling the role of right to the city movements and new political actors on the left as bulwarks against democratic erosion. Moreover, the project disclosed the unifying potential of urban commons and urban commoning initiatives in divided societies such as Bosnia and Herzegovina. The findings of ReCitYu revealed also how the European integration process influenced the dynamics and shaped the trajectories of urban movements in the region, and the extent to which a reappraisal and revival of the socialist heritage and its unrealized potential informed new political imaginaries.

The wide societal implications of the project range from raising awareness on issues related to spatial planning, citizens’ participation and advocacy activities in the Western Balkans, to fostering the debate on the more recent developments of commoning activities and spatial issues. The findings of the project pushed the frontiers of the debate on civil society development beyond NGOization and professionalization, to explore the contribution to the democratization process given by grassroots social movements. This result has been reached through numerous communication and dissemination activities that have targeted BA, MA and PhD students, scholars at different stages of their career, NGOs practitioners and EU officials, as well as ordinary citizens.