Category Archives: Post-Socialist

Monuments and Memorials

Monuments and Memorials in Changing Societies: A Semiotic and Geographical Approach

By Federico Bellentani

 

Monuments and memorials are built forms with commemorative as well as political functions. They can articulate selective historical narratives focusing attention on convenient events and individuals, while obliterating what is discomforting for an elite. While articulating historical narratives, monuments can set cultural agendas and legitimate political power. Thus, elites design monuments to convey the kinds of ideals they want citizens to strive towards.

This is particularly evident in transitional societies associated with regime change (Grava 1993: 19-10). In transitional societies, monuments and memorials are used to set cultural and political agendas and to educate citizens toward dominant meanings (Tamm 2013). Nevertheless, individuals can differently interpret and use monuments in ways designers might have never envisioned.

This post argues that a connection between analytical frames developed in the field of cultural geography and semiotics can contribute to a better understanding of the multiple interpretations of monuments and memorials in regime change.

Three limitations of the geographical and the semiotic perspectives on monuments and memorials

There is a significant geographical and semiotic literature looking at the multiple interpretations of monuments and memorials. Cultural geography has assessed the role of monuments in perpetuating cultural norms, social order and power relations. Since David Harvey (1979) analysed the political controversy over the Sacré-Coeur Basilica in Paris, several publications in human and cultural geography have appeared documenting the cultural and political significance of monuments (Wagner-Pacifici and Schwartz 1991; Hershkovitz 1993; Johnson 1995; Peet 1996; Withers 1996; Atkinson and Cosgrove 1998; Osborne 1998; Dwyer 2000; Whelan 2002; Hay et al. 2004; Benton-Short 2006). Despite variety in empirical analysis, this geographical research has based on two common assumptions. First, monuments play an important role in the definition of a uniform national memory and identity. Second, monuments are tools to legitimise and reinforce political power. These two assumptions can be seen as interdependent: in practice, the national politics of memory and identity embodied in monuments can legitimise and reinforce political power.

While assessing the role of monuments in perpetuating power relations, geographers have rarely discussed how the materiality of monuments can effectively convey political messages and thus legitimate political power. Furthermore, geographical research has tended to focus on the elite intentions, while underestimating how monuments are interpreted at non-elite levels.

By inviting questions on ‘readership’, semiotics has sought to overcome the restricted focus on the designers’ intentions that has characterised the geographical approach. Inspired by the debate around the conflation between memory, history and place (e.g. Nora 1989), semiotics has begun to analyse monuments as communicative devices to promote selective “discourses on the past” (Violi 2014: 11, my trans.). Discourses on the past always present a “partial vision” focusing attention on selective histories while concealing others (Eco 1976: 289-290). As a consequence, discourses on the past can affect present and future identity as well as the ways in which individuals represent themselves and relate to each other (Violi 2014: 18). Several semiotic analyses have aimed to explain how monuments can establish specific understandings of the past addressing the effects a given material representation of memory has had at the societal level (Pezzini 2006; Sozzi 2012; Abousnnouga and Machin 2013).

Despite the efforts to focus attention on ‘readerships’, the key limitations identified in the geographical perspective persist in the semiotic analysis of monuments and memorials. Semiotic analysis has scarcely discussed how the materiality of monuments actually conveys political meanings. Moreover, it has largely considered non-elite interpretations as spontaneous reactions to more prominent elite meanings.

In brief, the geographical and the semiotic perspectives on the interpretations of monuments and memorials have grounded themselves on three key limitations:

  1. There has been no extended discussion of how the material and the symbolic levels of monuments actually convey political meanings.
  2. There has been no extended discussion of how monuments actually reinforce political power.
  3. Little attention has been paid to how monuments are interpreted at the non-elite levels.

A holistic perspective on meaning-making of monuments and memorials

A holistic perspective connecting analytical frameworks in cultural geography and semiotics can overcome the limitations identified in the section above, developing a theory that conceives the interpretations of monuments and memorials as depending on three interplays: a) between the material, symbolic and political dimensions; b) between designers and users; and c) between monuments, the cultural context and the built environment.

As for a), the material, symbolic and political dimensions are useful analytical concepts, but at the empirical level they equally contribute to a better understanding of how the meanings of monuments and memorials are constructed and negotiated. There is the need for a theory that conceives the material, symbolic and political dimensions as interacting in the interpretation of monuments.

As for the interplay between designers and users, a set of “semiotic resources” is available to designers to entice users along specific interpretations of monuments (Abousnnouga and Machin 2013: 57). Nevertheless, not all users conform to the designers’ intentions. As for textual interpretation, the interpretation of monuments lies in an intermediate position between the designers’ intended meanings and the users’ interpretations (Eco 1990). Hence, there is the need for a theory that conceives the interpretations of monuments and memorials as originating at the intersection between designers and users.

As for c), monuments and memorials cannot be analysed separately from the cultural context. Culture can mould the designers’ and the users’ interpretations and even influence actions and interactions within the space of monuments. In turn, monuments convey cultural meanings in space contributing to the shaping and reshaping of culture. Finally, monuments and memorials cannot be analysed separately from their interrelations with the surrounding built environment. Post-structural geography has used the term ‘intertextuality’ to describe the relations that built forms establish between them (Duncan 1990: 22-23). As texts reinterpret other texts (Eco 1984: 68), newly erected monuments actively affect the interpretation of the existing built environment.

The conceptual scheme below symbolically represents the three interplays here identified. The scheme presumes that a relationship is established between the material, symbolic and the political dimensions of monuments and memorials. An arrow links the two rectangles representing the terms ‘designers’ and ‘users’ to visualise their interaction. A polygon visually representing the term ‘culture’ is added at the top of the scheme. The dashed oval including monuments and memorials represents the built environment.

Establishing the logic for case study research: The Victory Column in Tallinn, Estonia

To develop the theoretical framework identified in the previous section, this post presents a case study: the multiple interpretations of the War of Independence Victory Column in Tallinn, capital of Estonia.

Estonia restored its independence from the Soviet Union on 20 August 1991. There since, a cultural reinvention of the post-Soviet built environment has evolved through two distinct but concurrent practices: the redesign of the inherited built environment created by the Soviets and the simultaneous establishment of a new built environment reflecting the needs of post-Soviet culture and society. Cultural reinvention is the process of filling the built environment with specific cultural meanings through practices of redesign, reconstruction, restoration, relocation and removal.

The Estonian EU and NATO memberships in 2004 provided an adequate “sense of security” in such a manner as to underpin the redesign of the built environment and monuments and memorials specifically (Ehala 2009: 152). Hence, Estonian national elites have taken various initiatives to marginalise, remove and relocate Soviet monuments and memorials while establishing new monuments signifying specific future expectations.

One of the most sticking cases of this process is the 2009 erection of the War of Independence Victory Column in Tallinn (hence the Victory Column, fig. 1). The Victory Column is a large column-shape memorial commemorating those who served in a war against Soviet Russia and Baltic German forces between 1918 and 1920. The war ended with the first recognition of Estonia as an independent state. For this reason, in the current Estonian historical narratives, this war is known as the ‘War of Independence’ (in Estonian Vabadussõda) and it is closely linked with ideals of freedom and sovereignty.

 


Fig. 1 – The War of Independence Victory Column. Picture taken 5.10.2015

 

Articulating specific conceptualisation of the past, present and future, the Victory Column has helped to reflect and sustain the cultural and political agendas of the Estonian Government. As such, the Victory Column has reflected the intention to establish an exclusive space filled with dominant cultural and political meanings.

However, the meanings that the Estonian Government has strived to convey through the Victory Column are not reflected at non-elite levels. Users have largely reconceptualised the designers’ intentions behind the Victory Column. Furthermore, the unexpected interpretations have spawned uses that are different from those envisioned by the designers of the memorial.

Analysis of the multiple interpretations of the Victory Column

This section aims to analyse the embodied cultural and political meanings of the Victory Column and the different ways in which these meanings are interpreted at the non-elite levels. The analysis is divided into three parts. The first part addresses the designers’ intentions behind the Victory Column (§ 5.2). The second part presents the interpretations of users and their practices within the space of the memorial (§ 5.3). The third part progresses toward the theoretical dimension aiming at a deeper understanding of the designer’ and users’ interpretations of the Victory Column (§ 5.4). Before, the following section 5.1 explains the need for an extensive fieldwork and a multi-method approach for data collection.

 Research methods

The analysis of the multiple interpretations of the Victory Column is based on data collected through a fieldwork carried out in Tallinn from February to October 2015. Planning documents and literature provided an account of the meanings designers strived to convey through the Victory Column. Documents and literature available in English on the Victory Column were collected through visits at archives and libraries. The analysis of the users’ interpretations, actions and interactions was based on primary data collected through interviews and observations.

Semi-structured interviews aimed to collect a range of interpretations on the Victory Column at non-elite levels. Interview data derived from sixteen interviews with respondents that resided in Tallinn their entire life or that left Tallinn only temporarily. Respondents varied in terms of ethnic origins, age, gender, education and profession. A suitable balance of Estonians and Russophones was guaranteed: eight respondents were Estonians and eight belonged to the Russophone community of Tallinn. ‘Russophones’ refers to Russian speakers that are in possession of Estonian citizenship, including ethnic communities that speak Russian as first language and do not define their ethnic identity as ‘Estonian’. After Estonia regained independence, the Russophone community suffered status decline; conversely, Estonians found new economic opportunities and political power. In Estonia, the relations between Estonians and Russophones have not always been peaceful and this antagonism has often resulted in conflicts over the interpretations of memorials.

Participant observations concentrated on the actions and interactions of users who daily cross and use the space of the Victory Column. Observations were arranged at different times of the day and on different days of the week, including weekends and public holidays. They were carried out during the day and occasionally at night, under wide range of environmental conditions.

The designers’ intentions behind the Victory Column

The Victory Column is a 23.5 meters-high column (≈ 86.6 feet) featuring a symmetrical shape with regular forms and straight edges. It is made of 143 glass plates supported by eight concrete blocks. The iconography of the Victory Column features the Cross of Liberty, a military decoration established to honour remarkable services during the War of Independence (fig. 2). During the Estonia’s first period of independence, the Cross of Liberty became a symbol associated with the War of Independence and, in turn, with the Estonia’s fight for freedom and sovereignty. That is why the Victory Column – as most of the memorials to this war – included the Cross of Liberty in its iconography.


Fig. 2 – The Cross of Liberty at the top of the Victory Column during the constructions. Picture from Pihlak et al. 2009: 120.

 

The first ideas to erect a memorial to celebrate those who served during the War of Independence dated back to 1919 (Pihlak et al. 2009: 42). There since, a number of design competitions were held, but no plan was realised due to lack of money, lack of agreement on the design, outbreak of the Second War World and obstruction of foreign ruling powers (Pihlak et al. 2009: 41-48). After Estonia regained independence, questions about erecting a memorial to the War of Independence arose again from time to time.

In spring 2005, the Estonian Parliament entrusted the Ministry of Defence to lead the development phase of the project. The Ministry of Defence sponsored a design competition in 2007. The selected winning entry was Libertas, designed by the engineering students Rainer Sternfeld, Andri Laidre and Anto Savi.

The Estonian Government set a short deadline for the Victory Column to be erected. The time pressure created by the deadline drastically reduced participative planning practices and resulted in a lack of the required supervision on the quality of the works for constructing the memorial. The financing process was not transparent: for example, public donations were used for purposes other than covering the costs for erecting this memorial (Mattson 2012).

Today, the Victory Column stands on an elevated platform on Freedom Square, a large square on the southern edge of Tallinn’s Old Town (fig. 3). Throughout history, Freedom Square has been an arena where different political regimes have tried to assert themselves via architecture, monuments and public rituals. Freedom Square lost its function as a venue for public rituals and turned into a parking lot during the last years of the Soviet regime. In 1998, the Tallinn City Council manifested the need for revitalising Freedom Square and held an architectural competition to transform Freedom Square into an attractive public space (UNESCO 2014: 291). In consequence, Freedom Square underwent a complete reconstruction in 2009.

The reconstruction aimed to provide a venue for Estonia’s public rituals and cultural events. In Freedom Square, Estonian authorities regularly organise celebrations of public holidays, commemorative practices and official meetings. Freedom Square is also the location for cultural events, popular entertainment and attractions.

 


Fig. 3 – The Victory Column in Freedom Square. Picture taken 14.03.2015

The interpretations, actions and interactions of the users

Interviews concerned issues related with the material, symbolic and political dimensions of the Victory Column. As for the material dimension, the material of construction and the size of the Victory Column came in for a great deal of criticism during interviews. Four respondents considered glass panels as an “inappropriate” material for two reasons. The first reason concerned practical problems related to weather conditions: glass panels do not easily resist the harsh Estonian winter. The second reason concerned the inconsistency of a glass construction in Tallinn’s Old Town: respondents considered glass as a present-day construction material that does not fit in with the adjacent medieval built environment.

Six respondents considered the great size and the verticality of the Victory Column as in conflict with existing built forms in the immediate surroundings. They expressed discontent toward the chosen location of the Victory Column: to build the elevated platform of the memorial, encroachments on the nearby park and on the medieval bastions were necessary. Respondents considered the erection of the Victory Column not worth losing this natural and historical heritage. Consistent with this view, observations showed that the elevated platform of the Victory Column remained largely unused.

As for the symbolic dimension, interviews concerned two main issues: the purpose of commemoration and the iconography of the Victory Column. All respondents acknowledged the intended purpose of the memorial to commemorate those who served in the War of Independence. They stated they understood the need for this commemoration and respected it. However, observations did not register any commemorative practice, if not during the formal commemorations arranged by the Estonian Government and its affiliates.

Eight respondents clearly manifested negative attitudes toward the inclusion of the Cross of Liberty in the iconography of the Victory Column. They argued that this iconography is highly hermetic and not many users can correctly understand it – visitors as well as Estonian citizens themselves. As proof of this, three respondents did not know what the Cross of Liberty was. Four respondents claimed that this iconography conveys meanings of might and control. Two respondents defined the cross-shaped figure of the Victory Column as a “primitive symbol”. They associated the cross with Christian symbolism and defined this association as “provocative”, considering that Christianity was brought into Estonian territories through church-sanctioned campaigns against paganism.

A Russophone respondent from the oldest age band associated the iconography of the Victory Column with totalitarian aesthetics. In her opinion, the Victory Column presented a Nazi iconography, being a military insignia used by Estonian soldiers fighting alongside the German army during the Second World War. The association of the Victory Column with Nazi iconography was repeatedly reported in Russian media, which considered inconceivable and outrageous to erect a memorial presenting symbols used by the German army during the Second World War.

As for the political dimensions, seven respondents defined the Victory Column as a memorial erected to convey dominant political power. These respondents considered the power of the Victory Column as something “controversial” for a memorial erected with the intention to commemorate ideals of freedom and sovereignty. Ironically, two Estonian respondents born in independent Estonia considered the Victory Column as resembling the typical monuments erected during totalitarian regimes:

The Victory Column looks like really Soviet for me. […] For me, it is like a combination of something that we fought against for so long time. That is why it is odd. (Interview 1, Estonian, born 1991, female, hostel receptionist)

Conclusions: The multiple interpretation of the Victory Column between designers and users

The erection of memorials and the public rituals centred on them are political tools by which specific histories and geographies become embodied in space. Political elites erect memorials to educate users toward the kinds of ideals that they want users to strive towards. To do that, elites use a set of design strategies to entice users along specific interpretations. However, users can interpret and use memorials in ways that are different from those envisioned by designers.

Estonian elites erected the Victory Column to promote an ideological understanding of the past to symbolise a range of expectations about Estonia’s future. The memorial emphasized past links with the Estonia’s first period of independence to signify the aspiration of returning to pre-war traditions and institutions, which were destroyed by foreign regimes (Tamm 2013: 654). The first Estonia independence is remembered as a pre-Soviet “golden age” creating the ground for the development of Estonian national culture (Young and Kaczmarek 2008: 54). Hence, the Victory Column was erected as a tool to reinforce sentiments of national belonging and to promote practices signalling devotion for the entire nation. Public rituals in the surroundings of the memorial have facilitated the spread of these sentiments and practices.

However, the meanings that the Estonian Government strived to attach to the Victory Column were not reflected at non-elite levels. The memorial revealed a case in which users have largely reconceptualised the designers’ intentions. A multi-method approach based on interviews and observations demonstrated that the Victory Column came in for a great deal of criticism and remained largely unused. This criticism regarded the way in which the War of Independence is remembered through the material and the symbolic design choices of the memorial.

Tallinn citizens expressed discontent toward the fact that the remembered events and identities were presented through a hermetic iconography and controversial design, in a location that does not facilitate interactions and that it does not fit in with the adjacent built environment. Specifically, criticism regarded three material aspects of the Victory Column. First, respondents believed that the design of the memorial is inappropriate and disconnected from the adjacent medieval built environment of Tallinn’s Old Town. Second, they considered the great size and the verticality of the Victory Column as in conflict with existing built forms in the surroundings. Finally, they considered the loss of natural and historical heritage caused by the earthworks to build the elevated platform to be not a worthwhile cost.

Observations showed that on rare occasions users climb the staircase of this platform to approach the Victory Column. Users crossing Freedom Square remain literally at the feet of the memorial. For this reason, the memorial does not facilitate comfortable interactions: users have to look upwards and from an appropriate distance to have a complete vision of the memorial. The elevated location and the great size are design choices typically used for monuments and memorials erected during totalitarian regimes or in places where there is a high control over population. Indeed, respondents claimed that the Victory Column conveys powerful meanings rather than freedom, as the intended purpose of the memorial would suggest.

The negative attitudes of respondents link with the fact that the Victory Column has remained largely unused. The memorial attracts practices of commemorations – i.e. practices in accordance with its intended purpose – only during public rituals periodically arranged in its surroundings. For the rest of the year, the Victory Column attracts only unexpected practices that are different from those envisioned by its designers: for example, skaters and bikers trying out their tricks during the warmer weather.

The interpretations and uses of the Victory Column may change over time following change in social relations, in concepts of nation and in views on past events. Designers can encourage this process attaching new meanings to the Victory Column. A new interpretative pattern may originate once Estonian authorities reduce the anxiety towards their original intentions and accept the plurality of interpretations, practices and relationships embodied in the memorial. Cultural entertaining events and more informal practices of commemoration may help to create new attitudes toward the Victory Column. For example, Tallinn citizens enthusiastically attended the 2016 commemorations for the 75th anniversary of the Soviet deportations of 14 June in Freedom Square. On this occasion, thousands of blue balloons were installed to symbolically represent tears being shed for the victims (fig. 4). Many people visited the installation and kids joyfully played with the balloons. The installation named Sea of Tears was conceived and developed by the Estonian Institute of Human Rights in cooperation with the Estonian Ministry of Justice and other organisations dealing with the national politics of memory and identity. This people-friendly public display encouraged lively practices of consumption of the space of Freedom Square and active learning about the commemorated event.


Fig. 4 – The installation ‘Sea of Tears’ in Freedom Square. Available at: News.err.ee [Accessed: 18 July 2017]

 

Federico Bellentani recently obtained a Ph.D. at School of Geography and Planning, Cardiff University (UK). He holds a master’s degree in semiotics and a bachelor’s degree in communication sciences from University of Bologna (Italy).

Federico’s research interests range from semiotics of culture, cultural geography, planning theory and national landscape imagery.

His research focuses on monuments and memorials as tools to articulate selective historical narratives and, in turn, to inculcate particular conceptions of the present and encourage future possibilities.

Federico’s analysis concentrates on the multiple interpretations of the post-Soviet memorial landscape, with a focus on Estonia. In Estonia, Federico conducted ethnographic fieldwork, based on a multi-method approach including observation, interviewing and the examination of archival documents.

The results of Federico’s research are published in peer-review journals in the field of semiotics and architecture.

 

 

List of References

 

Abousnnouga, G. and Machin, D. 2013. The Language of War Monuments. London: Bloomsbury Academic.

Atkinson, D. and Cosgrove, D. 1998. Urban rhetoric and embodied identities: City, nation and empire at the Vittorio Emanuele II monument in Rome 1870-1945. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 88(1), pp. 28-49.

Benton-Short, L. 2006. Politics, public space and memorials: The brawl on the Mall. Urban Geography 27(4), pp. 297-329.

Duncan, J.S. 1990. The City as Text: The Politics of Landscape Interpretation in the Kandyan Kingdom. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Dwyer, O.J. 2000. Interpreting the Civil Rights Movement: Place, memory, and conflict. Professional Geographer 52(4), pp. 660-671.

Eco, U. 1976. A Theory of Semiotics. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Eco, U. 1984. Semiotics and the Philosophy of Language. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Eco, U. 1990. The Limits of Interpretation. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Ehala, M. 2009. The Bronze Soldier: Identity threat and maintenance in Estonia. Journal of Baltic Studies 1, pp. 139-158.

Grava, S. 1993. The urban heritage of the Soviet Regime: The case of Riga, Latvia. Journal of the American Planning Association 59(1), pp. 9-30.

Harvey, D. 1979. Monument and myth. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 69(3), pp. 362-381.

Hay, I., Hughes, A. and Tutton, M. 2004. Monuments, memory and marginalisation in Adelaide’s Prince Henry Gardens. Geografiska Annaler 86(B/3), pp. 201-216.

Hershkovitz, L. 1993. Tiananmen Square and the politics of place. Political Geography 12, pp. 395-420.

Johnson, N. 1995. Cast in stone: monuments, geography and nationalism. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 13, pp. 51-65.

Mattson, T. 2012. Acting rashly caused the problems of the War of Independence Victory Column. Available at: http://www.riigikontroll.ee/Suhtedavalikkusega/Pressiteated/tabid/168/ItemId/624/amid/557/language/en-US/Default.aspx [Accessed: 19 March 2017].

Nora, P. 1989. Between memory and history: Les lieux de mémoire. Representations 26, pp. 7-25.

Osborne, B.S. 1998. Constructing landscapes of power: the George Etienne Cartier monument, Montreal. Journal of Historical Geography24(4), pp. 431-458.

Pezzini, I. 2006. Visioni di città e monumenti logo. In: Marrone, G. and Pezzini, I. eds. 2006. Senso e Metropoli. Per una Semiotica Posturbana. Rome: Meltemi, pp. 39-51.

Peet, R.J. 1996. A sign taken for history: Daniel Shays Memorial in Petersham, Massachusetts. Annals, Association of American Geographers 86(1), pp. 21-43.

Pihlak, J., Lõhmus, A., Vahtre, L., Sternfeld, R. and Laidre, A. 2009. Vabadussõjast Võidusambani. Tallinn: Kujundanud Kersti Tormis.

Sozzi, P. 2012. Spazio, memoria e ideologia. Analisi semiotica del sacrario monumentale di Cima Grappa. E | C Rivista on line dell’Associazione Italiana Studi Semiotici. Available at: http://goo.gl/QQ1ybt [Accessed: 4 March 2017].

Tamm, M. 2013. In search of lost time: Memory politics in Estonia 1991-2011. Nationalities Papers, The Journal of Nationalism and Ethnicity 41(4), pp. 651-674.

UNESCO. 2014. Historic Cities in Development: Keys to Understanding and Taking Action. Paris: UNESCO/CDL.

Violi, P. 2014. Paesaggi della Memoria. Il Trauma, lo Spazio, la Storia. Milan: Bompiani.

Wagner-Pacifici, R. and Schwartz, B. 1991. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial: Commemorating a difficult past. American Journal of Sociology 97, pp. 376-420.

Whelan, Y. 2002. The construction and destruction of a colonial landscape: Monuments to British monarchs in Dublin before and after independence. Journal of Historical Geography 28(4), pp. 508-533.

Withers, C.W.J. 1996. Place, memory, monument: Memorializing the past in contemporary Highland Scotland. Ecumene 3(3): pp. 325-344.

Young, C. and Kaczmarek, S. 2008. The socialist past and postsocialist urban identity in Central and Eastern Europe: The case of Lódz, Poland. European Urban and Regional Studies 15(1), pp. 53-70.

Memory Politics in Tbilisi

Published in the Journal of Conflict Transformation  Feb. 2018

Identity Construction and the Politics of Memory

The collapse of the Soviet Union brought to the creation of 15 independent states that faced the necessity to construct their new identity – both internally and externally. The latter would pave the way to joining the “international community”. “To some extent, identities create opportunities and constraints for foreign policy-making, and also frame relations between countries.”[1]

The identity construction of a new state is a complex process requiring special instruments. Modern political communities use a collectively shared notion of the past as one of the main tools. Appealing to the past is a convenient instrument and resource for the legitimization of the existing political order. How the shared past is conceptualized and processed constitutes the politics of memory within a society.

In its turn, the politics of memory uses various instruments for the construction of a shared notion of the past. The official historical narrative is the principal of such instruments and is complemented, disseminated, and popularized by others. Among them, nation-wide holidays and commemoration days, school programs, national symbols, the creation of memorial sites and museums are the most efficient tools for the instrumentalization of the past and the construction of the state’s official narrative of history.

Undoubtedly, in this process those who carry out and experience the politics of memory have to deal with the heritage of the previous periods as well. “The history of most post-Soviet countries is characterized by the rise and triumph of nationalism and a radical revision of approaches to the history writing that dominated in the previous periods.”[2]Across the post-Soviet space, these revisions brought an overhaul of not only the official historical narratives but also the entire memory landscapes of the societies. This analysis looks into the post-Soviet transformations of the memory landscape in Tbilisi by re-visiting its memorial sites and monuments.

Georgia: History Revaluation

Caucasus Edition

The area of today’s Rike Park in the Soviet period. Electronic copy of the photograph obtained from the National Archives of Georgia.

Georgia was one of the first countries that gained independence from the Soviet Union. Ever since, the state is seeking to form its identity. Like virtually every former Soviet Union country, Georgia started a revaluation of history as part of this quest. The political elites had to provide a memory project aimed at establishing a new foundation narrative, or a new “story” of beginnings, bringing back the “lost” historical memory[3]. The revaluation of history manifested also in commemoration policies and the memory landscape. Before delving into the examination of memorial sites and monuments in Tbilisi, let’s look at a few milestone events catalyzing this revaluation of history.

From Shevardnadze to Saakashvili

In Georgia, due to the chaotic political processes of the 1990s and the beginning of the 2000s, a new state politics of memory was not systematic or targeted. The ethno-political conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia followed by their independence claims as well as the economic and political crises in the country drew all efforts towards policies aimed at stability. Consequently, in the decade following the collapse of the Soviet Union, neither attention nor resources were directed towards conceptualizing and implementing a new politics of memory.

The shaky times of the first decade of independence unfolded under the rule of one of the most prominent Soviet politicians Eduard Shevardnadze, who used to be the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Soviet Union. This period ended with the so-called Rose Revolution highlighted by massive protests against the results of the 2003 parliamentary election, skewed in favor of political parties supporting Shevardnadze. The name of the Rose Revolution derives from the culminating moment of the protests, when demonstrators led by Mikheil Saakashvili stormed the Parliament session with red roses in hands. Shevardnadze resigned in November 2003, and Mikheil Saakashvili won the presidential elections.

The Rose Revolution

The Rose Revolution and the developments that followed marked a new direction for the independent Georgian state. The Saakashvili government made an unambiguous choice to prioritize integration with Western institutions and adoption of its system of values. As Saakashvili took the presidential office, the politics of memory emerged as the key instrument for constructing a new, modern, and pro-Western Georgia.

History was the first target of revision. The events of the eras of the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union were reassessed, reinterpreted, and revised. Even though since 2003 Georgia has changed 3 presidents and even switched from the presidential system to the parliamentary system, the politics of memory of the country remains sufficiently consistent. Perhaps the August 2008 war was the next milestone cementing this politics.

The August 2008 War

The August 2008 war played a crucial role in the formation of the new Georgian identity and became a catalyzer for the revision of history. The August 2008 events were perhaps the junction point where not only the relations between Russia and Georgia split into periods of “before” and “after”, but the entire Georgian politics of memory and identity.

It is true that starting from the early 1990s, Georgia’s major foreign policy objective has been balancing Russian power and influence, which is seen as key to enhancing the country’s national security. Yet this foreign policy was the result of the quest, driven by political elites, for a new national identity rather than pragmatic considerations[4]. Thus, the 5-day war of 2008 was a “logical” extension of the Georgian identity-driven foreign policy struggling to be within Western and Euro-Atlantic spheres of influence, contrary to Russia’s aspirations to keep Georgia in its own zone of influence. In a self-fulfilling prophecy, the events of August 2008 reinforced this identity-driven foreign policy. The Georgian politics of identity and memory turned into a radical rejection of the country’s Soviet past and of any Russian influence at large.

One of the consequences of the war was the adoption in May 2011 of the Charter of Freedom with three main tenets: strengthening national security, prohibiting Soviet and Fascist ideologies and eliminating any symbols associated with them, and eventually creating a special commission to maintain a black-list of persons suspected of collusion with foreign special forces.

These events both influenced the emergence of a new politics of memory and were influenced by it. Moreover, their reverberations spread across the physical appearance of Tbilisi. As we view the transformations of the post-Soviet memory landscape, manifested in the memorial sites and monuments of Tbilisi, we have considered both those created in the Soviet period and those constructed in the independence period.

Soviet Memorial Sights of Tbilisi

The 70 years of Soviet rule had a huge impact on the political, economic, and cultural domains of life in all Soviet Republics as well as the countries of the communist bloc. Bolsheviks, coming to power after the fall of the Russian Empire and the emergence of another empire – the Soviet Union, started creating a new cultural heritage that would reflect the communist view on political and social structures, their meanings and functions. The memory landscape and urban environment of the Soviet Union were the direct projections of the prevailing political system and its values. And of course, Tbilisi was not an exception.

As everywhere else in the communist world, in Tbilisi too there sprung up monuments bearing the mark of the Soviet political and social system. However, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the meaning of those monuments and even their very construction was revised.

“[…] it is not a surprise that during times of political turbulence and change, some of the monuments gain an extra meaning and significance and become objects symbolizing or externalizing societal dynamics and changes.”[5]

The extra meaning and significance of monuments in times of political turbulence can mean both the construction and celebration of new ones as well as the destruction and demise of old ones. The early 1990’s was a period of Georgia’s release from the Soviet past and many monuments embodying the Soviet culture were dismantled from Tbilisi. The Rose Revolution and the August 2008 war brought a new wave of revolutionary changes to the urban environment of Tbilisi.

And yet, despite all the effort of the new Georgian political system to erase the legacy of the Soviet past, rather than to deal with the past, there is still political, social, and cultural memory that persists. And of course, there are still monuments of Tbilisi that date back to the Soviet times. In the new political system, these monuments gain new interpretations, meanings, and significance for the Georgian society.

We have examined two monuments erected during the Soviet times, preserved until now, and – in our opinion – significant for their social and political value. We have looked at how they have been reframed within the modern political system of Georgia and the construction of the new Georgian identity.

The Mother of Georgia Monument on the Sololaki Hill

The monument Mother of Georgia or Kartlis Deda was designed by sculptor Elguja Amashukeli and erected on the top of the Sololaki hill in 1958, the year Tbilisi celebrated its 1500th anniversary. The 20-meter-tall aluminum statue, wearing a Georgian national dress and holding a cup of wine in one hand and a sword in the other, is said to symbolize the Georgian national character; wine stands for hospitality and the sword represents every Georgian’s strive for freedom.

The notion of a “mother of the nation” and embodiment of this notion into a monument of a woman is not unique to Georgia; many states of the former Soviet Union have the very same statue. Moreover, these statues are all in the style of socialist realism hovering over Kiev, Volgograd, Yerevan, and other cities of the post-Soviet space.

Caucasus Edition

The “Mother Armenia” monument in Yerevan, Armenia. Photo Credits: Tatev Bidzhoyan.

Caucasus Edition

“The Motherland Calls” monument in Volgograd, Russia. Photo Credits: Yuliya Drachenko, taken from https://goo.gl/jMVczY.

Caucasus Edition

“The Motherland” monument in Kiev, Ukraine. Photo Credits: Maria Karapetyan.

Nevertheless, the modern Georgian society by and large does not perceive Kartlis Deda as a cultural remnant of the Soviet Union but rather as a collective image of the Georgian people. Not manifesting a specific individual, Kartlis Deda was easily integrated into the new national discourse and is supposed to be a figure that every Georgian could identify themselves with. Mother Georgia is “the most important woman in all Georgia: its protector and a standing definition to others of what Georgia is”[6].

Memorial of Glory in Vake Park

Another colossal monument erected during the very last years of the Soviet Rule, more specifically in 1985, is the Memorial of Glory, dedicated to the 300,000 citizens of Georgia that lost their lives during the years of the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945 and the victorious triumph of May 9 over Nazi Germany.

The then Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Soviet Union Eduard Shevardnadze conceived the idea of the monument, aiming to prove his loyalty to the central Soviet government. This was an effective move since “Victory Day has become the quintessential ritual of a Soviet culture and society in which Russia – or rather, the Russian-speaking world – was presented as its epicenter”[7].

Former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, pursuing de-Sovietization policies, made efforts to change the meaning of the monument and the significance of the victory day itself. For example, in 2005, he celebrated the victory in World War II, and no longer in reference to the Great Patriotic War, with the US President George Bush in Liberty Square, and not in Vake Park. A further attempt to downplay the Soviet meaning of the monument was the multiple depiction of the modern Georgian flag on the lower part of the monument.

In 2011, in another move aimed at re-focusing attention between historical events, Saakashvili’s government initiated a project that would mount a new memorial in Vake Park, dedicated to the 1924 anti-Soviet riots. The site was to commemorate Kote Abkhazi, a well-known leader of the liberal nobility of Georgia, and his division that the Communist regime shot in Vake Park in 1923[8]. The installation of the monument was planned for February 2012. However, the monument was not erected. The Georgian government that came after the defeat of Mikheil Saakashvili’s political party returned the celebration of the victory in World War II to Vake Park. Nevertheless, in both official and public discourses, the celebration is said to commemorate the victory in World War II, and not in the Great Patriotic War.

Memorial Sites of Modern Tbilisi

Caucasus Edition

The cityscape of Tbilisi from Rike Park. Photo Credits: Katie Sartania.

Modern Tbilisi is a dynamic city with a multi-layer architecture. It is an eclectic mix of the medieval, the imperial, the Soviet, and the modern. The most remarkable monuments of the memory landscape in the capital of independent Georgia were constructed after the 2003 Rose Revolution. The then president Mikheil Saakashvili and his government paid a special attention to the politics of memory and symbols.

We have examined three monuments crowning the city-scape of Tbilisi and that – in our opinion – best illustrate the new politics of memory of independent Georgia.

The Statute of Saint George on Freedome Square

The statue of Saint George tops the column in the middle of Freedom Square in Tbilisi. The square itself, or rather its name, deserves a small excursion into its own layers of transformation. Its name unveils the turns in Georgian history. When Georgia was part of the Russian Empire, the square bore the name of Knyaz Ivan Paskevich-Erivanskiy and was called Erivanskiy Square. This name lasted until the Sovietization of Georgia. In the Soviet era, it was initially named after Lavrentiy Beria and later on renamed after Vladimir Lenin, with his statue erected in the square in 1956. Following Georgia’s independence, the place was renamed Freedom Square. This was the name of the square at the time of the first Georgian republic that existed in 1981-1921, between the fall of the Russian Empire and Sovietization. Despite this change that bridges the old and the new, even today, some of the older residents of Tbilisi call the place Lenin’s Square.

In the place of the dismantled statue of Lenin’s, a new one dedicated to Saint George was mounted on November 23 in 2006. Designed by the well-known Georgian sculptor Zurab Tsereteli, the monument embodies Saint George killing a dragon.

In the new political mythology of Georgia, Saint George is not only the patron saint of Georgia and its protector, it is the symbol of Georgia’s fight for freedom and independence. In this new interpretation, the defeated dragon on the monument symbolizes the imperial legacy – both Russian and the Soviet. Hence the monument not only echoes the distant mythological past but also the recent past. Moreover, as literary scholar Zaal Andronikashvili argues, it promises a future victory as well. The mythological past is projected onto the modern political context and foreshadows the future[9].

Heroes Memorial

One more remarkable example of Mikheil Saakashvili’s sophisticated politics of symbols was the opening of the Heroes Memorial on the Heroes Square in 2009 right after the August 2008 war. The 51-meter memorial is dedicated to Georgians who died in the fight against the Red Army in 1921, the anti-Soviet revolt of 1924, the war in Abkhazia in 1992-1993, and the August 2008 war in South Ossetia. Around 4,000 names of soldiers are engraved on the marble tiles of the memorial.

The Heroes Memorial not only fuses together the past events by the mechanism of analogy but also alludes to the future. As former president Saakashvili noted, the memorial is not only for the heroes who have already died for their country but for the heroes who will sacrifice their lives for the country in the future as well. In his speech at the opening ceremony, he made a clear point: “If we want Georgia to exist, we should all be ready to put on this uniform [referring to the military uniform he was wearing]; we should all be ready to take arms in the decisive moment; and we should all be ready to fall on our land and ready to inscribe our names on the empty parts of this monument. That is the genetic code and historic experience of our country and a major guarantee of our future”[10].

Earlier, in 2003, near the same square, another memorial to Georgians fallen in the wars of Abkhazia and South Ossetia was put up again following the initiative of Mikheil Saakashvili who was then the head of the Tbilisi City Council[11].

The opening of both memorials gave two specific messages made by the government of Georgia to its society and the international community. The first message is that Georgia’s independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity are absolute values. And the second message was about the government’s perception of who is perceived as a threat to those absolute values. The Russian support for the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in the 1990s, as well as the August 2008 war followed by the recognition of their independence, contributed most to the formation of the perception of Russia as the number one foe of Georgia.

The Statue of Ronald Reagan in Rike Park

New memorial sites and monuments appeared in Tbilisi not only to mark the distancing from the Soviet past but also to mark new alliances. The relatively new statue of the 40th US President Ronald Reagan is an example of that element of the new politics of memory and symbols in Georgia. Unveiled in November 2011 near the Mtkvari River in Rike Park, the statute depicts Ronald Reagan, sitting on a bench with crossed legs, smiling, and looking off into the distance towards north, perhaps in the direction of Russia? Inscribed on the bench is one of Reagan’s remarkable phrases: “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction”.

Following the pattern, Mikheil Saakashvili presented the statue as a symbol of freedom and victory over the biggest evil – the Soviet Union. During his speech on the opening ceremony of the statue he said in reference to the then Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s words: “the leader of our invader state has announced that the collapse of the Soviet Union – the Soviet Union that was brought down by Ronald Reagan – was the 20th century’s biggest geopolitical catastrophe. […] While they [Russia] have restored the anthem of the Soviet Union, we are unveiling a statue of Ronald Reagan as a sign of the difference between our ideology and theirs”[12]. Referring to the creation of the Eurasian Economic Union between Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan, Mikheil Saakashvili once again associated the Soviet Union with Russia only and made an attempt to distance Georgia from its undesirable past.

Dealing – Away – With the Past

A changing politics of memory is always indicative of a changing political course and is called to justify that course. In this analysis, we looked at a number of memorial sites in Tbilisi both from the soviet and post-Soviet periods, analyzing them from the perspective of the modern Georgian political system, the quest for and construction of a new Georgian identity, and the politics of memory and symbols.

The revaluation of Georgia’s past in the Imperial Russian and Soviet realms, the celebration of freedom and independence, and Georgia’s turn towards a pro-Western path of development are at the core of this politics. Some old monuments that have no hope of surviving in the new system of coordinates are demolished. Others are revised and reinterpreted into the new paradigm. Yet new ones are mounted and unveiled.

Footnotes

[1] Kakachia, Kornely. 2013. “European, Asian, or Eurasian?: Georgian Identity and the struggle for Euro-Atlantic Integration.” In Georgian Foreign Policy: The Quest for Sustainable Security, 41-53.

[2] Kirchanov, Maksim. 2017. “Politics of Memory as Historical Politics in Georgia: From Desovietisation to the Invention of the Sovietness.” Georgia Monitor. Accessed January 6, 2018. http://www.georgiamonitor.org/upload/kyrchanoff_vsu_mgimo_2017_engl.pdf.

[3] Toria, Malkhaz. 2014. “The Soviet Occupation of Georgia in 1921 and the Russian-Georgian War of August 2008. Historical Analogy as a Memory Project.” In The Making of Modern Georgia, 1918-2012: The First Georgian Republic and Its Successors, edited by Stephen F. Jones, 316-335. New York: Routledge. Accessed January 6, 2018. https://goo.gl/dHLJw3.

[4] Kakachia, Kornely. 2012. “Georgia’s Identity-Driven Foreign Policy and the Struggle for Its European Destiny.” Caucasus Analytical Digest 4-7. Accessed January 6, 2018. http://www.css.ethz.ch/content/dam/ethz/special-interest/gess/cis/center-for-securities-studies/pdfs/CAD-37-4-7.pdf.

[5] Javakhishvili, Jana. 2016. “Stones Speaking: Reading Conflicting Discourses in the Urban Environment.” Caucasus Analytical Digest 8-11. Accessed January 6, 2018. http://www.laender-analysen.de/cad/pdf/CaucasusAnalyticalDigest80.pdf.

[6] Constable, David. 2012. “Kartlis Deda: The Importance of Georgia’s Most Famous Woman‏.” Huffington Post. October 29. Accessed January 6, 2018. http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/david-j-constable/kartlis-deda-the-importan_b_1776626.html.

[7] Edwards, Maxim. 2016. “Victory Day in Tbilisi.” Open Democracy. May 10. Accessed January 6, 2018. https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/maxim-edwards/victory-day-in-tbilisi.

[8] 2011. “In Vake Park the Memorial to be Installed in Commemoration of 1924 Riot.” GHN News Agency. August 28. Accessed January 7, 2018. http://eng.ghn.ge/news-4309.html.

[9] Andronikashvili, Zaal. 2011. “The Glory of Feebleness. The Martyrological Paradigm in Georgian Political Theology.” In Identity Studies, Volume 3, 92-119. Tbilisi: Ilia State University. Accessed January 7, 2018. http://ojs.iliauni.edu.ge/index.php/identitystudies/article/view/27.

[10] 2010. “Saakashvili Addresses Nation on Independence Day.” Civil.Ge. May 26. Accessed January 7, 2018. http://www.civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=22340.

[11] 2004. “В Тбилиси у мемориала воинам, погибшим в боях в Абхазии и Южной Осетии, установлен почетный караул.” Ria Novosti. February 26. Accessed January 7, 2018. https://ria.ru/society/20040226/535327.html.

[12] 2011. “Ronald Reagan Statue Unveiled in Tbilisi.” Civil.Ge. November 23. Accessed January 7, 2018. http://civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=24178%E2%80%8F.

* This story has been produced with support from the US Embassies in the South Caucasus. The opinions expressed in the publication reflect the point of the view of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the US Embassies.

** All photos of this story were taken by Katie Sartania and Tatev Bidzhoyan unless credited otherwise.

*** This story is part of a series on post-Soviet transformations of the memory landscapes, memorial sites, and monuments in Tbilisi, Yerevan, and Baku.

Designing the Soviet Union

Soviet architecture had diverse and ambitious ideas for transforming the spaces people live, work, and travel in.

An abandoned Soviet-era bus stop in Chiatura, Georgia. orientalizing / Flickr

For the last few years, the best-selling architectural coffee-table books have all shared the same subject: Soviet buildings. They are part of a strange but popular cult, where the ruins of the Soviet Union are contemplated and documented as an alien landscape.Agata Pyzik, in her 2014 diatribe Poor But Sexy, describes this trend as a form of intra-European Orientalism. Books like this year’s success story — Christopher Herwig’s Soviet Bus Stops — explore what she calls an “obsolete ecology,” an irradiated yet magical wasteland, an Urbex paradise littered with wonderfully futuristic ruins. It is a seductive approach, and many Western writers (like me) have joined in.

Herwig’s contribution is a gorgeous example: page after page of bus stops, in an elegant, almost pocket-sized hardback volume, with a terrific design by the Anglo Sovietophile publisher FUEL.

But why bus stops? Because Herwig discovered that the long, straight, often potholed highways that run between the former Soviet Union’s big cities are dotted with hundreds, maybe thousands, of architecturally imaginative bus shelters.

There are none in the cities themselves — urban bus shelters are far more likely to be the sort of metal and glass canopies found in any metropolis. But tiny towns, villages, and hamlets commissioned, through processes that the two introductions to the book manage to leave totally unexplored, a series of exceptionally striking and original designs, in a raw style that combines the local vernacular (Baltic, Central Asian, etc.), concrete futurism (all jagged angles and cantilevers), and bright colors.

It’s fabulous stuff, but to paraphrase Brecht, a photograph of a Soviet bus stop tells us almost nothing about the society that brought it into being.

Tellingly, many of these hit books are made by professional photographers who have chanced upon their subjects — something Herwig shares with the French photographer Frederic Chaubin, author of the smash hit CCCP: Cosmic Communist Constructions Photographed. This means they don’t share the compulsion that an academic or journalist might have to include editorial condemnations of the Soviet Union.

Until recently the subject has produced little good work in the English language. Prewar Soviet architecture has been well-served with studies by the likes of Catherine Cooke, Selim Khan-Magomedov, and Vladimir Paperny, but post-Stalin design has been oddly obscure. However, several recent publications combine the innovation of Soviet aesthetics with excellent writing. There’s no excuse to just stare at pictures of incredible Soviet ruins when there are books that can tell you what they are and why they’re there.

Theory and Practice

Zurab Tsereteli — one of the designers of Herwig’s totally awesome Soviet bus stops —maintained a successful career well into the post-Soviet period. The Russian-based Georgian sculptor shifted from expressive, mosaic-clad organic modernism to a monstrous form of figurative, neo-imperialist sculpture in bronze, leaving a trail of horrors in his wake.

Moscow’s Peter the Great statue is Tsereteli’s most notorious creation, set on its own artificial island. German scholar Philipp Meuser christened this style — which combines late Tsarist, high Stalinist and Las Vegas aesthetics — capitalist realism in other words.

As editor at Dom Publishers, Meuser has been responsible for an impressive program of Soviet and post-Soviet architecture publications. In just the last year, these have included a series of city guides for the Latvian capital Riga, one of the most western of ex-Soviet cities, and for Slavutych, an extraordinary planned city in northern Ukraine designed to rehouse workers displaced by the Chernobyl disaster.

The small housing estates in Slavutych were “donated” by various Soviet republics. You can find a Tallinn Quarter, a Baku Quarter, a Leningrad Quarter and so forth, each reflecting the styles and spatial ideas of their namesake republics. The guide, from Ukrainian architectural historian Ievgeniia Gubkina, strikingly demonstrates how diverse Soviet architecture had become on the eve of its collapse.

However, other recent Dom books, such as Hidden Urbanism — on the astonishing underground palaces of the Moscow Metro — reveal a remarkable level of continuity in Soviet design. The subway stations all share a similar, space-age crypt idiom, whether they were built in 1985 or in 2005.

Another recent Dom book, Meuser and Dmitrij Zadorin’s Towards a Typology of Mass Housing in the USSR, focuses on the flipside of special projects like the Metro, Slavutych, and the bus stops. Instead, it examines the immense prefabricated house program, the largest experiment in industrialized housing ever attempted. This deadpan, obsessive-compulsive book attempts to catalog each apartment building series, which were rolled out of specialized, assembly-line factories like automobiles.

Towards a Typology of Mass Housing reveals that by the 1970s Soviet architecture had almost entirely eliminated the figure of the individual architect, who traditionally works on a specific design for a specific site. For this massive urban housing initiative, the USSR transformed architects into industrial designers, except when it came to the creation of showcase public buildings.

Some of Dom’s recent publications focus on these prestige designers — like Felix Novikov, a mercurial figure whose career included Stalinist palaces for the nomenklatura in the 1940s, Khrushchev-era mid-century modernism like the Moscow Palace of Pioneers, and neo-Persian bathhouses and bazaars in Central Asia in the 1970s and 1980s.

Perhaps the saddest of these books, Galina Balashova: Architect of the Soviet Space Program, focuses on the engineer-architect who designed the ergonomic interiors and streamlined casings for space capsules and stations. Balashova created real, constructed human environments that floated in space or rotated in orbit, but her most recent work consists of watercolors of her family in Tsarist-era military costumes. Whatever else could be said about it, Soviet collectivism made people do things that they wouldn’t have considered possible, before or since.

One of the few books in the Moscow Institute of Modernism’s series of publications on Soviet architecture to be translated into English is Anna Bronovitskaya and Olga Kazakova’s heavy volume on another prestige architect, Leonid Pavlov.

All the facets of Soviet architecture appear on his resume: he began as a Constructivist, passed through the Socialist Realist period of opulent, elite classicism, and then found his metier in the 1960s as an architect for Gosplan, the agency that officially planned the Soviet economy.

As readers of Francis Spufford’s novel Red Plenty will already know, in the 1960s the Soviet Union made an abortive attempt to computerize its economy in hopes of solving the socialist calculation problem. Pavlov designed several Moscow-based computer centers for Gosplan, using a pure, mathematical, and finely detailed modern idiom of clean lines and precisely calculated grids, sometimes integrated with abstract sculpture — a Soviet cousin to postwar America’s corporate architecture.

However, the construction industry couldn’t keep up with the pace of Pavlov’s ideas, and most of the centers were completed at least a decade after their design. By that time computers had shrunk, and the computer rooms were changed into conference rooms or left unused; an apt metaphor for the gulf between theory and practice in Soviet planning.

Pavlov’s late work, tellingly, was devoted to sacred spaces for the cult of Lenin — like the Lenin Funerary Train Museum in central Moscow or the Lenin Museum at Gorki, where Lenin lived and slowly died in the early 1920s. These designs borrow from ancient religious architecture and Miesian high modernism in an attempt to create an appropriate architectural language for a secular cult.

One historical study and one city guide — both published in the last year — provide the most interesting analyses of what Soviet architecture actually was and what (if anything) sets it apart from ordinary capitalist architecture.

The first is Richard Anderson’s Russia: Modern Architectures in History, which presents a panoramic history of pre-Soviet, Soviet, and post-Soviet architecture from the late nineteenth century to the present. It starts with Victorian eclecticism, “style modern,” and Constructivism, then turns to the eclectic, anti-modernist Socialist Realism of the Stalin era and the standardized and plural modernisms of the 1960s through the 1980s, and ends with a very mixed picture of contemporary Russian architecture, dominated — especially outside Moscow — by an overbearing, unplanned, and speculative monumentality.

Whereas the book covers profound social changes, Anderson pulls out an unexpected thread of continuity, as institutions such as Mosprojekt — the municipal architecture-construction department of Brezhnev-era Moscow — reinvented themselves in the 1990s by designing horrific mirror-glass and marble edifices for the new rich.

Anderson’s book also adroitly uncovers some of the lesser-known aspects of twentieth-century “socialist architecture.” Beyond the famous icons of the avant-garde, Russia: Modern Architectures in History takes in the garden cities in Lenin’s Moscow, the oddly Finnish low-rise housing in post-Blockade Leningrad, the entirely new territory Brezhnev attempted to create through a series of planned towns strung along the Baikal-Amur Mainline, and the various imperial exports found both within the Soviet Union — in the Soviet “East” of Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan — and in the imperial baroque style that represented the central power in Eastern European capitals like Warsaw, East Berlin, and Riga.

The most politicized recent book on Soviet and post-Soviet architecture deals precisely with this imperial legacy. The collectively produced The Book of Kyivwas published to mark the city’s biennale last year, largely by affiliates of the Visual Culture Research Centre (VCRC), a leftist non-governmental organization.

The Book of Kyiv works as a guide to the city by presenting a series of carefully chosen buildings, almost all from the Soviet era: a ghost mall known as the House of Clothes; a Metro station left half-finished just outside the city center; the National Museum of Ukraine, done in the Stalinist Roman Empire style; the haunting, organic Crematorium, designed in the 1970s; various emblematic spaces like the former Dzherzhinsky Square, which features a flying-saucer-shaped Institute (featured in no less than Chaubin’s CCCP) and a gigantic monument to the Cheka, only demolished last month; and various soon-to-be de-Communized mosaics and monuments.

Among the spaces that feature in The Book of Kyiv is the dramatically authoritarian, late Stalin-era Independence Square, best known by the Ukrainian word for square: maidan. The VCRC supported the 2013–14 uprising there, and combine this with a sharp critique of the Ukrainian built environment’s de-Communization, now underway through a legally enforced process of renaming and vandalism.

But what makes The Book of Kyiv a real antidote for the likes of Soviet Bus Stopsis its sympathetic account of Soviet architecture and planning, which lets equal stress fall on its failures, continuities, and successes, and trains a ruthless eye on the capitalist city, which has survived by cannibalizing the Soviet legacy, building on its interstices, slathering its public spaces with advertising and cheap commerce, straining its infrastructure, and maintaining a violent divide between rich and poor.

This becomes all the more poignant when it’s enforced on an urbanism that, for all its serious flaws made a serious attempt to create an egalitarian metropolis defined by public space, equality, and planning. It is in that contrast that you can begin to understand what that elusive thing — Soviet architecture — actually was, and what distinguishes it from capitalist architecture. Appropriately, the book is made for the pocket, rather than the coffee table.

What is the post-Soviet?

By   Samuel Goff

Published in The Calvert Journal

What’s the concrete connection between Tallinn and Tashkent, Prague and Pristina, Dubrovnik and Dushanbe? All of these places share a 20th-century history of socialist government. Whether this began in 1917 or 1945, and whether it is viewed now as something to celebrate or something to mourn, this has to be our starting point. This might seem like basic stuff, but it’s important to bear it in mind, because it reminds us that what we call “post-Soviet” was part of a global cultural economy; if anything, lumping all of eastern Europe together is insufficient — we should be talking about Vietnam, Afghanistan, KoreaIran, a whole host of African states too.

Even individual national cultures contain multitudes too often ignored. Take Russia: cultural tastemakers in the West might know to cite Gosha Rubchinskiy’s postmodern streetwear in fashion, or Andrey Zvyagintsev’s austere miserablism in film. How many know about the multi-ethnic hybrid threads of Uzbek-Korean designer J.Kim, or the Islamic craft-inspired Asiya Bareeva? Or the breakout work of the twenty-something director Kantemir Balagov, who wowed Cannes last year with Closeness, his dissection of religious tensions in the North Caucasian republic of Kabardino-Balkiria?

Focusing in on shared details while keeping the broader global picture in mind — that is what lies behind the designation of “post-Soviet” culture. As Anastasiia Fedorova, co-curator of Calvert 22 Foundations forthcoming exhibition Post-Soviet Visions: Image and Identity in the New Eastern Europe puts it here, much of the art on display is imbued with “the feeling that witnessing a historical transition can become a bonding experience.” If we follow this logic, then what makes “post-Soviet” culture vibrant is that it demonstrates how international events interact with local circumstance.

 

This being said, the question “what is the post-Soviet” remains a teasing and frustrating one. “Soviet” cannot be an objective reference point; it means too many different things to too many different people. Is it a strictly defined political identity? An aesthetic? A brand? Is it synonymous with lost glories, or with national tragedy?

What makes “post-Soviet” culture vibrant is that it demonstrates how international events interact with local circumstance

It’s worth acknowledging that our use of the term “post-Soviet” in this special report — and in Calvert 22 Foundation’s forthcoming exhibition — is problematic. We are not limiting our scope to artists, architects and designers from the 15 (or 16, or 17, depending on who’s counting) successor states to the Soviet Union. We’re using the term to refer to works from Poland, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia and more; no doubt some of the very artists whose work we are showcasing would object to the label. Today, 29 years after the tumults of 1989 and 27 years after the dissolution of the USSR, there is justifiable anger that the historically inaccurate designation “Soviet” is still applied to the whole of eastern Europe, a continuation of the old Cold War trope that all life beyond the Iron Curtain was monolithic and dictated by Moscow. And this frustration grows with time as 29 independent states get on with the painful business of nation-building.

So why use the term “post-Soviet” at all? After all, the Calvert 22 Foundation exists to dispel old clichés about eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia — we even began using the phrase “New East” to provide a more neutral and forward-thinking way of describing the region we cover. The answer, perhaps, is precisely because it’s awkward, or provocative. “New East” lacks the relativity of “post-Soviet”, the implication that, even if we resent the fact, there are parallels and links to be drawn between states and peoples that are sometimes bitterly divided. And “post-Soviet” also forces us to think about the position of outside observers, looking in on a region that they may little understand, and the presumptions and prejudices they (we) bring to the table.

 
  
 

We can look to national cinema culture for an example. Both Georgia (which was part of the Soviet Union) and Romania (which decidedly wasn’t) have produced cinematic “New Waves” in the last 15 years; both of these Waves have been responses to the economic and social collapses that followed the Soviet/socialist era, and each has been incubated by the similar-yet-distinct crises that afflicted each country. Georgia had a rich filmmaking tradition and an established industry that was laid low by the civil war that followed independence from the Soviet Union; its directors found their collective voice again precisely by articulating the violence and disorder of the period. (The loss of so many young men in the war has subsequently contributed towards an even Newer New Wave — a raft of films by or about women forced to step into the roles vacated by absent fathers and sons.) Romania, on the other hand, had comparatively little in the way of domestic filmmaking tradition, but has since managed to create a space for itself on the global market with its patented brand of low-budget, naturalist dramas that delve into the social dislocations created by the disasters of the late Ceausescu regime and the hardships of the 90s; a cottage industry that has garnered international acclaim for the likes of Cristian Mungiu and Corneliu Porumboiu. Two examples of “post-Soviet” national cinema, distinct yet related.

To acknowledge the role played here by the fall of socialism is to shine perhaps too bright a light on the role of the West in creating and curating a post-Soviet aesthetic

Of course, if “post-Soviet” is synonymous with “post-socialist” then it also refers to a distinct ideological period. Post-Soviet culture is produced and consumed in the wake of a fearsome political shift, a restructuring of people’s understandings of the world; as Fedorova puts it, this is the culture of “youth caught between two stagnations” whose parents’ life stories sounds like “distant fairytales”. The socialist past is omnipresent in this art; sometimes it looms large, as in the ongoing western fascination with crumbling communist monoliths such as Bulgaria’s Buzludzha Monument. At other times it’s a vague shadow. And often it’s violently disavowed — for instance, in the recent wave of nationalist historical dramas pushed by Poland’s right-wing Law and Justice government. And if this ideological dimension is something which is often elided in conversations about post-Soviet culture in the West, then that is because to acknowledge the role played here by the fall of socialism is to shine perhaps too bright a light on the role of the West in creating and curating a post-Soviet aesthetic.

  • Crowds on Palace Square in Leningrad in 1991. Still from Sergei Loznitsa’s film about the fall of the USSR, The Event (2015)

In a series of essays for openDemocracy Russia, Kirill Kobrin makes an important point about the dismantling of the Soviet Union (and by extension about the collapse of socialism across eastern Europe). What happened to the USSR is generally understood as an ideological collapse: the ideals of state socialism were no longer tenable, and so the political system founded on them crumbled. Post-Soviet culture reflects the postmodern condition of a world where the need for all-encompassing ideology has been superceded. I think this is what undergirds western fascination with the perceived “nihilism” and “gritty poetry” of Rubchinskiy-style Russian streetwear, the brashness of a youth forcibly deprived of “meaning”.

Except, as Kobrin notes, this is a misunderstanding. The Soviet system didn’t collapse when its ideology was exhausted, a casualty of postmodernism — it was taken apart as a result of arguments over old-fashioned (that is, quintessentially “modern”) issues like borders, ethnic divisions and international aggression. The violence that broke out across the post-socialist space in the 90s — from the Yugoslav wars to the Tajik civil war and the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict — speaks to this. So, incidentally, does Air Force One (1997). Wolfgang Petersen’s slice of pure Yankee triumphalism, about terrorists protecting the honour of a rogue regime in post-Soviet Kazakhstan, understood better than many historians that the brave new world of the 90s was one where nationalism and sovereignty were back on the agenda in a major way.

 
If anything, it would be more accurate to refer to today’s cultural vanguard as the “post-post-Soviet”

Kobrin’s point is that Soviet ideology didn’t collapse at the end of the 1980s — it had collapsed long before then. Not for nothing was Leonid Brezhnev’s 18-year tenure (1964-1982) as General Secretary known as the Era of Stagnation, a painfully slow retreat from idealism into rigor mortis. By the time perestroika came around, there was little meat left on the bones of Soviet ideology anyway. If anything, it would be more accurate to refer to today’s cultural vanguard as the “post-post-Soviet”.

In the USSR and across eastern Europe, artists had reacted to the Stagnation as it unfolded, exploring the decrepitude, hypocrisies and unrealised potentials of their various socialist systems for decades before the West got to fawn over “post-Soviet” ruins. When a designer like Vetements founder Demna Gvasalia puts a hammer and sickle on an oversized hoody and sells it for $700, people are quick to point out that this is post-ideological sleight of hand, the medium becoming the message, political meaning emptied out into aesthetics. But if that is “post-Soviet”, then what do we call the work of Moscow Conceptualist artists like Erik Bulatov, who had spent the 1970s gleefully playing with the visual insignia of an ideology that had already been drained of authenticity?

So, the West was late to the party. No shame in that: those who are at the sharp end of socio-political maladies tend to be better at diagnosing them. But the question of aesthetics and ideology after the fact is still a crucial one, because it colours so much of our consumption of post-Soviet culture. This is something that Owen Hatherley and Jamie Rann have written about for The Calvert Journal. Whether it’s the predilection for “ruin porn” that drives interest in the derelict Buzludzha Monument or the ghosts in the snow of former Soviet military outposts, or the exotic appeal of “concrete clickbait” like the former Yugoslavia’s spomenikwar memorials, a purely aesthetic response to these sites elides their original purpose and retroactively retools them as reminders of the inevitability of socialist collapse. As Rann writes, “the [USSR] has not lost its reputation for strictness and inhuman grandeur, but now this — for better and for worse — is combined with a sense that the Soviet world is, from an aesthetic point of view, ready to be mined for content by the contemporary culture industry.” In the case of the Yugoslav spomeniks — these are monuments to anti-fascist struggle. Are we really in a position to be ignoring these kinds of political lessons?

 
  

If nothing else, we cannot let the terms of “post-Soviet” culture be dictated by never-Soviet onlookers. Eastern Europe and Eurasia have always been particularly useful sites of projection for the West: they combine familiarity (eastern Europe is still Europe, after all) with the exoticism provided by past ideological conflict. Rather than a space of imputed otherness, they are a space of imputed ambiguity, a good testing ground for western critics to demonstrate their “nuance” — which oftens amounts to little more than the projection of their own insecurities into a region which is taken as living proof that there is no alternative to the neoliberal world order. But the contradictions of post-war liberalism and the decay of Soviet socialism have both provoked revanchist and regressive forces. Both have excluded people from political process. People like to say — with good reason — that Putin’s Russia is battling to return the lost glories of the Soviet empire; how exactly would we describe Brexit? Or Trump?

Ultimately, the “post-Soviet” is about people. We have to let them populate the frame. Every site that we might look into from outside, from the grandest Stalinist monument to the dingiest collective apartment, is the sum of local and global stories of conservation and neglect and has been lived in for longer than we’ve been paying attention. When we delight in the repurposing of these spaces (how kids are now “skateboarding the ruins of Georgia’s communist past”, for instance), or ask why the “ugly”, “authoritarian” tower block is such a prominent feature of contemporary photography, we reveal the extent to which we’d dehumanised them up to this point. They matter because they were built by and for people who have more to say about them then we do, and have more ways than ever of realising that vision.

Locked-in post-socialism: rolling path dependencies in Liberec’s district heating system

 

This paper uses the experience of post-socialist district heating reforms to tell a broader story about the continued and shared challenges that central and eastern European cities face as they grapple with the legacies of the recent and more distant past. We argue that the restructuring of this infrastructural domain has been contingent upon geographically embedded trajectories stemming from previous historical periods, while leading to the creation of new socio-technical lock-ins. The paper thus develops the notion of “rolling path-dependencies” in order to explore how post-socialist developments both overcome and supplant previous trajectories of transformation. It focuses on the northern Czech town of Liberec – a place that is known for having some of the highest heating prices in the country – to elucidate how a socially, economically, and environmentally detrimental lock-in has come into existence as a result of ill-conceived policies of marketization, municipalization, and privatization. Using evidence from official documents and interviews with policy-makers, we demonstrate how the infrastructural legacies of post-socialism both persist and are being reproduced at the urban scale even within “advanced” reforming states like Czechia.

Introduction

Liberec is a medium-sized city and regional administrative center nested amidst the mountains that line Czechia’s northern borders with Poland and Germany. It has generally remained outside the attention of mainstream academic research on economic and political change within and beyond the region. Yet this city with a population of just over 100,000 people recently entered the national limelight as a result of news reports that local citizens were paying astronomically high prices for their district heating (DH) supply (Pšeničková 2015Pšeničková, Jana2015Liberec Chce Dotlačit Teplárnu, Aby Snížila Ceny. Odpustí Jí Nájemné [Liberec pressures district heating plant to reduce prices – rent will be forgiven]. Accessed May 2, 2016.http://liberec.idnes.cz/liberec-se-snazi-snizit-cenu-tepla-d5e-/liberec-zpravy.aspx?c=A151030_154454_liberec-zpravy_tm [Google Scholar]). Not only did heating tariffs rise well beyond affordable levels, but households were locked into a system that prevented them from switching to a different source of energy supply. In addition, there was evidence to suggest that the local authority was indirectly supporting the privately owned DH company via a complex web of ownership interests and policy measures.

As it turns out, the Liberec case is not isolated in the context of the post-socialist countries of Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) and the Former Soviet Union (FSU). In fact, a number of cities and countries in the region have struggled with the legacies of centralized heating supply systems – commonly known as district heating systems (Poputoaia and Bouzarovski 2010Poputoaia, Diana, and StefanBouzarovski2010. “Regulating District Heating in Romania: Legislative Challenges and Energy Efficiency Barriers.” Energy Policy 38: 38203829.10.1016/j.enpol.2010.03.002[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]) – inherited from their respective centrally planned economies. This large-scale form of energy provision was emblematic of the political ideologies and urban development policies that underpinned state socialism. The system entailed the delivery of hot steam or water to households and companies via large and centralized networks of pipes and pumping stations. The water itself was heated in fossil-fuel burning plants (primarily coal, heavy fuel oil, and sometimes gas) that also often produced electricity. Under the unfolding crisis of the socialist system, the plants and networks themselves became poorly maintained, with much energy being lost between the sites of production and consumption (Bouzarovski 2009Bouzarovski, Stefan2009. “East-central Europe’s Changing Energy Landscapes: A Place for Geography.” Area 41: 452463.10.1111/area.2009.41.issue-4[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]; Rezessy et al. 2006Rezessy, S.K.DimitrovD. Urge-Vorsatz, and S.Baruch2006. “Municipalities and Energy Efficiency in Countries in Transition. Review of Factors That Determine Municipal Involvement in the Markets for Energy Services and Energy Efficient Equipment, or How to Augment the Role of Municipalities as Market Players.” Energy Policy 34: 223237.10.1016/j.enpol.2004.08.030[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]).

DH systems were intimately tied to economic, social, and spatial planning practices and policies under socialism. These networks accompanied mass production and supported daily life and mass consumption of heat in standardized housing. They were also dependent on the promotion and maintenance of particular types of urban forms. The upkeep of such sizeable networks became costly and complex under the market conditions that evolved after the fall of communism. With increasing numbers of consumers switching to other energy carriers – leading to falling revenues and a subsequent need for additional price increases – utilities resorted to punitive measures to prevent further disconnection. Evidence of consumers being “trapped in the heat” has emerged in several CEE countries (Poputoaia and Bouzarovski 2010Poputoaia, Diana, and StefanBouzarovski2010. “Regulating District Heating in Romania: Legislative Challenges and Energy Efficiency Barriers.” Energy Policy 38: 38203829.10.1016/j.enpol.2010.03.002[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]; Tirado Herrero and Ürge-Vorsatz 2012Tirado Herrero, S., and D. Ürge-Vorsatz2012. “Trapped in the Heat: A Post-communist Type of Fuel Poverty.” Energy Policy 49: 6068.10.1016/j.enpol.2011.08.067[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]).

In this paper, we use the case of DH and the experience of Liberec more specifically as a starting point for making a broader argument about the continued importance of integrated perspectives on past and present urban transitions and transformations in CEE and the FSU. Drawing upon the multiple transformations model by Sýkora and Bouzarovski (2012Sýkora, Luděk, and Stefan Bouzarovski2012. “Multiple Transformations: Conceptualising the Post-communist Urban Transition.” Urban Studies 49: 4360.10.1177/0042098010397402[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]), we argue that the need for a holistic view on post-socialist systemic change still holds relevance for developments in the region and beyond, because micro- and meso-scale transformations in the domains of social practice, organizational change, and the evolution of urban and regional landscapes are ongoing. These claims are developed with reference to the specific infrastructural character of DH, which embodies the institutional and socio-technical inertia of past systems, being nested in past and present urban formations and challenged by recent impacts of free market conditions. Thus, DH can tell us a broader story about the continued and shared challenges that CEE and the FSU face as they continue to grapple with the legacies of communist central planning – even in the case of countries like Czechia that are now well integrated into the sphere of Western capitalism.

In advancing these claims, we do not wish to negate or diminish growing calls for the inclusion of the post-socialist heuristic into a global sensibility of urban change, potentially entering into a dialog with post-colonial frameworks (Chari and Verdery 2009Chari, Sharad, and Katherine Verdery2009. “Thinking between the Posts: Postcolonialism, Postsocialism, and Ethnography after the Cold War.” Comparative Studies in Society and History 51: 634.10.1017/S0010417509000024[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]). Nor do we intend to retreat to the presumably safer space of area studies, which, as some have argued, holds the risk of driving the study of CEE and FSU cities into a corner that underplays and trivializes the wider political–economic relations that underpin changes in this part of the world (Sjöberg 2014Sjöberg, Örjan2014. “Cases onto Themselves? Theory and Research on Ex-socialist Urban Environments.” Geografie 4: 299319. [Google Scholar]). Rather, the contribution that follows highlights the need for focusing on the systemic nature of socio-spatial processes that have been unfolding in this part of the world over the past 25 years. There is an emphasis on understanding how the period of post-socialist restructuring has been contingent upon geographically embedded path-dependencies stemming from previous historical periods, while leading to the creation of new socio-material lock-ins. We develop the notion of “rolling path-dependencies,” which signifies that new paths arise during periods of systemic change by both overcoming and supplanting previous trajectories of transformation (Horak 2007Horak, M. 2007Governing the Post-communist City: Institutions and Democratic Development in PragueTorontoUniversity of Toronto Press.10.3138/9781442684386[Crossref][Google Scholar]; Sýkora 2008Sýkora, Luděk. 2008. “Revolutionary Change, Evolutionary Adaptation and New Path Dependencies: Socialism, Capitalism and Transformations in Urban Spatial Organization.” In City and Region. Papers in Honour of Jiří Musil, edited by W. Strubeltand G. Gorzelak283295LeverkusenBudrich UniPress. [Google Scholar]). While challenging mainstream neoliberal understandings of transition (Åslund 1992Åslund, Anders1992Post-communist Economic Revolutions: How Big a Bang?Washington, DCCenter for Strategic and International Studies. [Google Scholar]), this perspective also holds relevance for the understanding of similar deep-seated processes of socio-spatial restructuring in other parts of the world.

Theorizing systemic change: legacies and path dependencies in post-socialism and beyond

The last 15 years have seen the publication of a significant body of academic and policy contributions aimed at unraveling the relationship between urban transformations in the post-socialist space, on the one hand, and wider political and economic developments in CEE and FSU, on the other. In contrast with the relatively prescriptive one-dimensional understanding of transition that was advanced by neoliberal economists in the early 1990s (Åslund 1992Åslund, Anders1992Post-communist Economic Revolutions: How Big a Bang?Washington, DCCenter for Strategic and International Studies. [Google Scholar]; Sachs 1990Sachs, J. 1990. “Eastern Europe’s Economies: What Is to Be Done?” The Economist, January 3. Accessed October 14, 2016.http://www.economist.com/node/13002085 [Google Scholar]), it has come to be acknowledged that the movement to a market-based economy requires complex and lengthy reconfigurations in a multiplicity of spheres. What is more, the political and institutional application of normative reform frameworks has been preceded, supplemented, and followed by a wider range of more subtle and less visible shifts in the governance and conduct of everyday life. These involve the establishment of new regulatory principles and informal practices that are simultaneously shaped by and shape broader neoliberal agendas (Stenning et al. 2010Stenning, A.A. SmithAlena Rochovská, and D. Świątek2010Domesticating Neo-liberalism: Spaces of Economic Practice and Social Reproduction in Post-socialist CitiesMalden, MAWiley-Blackwell.10.1002/9781444325409[Crossref][Google Scholar]). Thus, post-socialist change can be seen as the emergence of a specific array of interconnected social dynamics with indeterminate outcomes. It is enacted via “multiple transformations,” whose expressions and articulations can be found in the urban landscapes of CEE and FSU (Sýkora and Bouzarovski 2012Sýkora, Luděk, and Stefan Bouzarovski2012. “Multiple Transformations: Conceptualising the Post-communist Urban Transition.” Urban Studies 49: 4360.10.1177/0042098010397402[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]).

Post-socialist transition dynamics are geographically delimited: they take place in countries that have experienced a large-scale movement away from the centrally planned economy and one-party system (Smith and Swain 2010Smith, Adrian, and Adam Swain2010. “The Global Economic Crisis, Eastern Europe, and the Former Soviet Union: Models of Development and the Contradictions of Internationalization.” Eurasian Geography and Economics 51: 134.[Taylor & Francis Online][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]). This suggests that a level of commonality exists across the entire CEE and FSU space, and in relation to similar state socialist economies in Asia, Africa, and the Americas. Understanding the intrinsic nature of these shared features has often required focusing onto the geographical specificities of “post-socialist difference” (Sjöberg 2014Sjöberg, Örjan2014. “Cases onto Themselves? Theory and Research on Ex-socialist Urban Environments.” Geografie 4: 299319. [Google Scholar]). However, it has been argued that a spatial emphasis on the defining characteristics of transforming CEE and FSU cities limits the ability of post-socialist urban studies to engage with wider theoretical paradigms while relegating analyses and conceptualizations of systemic change in the region to the domain of area studies (Ferenčuhová 2016Ferenčuhová, Slavomíra2016. “Accounts from behind the Curtain: History and Geography in the Critical Analysis of Urban Theory.” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 40 (Mar.): 113131. doi:10.1111/1468-2427.12332.[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]; Moore 2001Moore, David Chioni2001. “Is the Post- in Postcolonial the Post- in Post-Soviet? Toward a Global Postcolonial Critique.” PMLA 116: 111128. [Google Scholar]; Tuvikene 2016Tuvikene, Tauri2016. “Strategies for Comparative Urbanism: Post-socialism as a De-territorialized Concept.” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 40: 132146.10.1111/1468-2427.12333[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]). While constraints on space do not allow for a wider engagement with such debates within the confines of this contribution, we would emphasize that they have often neglected the temporal dimension of political and material reconfigurations associated with post-socialist urban reconfigurations. The CEE and FSU transformation process can be seen as an amalgamation of critical junctures stemming from the collective and individual decisions taken by institutional and household actors reflecting both socialist legacies and challenges of capitalism. Systemic knowledge that is applicable well beyond the post-socialist context can emerge from a conceptualization of the socio-material nature of reform choices, their relationships with wider political dynamics, and their implications for urban transformations writ large.

The significant body of literature on path-dependencies and “hysteresis effects” in CEE and the FSU (Hausner, Jessop, and Nielsen 1995Hausner, J.B. Jessop, and K. Nielsen1995. “Institutional Change in Post-socialism.” In Strategic Choice and Path-dependency in Post-socialism, edited by J. HausnerB.Jessop, and K.Nielsen345AldershotEdward Elgar. [Google Scholar]; Sýkora 2008Sýkora, Luděk. 2008. “Revolutionary Change, Evolutionary Adaptation and New Path Dependencies: Socialism, Capitalism and Transformations in Urban Spatial Organization.” In City and Region. Papers in Honour of Jiří Musil, edited by W. Strubeltand G. Gorzelak283295LeverkusenBudrich UniPress. [Google Scholar]; Yavlinsky and Braguinsky 1994Yavlinsky, G., and S.Braguinsky1994. “The Inefficiency of Laissez-faire in Russia: Hysteresis Effects and the Need for Policy-led Transformation.” Journal of Comparative Economics 19: 88116.10.1006/jcec.1994.1064[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]) made numerous inroads into the relationship between surviving vestiges of the state-socialist system – be they social, economic, or spatial – on the one hand, and reform trajectories followed by countries in the region, on the other (Golubchikov, Badyina, and Makhrova 2014Golubchikov, OlegAnna Badyina, and Alla Makhrova2014. “The Hybrid Spatialities of Transition: Capitalism, Legacy and Uneven Urban Economic Restructuring.” Urban Studies 51: 617633.10.1177/0042098013493022[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]). This work has primarily seen path-dependencies in the context of past developments, in addition to highlighting their economic sub-optimality from the perspective of neoliberal approaches. There has been a strong focus on the manner in which historically formed forces create economic and material rigidities that limit the number of options available to agents. Such arguments have often been developed with reference to the more widely observed “tendency for the geographical structure of the economy to exhibit historical ‘quasi-fixity’” (Martin and Sunley 2006Martin, Ron, and Peter Sunley2006. “Path Dependence and Regional Economic Evolution.” Journal of Economic Geography 6: 395437.10.1093/jeg/lbl012[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar], 414), thus shedding light on the processes whereby “an economic landscape has come to be what it is.” Indeed, the wider body of scholarship on the subject has often argued that path dependency is a fundamental feature of territorial evolution (Boschma 2015Boschma, Ron2015. “Towards an Evolutionary Perspective on Regional Resilience.” Regional Studies 49: 733751.10.1080/00343404.2014.959481[Taylor & Francis Online][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]). This is because path-dependencies are often predicated upon lock-ins, whose inflexibility can bring about stable conditions and benefits in some contexts, while preventing the emergence of new forms of internal development and flexible adaptation in others (Underthun et al. 2014Underthun, AndersJarle Moss HildrumHelge SvareHenrik Dons Finsrud, and Knut Vareide2014. “The Restructuring of the Old Industrial Region of Grenland in Norway: Between Lock-in, Adjustment, and Renewal.” Norsk Geografisk Tidsskrift – Norwegian Journal of Geography 68: 121132.10.1080/00291951.2014.894566[Taylor & Francis Online][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]). According to Setterfield (1996Setterfield, Mark1996Rapid Growth and Relative Decline: Modelling Macroeconomic Dynamics with HysteresisLondonMacmillan. [Google Scholar]), lock-ins arise when sequential patterns of activity form a “groove” that render the system “over-committed” to particular technologies, industries, or institutional regimes.

A distinct strand of research on path-dependencies has explored the process of “path-creation,” where the emphasis is on “the time that events occurred even if one were looking at data gathered in the past” (Garud, Kumaraswamy, and Karnøe 2010Garud, RaghuArunKumaraswamy, and Peter Karnøe2010. “Path Dependence or Path Creation?” Journal of Management Studies47: 760774.10.1111/j.1467-6486.2009.00914.x[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar], 770). Authors working in this vein have underlined the complex agencies involved in the establishment of new development paths, even if some of the traditional components – initial conditions, contingencies, self-reinforcing mechanisms, and lock-in – still exist in their conceptual vocabulary (2010Garud, RaghuArunKumaraswamy, and Peter Karnøe2010. “Path Dependence or Path Creation?” Journal of Management Studies47: 760774.10.1111/j.1467-6486.2009.00914.x[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]). But a large part of path creation thinking has to date remained highly normative, being interested primarily in the measures and strategies that need to be implemented in a given geographical or social context in order to achieve a previously defined outcome (Simmie 2012Simmie, James2012. “Path Dependence and New Path Creation in Renewable Energy Technologies.” European Planning Studies 20: 729731.10.1080/09654313.2012.667922[Taylor & Francis Online][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]). The literature on the subject has paid little attention to the spontaneous emergence of new path-dependencies in periods of change. Such lacunae also extend to the CEE and FSU space, where the recognition that post-socialist transformations are not only path-dependent but also path-shaping (Pickles and Smith 1998Pickles, John, and Adrian Smith1998Theorising Transition: The Political Economy of Post-communist TransformationsLondonRoutledge. [Google Scholar]) has yet to be translated into comprehensive theorizations that would apply to the rise of new paths after 1990 (but see Horak 2007Horak, M. 2007Governing the Post-communist City: Institutions and Democratic Development in PragueTorontoUniversity of Toronto Press.10.3138/9781442684386[Crossref][Google Scholar]; Sýkora 2008Sýkora, Luděk. 2008. “Revolutionary Change, Evolutionary Adaptation and New Path Dependencies: Socialism, Capitalism and Transformations in Urban Spatial Organization.” In City and Region. Papers in Honour of Jiří Musil, edited by W. Strubeltand G. Gorzelak283295LeverkusenBudrich UniPress. [Google Scholar]). But some scholars have suggested that the sequencing of restructuring decisions and practices in post-socialism plays a key role in determining policy trajectories. This line of thinking is epitomized in Dahrendorf’s (1990Dahrendorf, R. 1990Reflections on the Revolution in EuropeLondonChatto & Windus. [Google Scholar]) “clocks” metaphor, which recognizes that diverse transformations of institutions, politics, everyday routines, and spatial formations unfold at a different pace, with some processes requiring changes in others before they can commence (Sýkora and Bouzarovski 2012Sýkora, Luděk, and Stefan Bouzarovski2012. “Multiple Transformations: Conceptualising the Post-communist Urban Transition.” Urban Studies 49: 4360.10.1177/0042098010397402[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]). It follows that new path dependencies can emerge at critical junctures during such multiple transformations, when actors make contingent choices that define and consolidate a specific trajectory of development (Sýkora 2008Sýkora, Luděk. 2008. “Revolutionary Change, Evolutionary Adaptation and New Path Dependencies: Socialism, Capitalism and Transformations in Urban Spatial Organization.” In City and Region. Papers in Honour of Jiří Musil, edited by W. Strubeltand G. Gorzelak283295LeverkusenBudrich UniPress. [Google Scholar]).

Nevertheless, new development trajectories are not formed in a vacuum. Gentile, Tammaru, and van Kempen (2012Gentile, MichaelTiitTammaru, and Ronald van Kempen2012. “Heteropolitanization: Social and Spatial Change in Central and East European Cities.” Cities 29: 291299.10.1016/j.cities.2012.05.005[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]) argue that understanding socialist legacies is essential to grasp the nature of the relationship between social and spatial change. Golubchikov, Badyina, and Makhrova (2014Golubchikov, OlegAnna Badyina, and Alla Makhrova2014. “The Hybrid Spatialities of Transition: Capitalism, Legacy and Uneven Urban Economic Restructuring.” Urban Studies 51: 617633.10.1177/0042098013493022[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]) point to the mutual embeddedness of socialist legacies and neoliberal practices, which “subsume legacy, recode its meaning, and recast the formerly egalitarian spaces as an uneven spatial order” (2014Golubchikov, OlegAnna Badyina, and Alla Makhrova2014. “The Hybrid Spatialities of Transition: Capitalism, Legacy and Uneven Urban Economic Restructuring.” Urban Studies 51: 617633.10.1177/0042098013493022[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar], 617). Hence, post-socialist transition entails not only transformations aimed at the dismantling of established legacies and the formation of new paths, but also a more complex situation of living with the aftermath of socialism under an emergent capitalist regime. This is especially true in the case of large-scale materially based infrastructures embedded in urban landscapes, including public transport systems and mass-produced housing (Chelcea and Pulay 2015Chelcea, Liviu, and Gergő Pulay2015. “Networked Infrastructures and the ‘Local’: Flows and Connectivity in a Postsocialist City.” City19 (2–3): 344355.10.1080/13604813.2015.1019231[Taylor & Francis Online][Google Scholar]; Ürge-Vorsatz, Miladinova, and Paizs 2006Ürge-Vorsatz, DianaGergana Miladinova, and Laszlo Paizs2006. “Energy in Transition: From the Iron Curtain to the European Union.” Energy Policy 34: 22792297.10.1016/j.enpol.2005.03.007[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]). Even if they were originally constructed to achieve a higher quality of living and a more egalitarian society, these socio-technical systems have become alienated from their original purpose. The logic of neoliberal capitalism has driven their utilization for profit-making purposes, bringing forth new socio-spatial inequalities (Chester 2013Chester, Lynne2013. “The Failure of Market Fundamentalism: How Electricity Sector Restructuring is Threatening the Economic and Social Fabric.” Review of Radical Political Economics 45: 315322.10.1177/0486613413487163[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]; Guogis, Šilinskytė, and Bileišis 2014Guogis, ArvydasAušra Šilinskytė, and Mantas Bileišis2014. “Government-community Conflict: The Lithuanian Public Governance Challenge.” Public Policy and Administration 13: 2235. [Google Scholar]; Pye et al. 2015Pye, SteveAudreyDobbinsClaireBaffertJuricaBrajkovićIvanaGrgurevRocco DeMiglio, and PaulDeane2015Energy Poverty and Vulnerable Consumers in the Energy Sector across the EU: Analysis of Policies and Measures. Policy Report 2. Insight_E, Energy Think Tank of European CommissionMaiaccesat în data de 3. [Google Scholar]).

Methods and paper structure

The decision to focus our study on the case of Liberec was made on the basis of prior knowledge, as well as the city’s prominence in Czech public discourses regarding DH restructuring. However, this exploration was embedded in a wider documentary review of relevant strategic papers and policies at the national and regional scales. We thus juxtaposed evidence from multiple sources. The legal, regulatory, and policy background was studied by surveying the secondary literature on energy supply and heating, as well as on more general urban, housing, and planning developments. Official information about the performance of the town’s heating network was acquired from the annual reports of the Liberec DH joint-stock company (“Liberecká teplárenská”) between 2001 and 2015, as well as the Termizo waste incineration joint-stock company for 2003–2015. Information about day-to-day policy practices, relations, positions, and interpretations was obtained from interviews with eight local and national decision-makers, public policy advocates, and company representatives that took place in 2015 and were supplemented by further two inquiries at Liberecká teplárenská in 2016. The interviews lasted between one and two hours, were undertaken in Czech, and took place in the participants’ own professional premises or other public spaces. They were transcribed, translated, and analyzed interpretively, in line with the conceptual apparatus provided by lock-in and path-dependency frameworks. Interview questions focused on how relevant policy-makers understood and interpreted the socioeconomic and institutional contexts of energy, housing, and urban transformations in their everyday practice, as well as their interactions with other bodies of the state administration in addition to citizens, private companies, experts, and non-governmental organizations.

In the sections that follow, we first develop a framework for a conceptual understanding of how new lock-in situations emerge by discussing the nature of DH networks, their embeddedness in the socialist regime, and the role of the newly established capitalist system in driving them. We then turn to privatization dynamics and the overall marketization of society in the context of DH reforms. Moving to the case of Liberec, the paper subsequently recounts the story of local government responses to the structural conditions that became apparent at moments when decisions had to be taken about future developments in the heat sector. Specifically, we focus on the relationship between systemic factors such as the Liberec DH company’s rapidly declining customer base and the overall decrease in urban heat consumption, on the one hand, and increasing operating costs, on the other. This vicious circle of mutually reinforcing effects, we argue, has undermined the viability of DH systems in Liberec while trapping parts of the population and some urban neighborhoods into high costs without an exit strategy. We subsequently identify the existence of multiple and mutually related lock-in situations concerning (1) the role of historical legacies emerging at the juxtaposition of radically differing societal regimes; (2) the technical and economic underpinnings of DH operation and capacity under changing external conditions; (3) the policy challenges faced by local government amidst an organizationally complex and politically contentious decision-making landscape; and (4) the socio-spatial injustices encountered by people who live in the neighborhoods served by DH.

The legacy of district heating in Czechia

As was noted above, DH systems physically consist of fossil fuel-powered co-generation plants – or in some cases, heat-only boiler stations – connected to distribution systems involving the transport of hot water or steam via insulated pipes (Rezaie and Rosen 2012Rezaie, Behnaz, and Marc A. Rosen2012. “District Heating and Cooling: Review of Technology and Potential Enhancements.” Applied Energy, (1) Green Energy; (2) Special Section from papers presented at the 2nd International Energy 2030 Conference 93 (May): 210. [Google Scholar]). There are also local pumping stations and internal heating networks within buildings. Czechia’s first centralized supply systems of the kind were established in the 1930s and 1940s to serve the country’s then-booming industrial sector, as well as working-class housing in cities. Using modern technologies and coal for the production of both electricity and steam heating, they symbolized the modern “technological sublime” (Nye 1996Nye, David E. 1996American Technological SublimeCambridge, MAThe MIT Press. [Google Scholar]) of energy and heating delivery in urban agglomerations, concentrating energy generators and end-consumers in close-knit infrastructural reticulations (Kaufmann 2007Kaufmann, Pavel2007. “Vývoj Teplárenství V České Republice.” [The Development of District Heating in the Czech Republic.] Pro-Energy 2007: 1821. [Google Scholar]).

DH systems rapidly expanded during the first decades of communist rule, driven by a rise in energy demand generated by the expansion of heavy industry, as well as newly built residential estates in urban areas. Their built-in collectivism combined with the centrally planned economy’s focus on the construction of large plants and systems to lead to the establishment of expansive systems for the centralized provision of heat. Under socialism, DH provided the only means of providing hot water and heating for large parts of the population: the systems were literally and figuratively tied to large-scale electric power plants built at the urban fringe, from where hot water was transported to both industrial zones and residential neighborhoods. In the 1970s and 1980s, the construction of new housing estates was accompanied by the development of locally based heat networks that used less polluting sources of energy, principally heavy fuel oil and gas. However, the technologies that were applied in this context were progressively at odds with global energy efficiency and cost savings trends, principally due to a series of economic recessions and the increasing shortage of investment finance. DH currently supplies almost 1.6 million dwellings (38% of the housing stock) in Czechia, principally in larger cities (CSO 2011CSO (Czech Statistical Office). 2011Population and Housing Census 2011PragueCzech Statistical Office. [Google Scholar]).

One of the reasons for the expansion of DH in Czechia lies in the close alignment between the infrastructural characteristics of the system – massive, shared, top-down, centralized, egalitarian – and the political ideologies of the socialist state. In addition to large housing estates and industrial plants, key DH consumers included older inner city tenement-style buildings and single-family houses, as well as administrative and service buildings; schools, hospitals, sports halls, entertainment facilities, restaurants, and commerce. The systems were relatively easy to build and maintain throughout due to their alignment with the centrally planned construction of new housing, services, and industries, as well as the spatially concentrated nature of urban development during socialism. Environmental concerns also justified investment in DH, because the networks replaced coal-burning stoves in inner-city areas with a relatively less-polluting and more remote source of energy.

However, the structural weaknesses of DH systems became apparent after the introduction of a market system and decentralized decision-making. The low technical efficiency of plants and distribution networks was incompatible with new environmental criteria, especially in the case of systems based on oil- or gas-burning heat-only boilers. Poor construction standards and the lack of maintenance increased operation costs while leading to high-energy losses in the distribution networks. The system’s blanket coverage of socialist consumers under soft budget constraints (Kornai 1986Kornai, Janos1986. “The Soft Budget Constraint.” Kyklos 39: 330.10.1111/kykl.1986.39.issue-1[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]) – including both subsidized energy prices and the tolerance of poor financial management within companies – was challenged by the economic conditions that characterized liberalized markets, as well as the installation of individual meters. Also, the customer base of DH plants began to shrink due to the emergence of more affordable and convenient heat supply options. This trend was reinforced by the economic collapse of many industrial consumers. Thus, networks built under the centrally planned and organized system of energy production and consumption exhibited “suboptimal” path-dependent features after the political and economic changes in 1989.

Private heat: energy sector reforms at the national scale

Urban heating systems are a highly specific segment of the energy sector in technical and policy terms alike (Bouzarovski 2010Bouzarovski, Stefan2010. “Post-socialist Energy Reforms in Critical Perspective: Entangled Boundaries, Scales and Trajectories of Change.” European Urban and Regional Studies 17: 167182.10.1177/0969776409356159[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]; Persson and Werner 2011Persson, Urban, and Sven Werner2011. “Heat Distribution and the Future Competitiveness of District Heating.” Applied Energy 88: 568576.10.1016/j.apenergy.2010.09.020[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]). While the production and distribution of electricity and gas are regulated at the national scale, DH systems are a secondary and local source of energy – they use externally supplied fuels whose chemical energy is converted into heat, and their outputs are circulated in a geographically restricted area. These characteristics influenced the Czech government’s approach towards the post-socialist regulation of DH.

After the collapse of communism, vertically and horizontally integrated socialist state monopolies in the energy sector – electricity, gas, and heating – were legally and financially unbundled, creating discrete organizational units that could be sold or handed over to private actors. Due to being seen as key strategic assets, electricity and gas networks were not part of the first wave of privatization. Coal mining and gas distribution companies became subject to the process only in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The electricity market was left in the hands of the Czech Power Utility (ČEZ) – a company with dominant state ownership and no plans for privatization. However, most heating plants and distribution networks were privatized already in the first half of the 1990s. Some systems became joint stock companies with shares that were later sold to private investors. Others were transferred to municipalities, which either sold them off or began operating them via a variety of legal arrangements. In a number of cases, local authorities have established joint ventures with strategic private partners.

The privatization and municipalization of urban heating systems shifted the state’s responsibilities onto private actors and local administrations. This process coincided with the wider movement of property rights and regulatory power towards the municipal level (how this happened in the housing sector is documented in Sýkora 2003Sýkora, Luděk2003. “Between the State and the Market: Local Government and Housing in the Czech Republic.” In Housing Policy: An End or a New Beginning?, edited by M. Lux51116BudapestOpen Society Institute. [Google Scholar]), even if many local authorities lacked the strategic, organizational, and technical capacity to manage such complex infrastructural systems. The transfer of ownership to municipalities resulted in different local approaches to the management of newly obtained assets. The entry of private capital provided a quick fix to address this set of emergent, unknown, and unpredictable socioeconomic conditions. Privatization was also supported by neoliberal discourses about the inefficiency of publicly owned operations, as well as the need to repair and reconstruct obsolete infrastructures, while covering high operational costs. Widespread opposition to long-term planning combined with uncritical support for the “free market” to support ad hoc decisions aimed at reaping quick political benefits (Horak 2007Horak, M. 2007Governing the Post-communist City: Institutions and Democratic Development in PragueTorontoUniversity of Toronto Press.10.3138/9781442684386[Crossref][Google Scholar]) rather than considering deleterious future consequences.

Nevertheless, neoliberal market conditions made it difficult to renovate the technically unwieldy assemblies of power stations, heating plants, and distribution infrastructures. Price liberalization and energy cost increases meant that people and firms alike were affected by increasing utility bills (Buzar 2007Buzar, Stefan2007. “The ‘Hidden’ Geographies of Energy Poverty in Post-socialism: Between Institutions and Households.” Geoforum 38: 224240.10.1016/j.geoforum.2006.02.007[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]). The low-energy efficiency of heating and distribution infrastructures inherited from socialism also led to high final prices. At the same time, the costs of further upgrades and energy efficiency improvements had to be borne by end-use consumers (Bouzarovski 2015Bouzarovski, Stefan2015Retrofitting the City: Residential Flexibility, Resilience and the Built EnvironmentLondonIB Tauris. [Google Scholar]; Bouzarovski and Tirado Herrero 2016Bouzarovski, Stefan, and Sergio Tirado Herrero2016. “Geographies of Injustice: The Socio-spatial Determinants of Energy Poverty in Poland, Czechia and Hungary.” Post Communist Economies. doi:10.1080/14631377.2016.1242257.[Taylor & Francis Online][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]). All of this happened during a period when new energy providers with alternative offers were entering the market. Disconnections from the DH system led to price increases for the customers who remained part of the network. The vicious circle of disconnections and price increases could only be prevented by the will and resources of municipal or private heat providers.

DH regulation and policy in Liberec

Liberec’s centralized network of heating supply was constructed in the 1970s in order to address industrial and population growth at the time. It unified a set of disparate systems that served housing estates built during the 1960s. A key factor in this regard was provided by the availability of cheap heavy fuel oil from the Soviet Union and the desire to shift away from coal. Even though the system started to provide heat in 1977, it only became functional during the 1980s – thus supplying housing estates, schools, public service and administration buildings, and industry. Its two boilers eliminated the use of local heating sources in the city – including over 200 burners in industrial plants – thus substantially contributing to decreased air pollution in a city located between mountain ranges. Rising heat demand subsequently led to the construction of a third boiler, as well as the addition of reused industrial boilers. After the fall of communism, the system was incorporated in the North Bohemian Heating Plants holding company, aimed at providing a vehicle for privatization. Soon thereafter, the Liberec network was sold to United Energy, with the local authority maintaining a 30% stake. In 2007, the United Energy portion was sold to MVV Energie CZ, while the municipality kept its share.

Changes in ownership, national regulation, and patterns of local political representation brought about significant shifts in the management and development of the DH system, as well as the socio-technical provision of heat to inhabitants, institutions, and firms. In the 1990s the combination of tightened environmental legislation and growing oil prices led to the retrofitting of the DH plant so as to enable the combined use of gas and heavy heating oil. More importantly, the city government forged a partnership with neighboring municipal administrations (in the form of the “Termizo” company), aimed at constructing and operating a new waste incinerator. In addition to burning refuse for the entire region, it would provide heat for the DH network in Liberec. Even though the incinerator was built between 1996 and 2000 with the aid of government subsidies and a bank loan (see Figure 1), further changes in environmental legislation necessitated the addition of costly new technologies. Local government officials were unwilling to finance such outlays and thus increase their indebtedness. Instead, they preferred to use the public budget to fund other large-scale projects, such as a multi-purpose arena. It was thus decided that the new incinerator would be sold to a private investor – the PPF Group. The deal also involved the distribution network, whose ownership was evenly split between the investor and municipality. MVV Energie CZ – the same company that owned the heating plant – bought the incinerator in 2011, with the municipality maintaining minority representation on the governing board of the company. It currently burns about 100,000 tons of waste each year.

Figure 1. The district heating plant (left) and incinerator (right) occupy a prominent location in the city center of Liberec. Source: Photo by Stefan Bouzarovski.

Liberec’s municipal authorities are otherwise known for having taken one of the most aggressive approaches in the neoliberal reform process, having privatized much of their housing, land, and other capital assets (Demel and Potuzáková 2012Demel, Jaroslav, and Zuzana Potuzáková2012. “FDI and the Liberec Region: The Case of the Labour Market.” E+ M Ekonomie a Management, 1: 418. [Google Scholar]; Langr 2014Langr, Ivan2014. “Systémová Korupce Jako Empiricky Vyzkum: Prípad Mesta Liberec.” [Systemic Corruption as Empicial Research: The Case of Liberec.] Stredoevropske Politicke Studie 16: 128. [Google Scholar]). While a number of improvements were made to the DH plant in order to increase its efficiency and decrease air pollution emissions, the city-owned distribution network was not targeted at all. Investment in the new incinerator was expected to bring financial profits to its new private owners. With national heat prices being deregulated in 2005, DH tariffs in Liberec increased to levels more than double than those of other Czech cities and towns (ERU 2014ERU. 2014Výsledné Ceny Tepelné Energie V ČR – 2014 [Final Heat Energy Prices in the Czech Republic – 2014]. PragueEnergy Regulatory Office. [Google Scholar]). The private investor’s ability to secure profits from the system was strengthened by its monopolistic position on the local DH market. At the same time, city authorities faced a conflict of interest between the economic aim to generate revenues for the municipal budget, on the one hand, and the political accountability to local citizens affected by price increases, on the other. Local politicians interviewed for the purposes of our study displayed a heightened sensitivity to the need to respond to public concerns:

The two city representatives work very actively on the [DH company’s] board to make decisions more transparent. Because they represent the interests of the local people, they form an opposition bloc on the board. (personal communication, Liberec public official, March 24, 2015)

The construction of a small CHP plant in a remote housing estate – principally aimed at reducing losses in the distribution network – has been the only attempt to decrease operational costs and make DH prices more affordable in the long run.

Unraveling DH price increases in Liberec

In line with circumstances observed elsewhere (Poputoaia and Bouzarovski 2010Poputoaia, Diana, and StefanBouzarovski2010. “Regulating District Heating in Romania: Legislative Challenges and Energy Efficiency Barriers.” Energy Policy 38: 38203829.10.1016/j.enpol.2010.03.002[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]), the low-energy efficiency of Liberec’s DH distribution network has been central to the price problems faced by final consumers. Not only has the municipality failed to invest in the improvement of the distribution system to date, but plans to undertake future steps in this regard currently do not exist:

It is really costly, but because we don’t know what we will do in the future, we cannot undertake the investment. Thus, we are just postponing it year after year. (personal communication, Liberec decision-maker, March 24, 2015)

Geographic factors have also played a role in driving price rises. Mountainous topography has hemmed the city into several valleys, thus lengthening the network and increasing technical losses. As stated by an administrative official:

The system is oversized, with large losses. They are due to the inefficient system of distribution, and low heat demand … We need a spatial plan to regulate district heating, like the one that was devised for Jablonec. That will give us an overview of the network. (personal communication, Liberec urban planner, March 24, 2015)

Another key factor in this regard has been the company’s shrinking customer base. As was noted above, this decrease can be attributed to wider socioeconomic trends and local transformations alike. First, the downsizing or termination of the network’s industrial consumers was accompanied by the imperative of achieving cost savings in the newly established market environment. Industrial, commercial, and public sector consumers sought to reduce their heat consumption in different ways, including using alternative fuels. Second, housing privatization meant that consumer decisions about heat supply and consumption became fragmented and individualized. Each building became represented by a homeowners’ association – a far more complex arrangement than the one that existed during socialism, when the DH company only had to deal with government or industry officials as well as a small number of large housing co-operatives. After 1989 householders responded to increasing heating costs by improving the energy efficiency of their homes via facade insulation as well as the installation of new windows and infrastructures within the buildings. This was supplemented by fuel switching towards more efficient and affordable sources.

As a consequence of such trends, total heat use halved from 1943 TJ11. A terajoule equals one trillion joules (1012).View all notes in 1997 (of which 53% were consumed by households) to 881 TJ in 2013 (at which point the share of the residential sector rose to 56%). At present, the DH system in Liberec generates only about 45% of its initial capacity, serving 16,417 households, 129 organizations (principally public administration and service buildings), and 13 industrial zones. The Termizo incinerator produces up to 1000 TJ of heat annually, approximately 70% of which are sold into the Liberec DH system. Because this supply covers nearly all of the city’s heat demand, the production capacity of the DH plant remains unused. Even though Termizo has recorded significant profits since 2004, its declining customer base directly contradicts original plans. The original DH network was intended to serve vast urban populations while creating economies of scale and scope in the provision of heat to urban agglomerations. At the same time, the system has fixed costs that have to be covered regardless of the actual volume of produced heat. Shrinking demand means that these costs are borne by ever-decreasing number of customers, signaling the demise of the city’s original plans to achieve cheaper heat with the aid of the new waste incinerator.

Barriers to fuel switching and DH development

While the inefficiencies of the central heating system are included in the final price, the DH company’s customer base has been further undermined by the emergence of alternative supply options. There is a clear economic impetus behind this: our interviewees pointed out that the price of heat obtained from the Liberec plant is approximately 800 CZK per GJ22. A gigajoule equals one billion joules (109).View all notes, while individually installed gas boilers in flats and homes require 400 CZK per GJ (personal communication, Liberec city councilor, March 24, 2015). In response to the shrinking consumer base, local authorities have actively discouraged companies and housing blocks from disconnecting. Even if disconnection cannot be openly prohibited, the municipal administration has employed various practices, strategies, decisions, and planning policies to prohibit consumers from switching to more affordable or efficient technologies. According to a decision of the municipal board made in 2008 (No. 591/08), the city’s planning office shall not endorse requests for the disconnection of buildings from the DH system. It is also instructed to disagree with the construction of new infrastructure for alternative heating in districts where DH systems are present.

In addition to planning regulation, our interviewees pointed to examples where home owners wishing to install gas boilers – DH’s main competitor – have been prevented from doing so by the local authority on land ownership grounds, with the city prohibiting piped gas connections that would cross publicly owned territory.

Liberec has a gas network with sufficient capacity, although there are parts of the city that are remote from it. Still, even if you need to lay 30 meters of pipes on public land you need permission from the municipality, and they will not give it to you. Our organization has such court cases all the time … in the past we lost many of them, because the court decided that the city has the right not to allow its land to be used for purposes that are not in its interest. (personal communication, chairman of housing co-operative in Liberec, March 24, 2015)

While such restrictive measures may help prevent deeper cost inefficiencies and increasing price levels, they have rendered the existing network politically and technically precarious. The declining customer base means that DH now serves only a part of the overall heating landscape in the city. Any investment in its improvement – now desperately needed – would have to be funded by the taxpayer. As DH is primarily a private business, how and where profits are distributed becomes a politically sensitive issue, as does the cleavage between private and public interests:

For example, politicians who are on the [DH plant’s] advisory board get big salaries for just sitting on it. These are not activities that politicians should do, and they are not protecting the interests of the city there. (personal communication, Liberec city councillor, March 24, 2015)

An additional challenge is posed by the spatial distribution of the DH system in Liberec, which itself was not originally built to provide heating to all consumers. The network does not include residential areas with low-rise family housing, older inner-city neighborhoods, villages in the urban hinterland, and recently built suburbs. DH provision has been primarily targeted towards high-rise and spatially concentrated housing estates from the socialist era. Disconnections from the system are most difficult to implement in such districts, some of which are facing wider problems of social decline and outmigration. Their specific and geographically bounded population is being trapped in the vicious circle of technical inefficiencies, shrinking consumer numbers, profit imperatives, and increasing end-use prices. Paradoxically, a system that was originally meant to provide greater levels of economic efficiency, social equity, and environmental sustainability now serves an increasingly impoverished population with the most expensive form of energy.

A complex lock-in through rolling path dependencies

The multiple drivers of price increases and barriers to DH development indicate the presence of a complex lock-in with at least four aspects. First, there is an infrastructural dimension embedded in historical legacies. DH systems – which were planned and constructed under socialism in order to meet the needs of growing populations and industrial production – are now faced with a shrinking inner city and suburban sprawl (in line with wider trends in Eastern and Central Europe, see Großmann et al. 2013Großmann, KatrinMarco BontjeAnnegret Haase, and Vlad Mykhnenko2013. “Shrinking Cities: Notes for the Further Research Agenda.” Cities 35: 221225.[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]; Petrova et al. 2013Petrova, SaskaDarina PosováAdamHouse, and LuděkSýkora2013. “Discursive Framings of Low Carbon Urban Transitions: The Contested Geographies of ‘Satellite Settlements’ in the Czech Republic.” Urban Studies 50: 14391455.10.1177/0042098013480964[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]; Stanilov and Sýkora 2014Stanilov, Kiril, and Ludĕk Sýkora2014Confronting Suburbanization: Urban Decentralization in Postsocialist Central and Eastern EuropeChichesterWiley.10.1002/9781118295861[Crossref][Google Scholar]), which is technically and economically unsuitable for the delivery of centralized heat supply. A network designed under the former socioeconomic system thus not only functions sub-optimally under current market conditions, but its sub-optimality is being further deepened by external and internal systemic pressures:

[D]uring the last two decades it has been known that the capacity of the distribution networks … [will remain unused] … because of the exclusion of industrial capacities that do not exist anymore, or decided to disconnect. For almost two decades it has been known that the system is inefficient because the capacity is very high, the pipes are very wide and it would be good to transform it into a system of hot water instead of steam, and make it into something smaller. Unfortunately there has been no investment into this direction during the last decade. (personal communication, Liberec city councillor, March 24, 2015)

Second, the DH system is technically and economically locked-in by cost inefficiencies and subsequent high prices for heat attributed to the technical conditions inherited from socialism. The need to undertake new investment to overcome this heritage is undermined by the downward spiral of shrinking customer numbers leading to further heat cost increases. Third, the lock-in is also political and institutional. Challenged by the privatization of key parts of the system, as well as the broader marketization of heat supply in the country, local decision-makers have attempted to resolve the DH crisis using restrictive measures that limit the choices available to citizens and firms. An alternative to these measures would be the commitment of public funds towards system upgrades, serving only some citizens while adding to the private company’s profits. For the local authority, this leads to conflicts of interest and accountability towards DH customers, on the one hand, and the diverse range of urban actors who are not linked to DH system, on the other:

The other problem is that the waste burner produces the same amount of energy as the heat plant, and during the summer they do not know what to do with that energy … So, now we have a counter-argument to the one that was presented to the public a few years ago … [they are telling us that] if the district heating system collapses Termizo will have problems and you will pay much more for the waste collection … So we would have exorbitant prices for waste collection, in addition to the charges levied by Termizo … The heat lobby is very strong – regardless of any consumer rights that are demanded, they always manage to destroy any attempts to change the regulation. (personal communication, chairman of housing co-operative in Liberec, March 24, 2015)

Fourth, the lock-in has a clear socio-spatial aspect. The geographic concentration of DH in housing estates built during socialism supplants the technical and political barriers towards fuel switching, forcing the population to purchase heat from a single private provider. The inability to move away from DH is thus concentrated in geographically distinct areas, whose precarious position is heightened by high heat costs. Municipal authorities presently have no plans to address this situation:

The law does not permit the company to establish special prices for specific social groups. The prices depend on the energy source – whether it is heat or steam – and the distance and size of the customer. (personal communication, urban planner, March 24, 2015)

Neoliberal marketization, deregulation, and decentralization have created a paradox wherein a heating supply system that can potentially be economically efficient, socially inclusive, and environmentally friendly (Rezaie and Rosen 2012Rezaie, Behnaz, and Marc A. Rosen2012. “District Heating and Cooling: Review of Technology and Potential Enhancements.” Applied Energy, (1) Green Energy; (2) Special Section from papers presented at the 2nd International Energy 2030 Conference 93 (May): 210. [Google Scholar]) has evolved into a costly economic burden that deepens inequality and exclusion. While sustainability, cohesion, and energy efficiency have now become key goals of public policy, they were downplayed in the initial days of the post-communist transformation. But the sequence of decisions made during the past 25 years has created a rigid socio-technical matrix that is resistant to change. This lock-in has developed through a rolling path dependency that involves socialist legacies, national economic reforms, and local neoliberal practices. The path dependency is associated with socially and economically detrimental effects while preventing the development of more sustainable systems of energy provision. It demonstrates that the combination of socialist legacies and chains of decisions taken during the post-socialist period may result in situations and trajectories that themselves will be difficult to address for the years to come: living in and with capitalism is an ongoing project.

Conclusion

This contribution argues in favor of the persistent relevance of post-socialist urban studies by highlighting how socio-technically and politically conditioned lock-ins arise, are articulated, and become embedded within urban areas via rolling path-dependent processes that have emerged after 1989 while stemming from past legacies. Inspired by a growing conceptual interest in processes of path dependence and path creation across a wide range of disciplines, we focused on the choices made by institutional actors after the demise of state socialism and the impact of past legacies and market conditions on decisions made at critical junctures. We proposed and used an interpretative rather than normative model of lock-in formation, by elucidating the sequences of decisions involved in the consolidation of a particular path-dependent trajectory.

At the same time, the notion of rolling path dependencies has allowed us to trace the roots of the current lock-in within Liberec’s heating system to a combination among the legacies of DH infrastructures inherited from socialism, national policies towards energy restructuring, and the reform of DH systems after 1989, as well as the approaches adopted by local governments with regard to the management of such networks. The continued role of path-dependent trajectories – present in the form of inherited technical infrastructures that have been re-used by capitalist market actors for profit-making purposes – underlines the need for a temporally and spatially sensitive perspective on the understanding of urban transformations in CEE and the FSU.

Thus, and to summarize, what can a theoretical perspective attuned to the systemic relationships that the multiple transitions in CEE and the FSU offer to the wider world of “posts?” For one, it brings attention to the need for understanding post-socialist change through a lens that is both temporal and spatial, by acknowledging that infrastructural development trajectories are closely integrated with inherited, existing, and evolving urban landscapes. Second, it calls for making connections between the urban implications of infrastructural transformations in the post-socialist world, on the one hand, and analogous dynamics of socio-technical change in other spatial contexts, on the other: not only because of the ubiquitous background presence of neoliberal pressures, but also due to the significant opportunities for knowledge transfer about the establishment of unintended material and institutional rigidities. Of particular relevance is the ongoing global effort to move toward a low-carbon future, predicated upon deep reforms in the manner in which energy is produced and consumed. Applying the experience of post-socialist countries to this thematic context may allow for path creation to be seen beyond the tropes of technological innovation and economic development that presently dominate much of the literature. It can also highlight the deeply political nature of the creation of new lock-ins, as well as the challenges of dealing with new path-dependent situations.

Disclosure statement

No potential conflict of interest was reported by the authors.

Funding

This work was supported by the European Research Council under the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013)/ERC grant agreement number 313478; Luděk Sýkora’s contribution was supported by the Grant Agency of the Czech Republic [grant number P404-12-0648], “New Socio-Spatial Formations: Segregation in the Context of Post-Communist Transformations and Globalization.”

Acknowledgments

Stefan Bouzarovski is an External Professor at the Institute of Geography, University of Gdańsk, and a Visiting Professor at the Department of Geography, University of Bergen. The authors are indebted to Saska Petrova for her assistance in the field interviews, as well as the development of the conceptual framework of the paper.

 

Notes

1. A terajoule equals one trillion joules (1012).

2. A gigajoule equals one billion joules (109).

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Zombie socialism and the rise of neoliberalism in post-socialist Central and Eastern Europe

 

Many scholars have asked themselves if and for how long they should use the concept of “post-socialism.” We review some ways in which post-socialism is no longer used productively and suggest that one way to analyze the enduring effects of socialism (a useful role for the concept of post-socialism) is by paying attention to how economic and political elites in Central and Eastern Europe continue to use the ghost of state-socialism as the ultimate boogeyman, disciplinary device, and “ideological antioxidant.” We call this blend of post-1989 anti-communism and neoliberal hegemony “zombie socialism,” and we argue that it is a key component of contemporary capitalism in Central and Eastern Europe. We illustrate briefly some cases of zombie socialism, using data such as EU 28 statistics on labor, wages, work–life (im)balance, income tax, housing, and housing policies to show the effects of this hegemonic discourse. The presence of zombie socialism for almost three decades in Central and Eastern Europe made some of these countries “more” capitalist than countries with longer capitalist traditions in Europe. We join others who have suggested that there is nothing to transition any longer, as the “transition” is long over.

For a quarter of a century we have condemned communism increasingly stronger. Five years from now we will probably fight it as Ceausescu [in the 1980s] was fighting the Fascism [of the 1930s] … At a more profound level, condemning real-existing communism has been perverted in condemning any social claim: Do you want a salary raise? You are communist. Do you want public services? Do you want to tax the rich and ease the burden on small producers and wage earners? You are a communist and you killed my grandparents. Do you want public transportation instead of highways? You are mega-communist and a retarded hipster. (Rogozanu 2014Rogozanu, Costi2014. “Condamnarea ritualică a comunismului și de unde începe reformarea stângii[The Ritualic Condemnation of Communism and from Where Does the Reformation of the Left Begin].” Accessed July 15, 2016.http://voxpublica.realitatea.net/politica-societate/condamnarea-ritualica-a-comunismului-si-reformarea-reala-a-stingii-110586.html [Google Scholar])

Introduction: socialism from post- to ghost

The quote above expresses in a nutshell a political and cultural process spreading in many Central and Eastern European (CEE) societies. A hybridization of ritualistic anti-communist incantations and a neoliberal doxa has shaped economic, political, and cultural dynamics of ex-socialist countries. In such instances, state-socialism resurfaces not as institutional, spatial, or mental “legacies” and “leftovers” of socialism, but as a “ghost,” kept alive by the winners of the (now extinct) post-socialist period. In this article we ask: Who benefits from invoking state-socialism, in what contexts do such inflections occur, and with what effects? On a more general level, what role does the ghost of socialism play in the political economies and class dynamics of CEE countries? To understand the switch from “legacy” to ideological ingredient of neoliberalism in CEE, we introduce (and elaborate on below) the metaphor of “zombie socialism” to capture how keeping the socialist past alive in public discourse – almost three decades after its end – buttresses neoliberal politics and new configurations of inequalities.

During the last two decades, one key question that has underlined scholarship on ex-socialist countries across several disciplines has been to what extent post-socialism is still a relevant analytical category. After ascending as a denominator of all things post-1989 in Central and Eastern Europe, several scholars in geography, anthropology, and sociology have pointed out that the concept of post-socialism has become less relevant (Boyer and Yurchak 2008Boyer, Dominic, and Alexei Yurchak2008. “Postsocialist Studies, Cultures of Parody and American Stiob.” Anthropology News 49: 910.10.1111/anne.2008.49.issue-8[Crossref][Google Scholar]; Cervinkova 2012Cervinkova, Hana2012. “Postcolonialism, Postsocialism and the Anthropology of East-Central Europe.” Journal of Postcolonial Writing 48: 155163.10.1080/17449855.2012.658246[Taylor & Francis Online][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]; Chari and Verdery 2009Chari, Sharad, and Katherine Verdery2009. “Thinking between the Posts: Postcolonialism, Postsocialism, and Ethnography after the Cold War.” Comparative Studies in Society and History 51: 634.10.1017/S0010417509000024[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]; Dunn and Verdery 2015Dunn, Elizabeth C., and KatherineVerdery2015. “Postsocialism.” In Emerging Trends in the Social and Behavioral Sciences: An Interdisciplinary, Searchable, and Linkable Resource, edited by Robert A.Scott and Stephen M.Kosslyn19New YorkWiley.10.1002/9781118900772.etrds0261[Crossref][Google Scholar]; Ferenčuhová 2016Ferenčuhová, Slavomíra2016. “Accounts from Behind the Curtain: History and Geography in the Critical Analysis of Urban Theory.” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 40 (1): 113131.[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]; Hirt 2013Hirt, Sonia2013. “Whatever Happened to the (Post) Socialist City?” Cities 32: S29S38.10.1016/j.cities.2013.04.010[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]; Horvat and Štiks 2012Horvat, Srećko, and Igor Štiks2012. “Welcome to the Desert of Transition! Post-socialism, the European Union and a New Left in the Balkans.” Monthly Review 63: 3848.10.14452/MR-063-10-2012-03[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]; Humphrey 2001Humphrey, Caroline2001. “Does the Category ‘Postsocialist’ Still Make Sense.” In Postsocialism: Ideals, Ideologies Practices in Eurasia, edited by Chris Hann1214LondonRoutledge. [Google Scholar]; Pickles 2010Pickles, John2010. “The Spirit of Post-socialism: Common Spaces and the Production of Diversity.” European Urban and Regional Studies 17: 127140.10.1177/0969776409356492[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]; Rogers 2010Rogers, Doug2010. “Postsocialisms Unbound.” Slavic Review 69: 115.[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]; Stenning and Hörschelmann 2008Stenning, Alison, and KathrinHörschelmann2008. “History, Geography and Difference in the Post-socialist World: Or, Do We Still Need Post-socialism?” Antipode 40: 312335.10.1111/j.1467-8330.2008.00593.x[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]; Tuvikene 2016Tuvikene, Tauri2016. “Strategies for Comparative Urbanism: Post-socialism as a De-territorialized Concept.” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 40 (1): 132146.[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]; Wiest 2012Wiest, Karin2012. “Comparative Debates in Post-socialist Urban Studies.” Urban Geography 33: 829849.10.2747/0272-3638.33.6.829[Taylor & Francis Online][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]). Against this backdrop, we indicate one location where one may find continued relevance of socialism (and its “post”). Socialism – as a zombie and ghost – is important in the production of neoliberal monoglossia and guilt by association for those who challenge the dominant wisdom of trickle-down economics, thus supporting the worldview and, ultimately, the interests of the winners of post-1990 transition.

To evidence the works of zombie socialism, we start with a section where we review the main critiques of the concept of post-socialism. In the same section, we present case studies of zombie socialist political discourses from Hungary and Romania, as an entry into elaborating on this metaphor. We then discuss the effects of zombie socialism in several social policy domains and the actual conditions of life of post-socialist societies. We use national-level macroeconomic indicators; wages to GDP ratio, the share of minimum wages to all jobs, work–life imbalance, social spending and taxation, and housing statistics. We develop our discussion of housing markets and policies in greater detail to drive the point that zombie socialism can inspire policies that effectively jettison an entire area of social policy, ignoring growing problems experienced by different social groups such as the poor, the young, and the elderly, and contributing to social dumping. The data do not systematically focus on city/metropolitan regions, but rather provide a broad overview of socioeconomic and ideological factors that underpin local developments.

Three caveats are necessary. First, we are aware that in constructing a master narrative for the entire region we erase important national and especially sub-national dynamics, but there are enough arguments to support the idea that the processes that we outline in this article are present at different scales for much of the post-1990 historical cycle. Second, our argument is most likely limited to Central and Eastern Europe, rather than being applicable to the former Soviet Union (FSU). Socialism still carries – increasingly – positive connotations in parts of the FSU, where the zombie may come alive in some new form, as is the case, for example, in the “Donetsk People’s Republic.” As countries in the region follow different paths, both in terms of policy orientations and economic developments, the role that socialism plays in the collective imaginaries of these post-socialist societies may diverge as well. Third, we cannot substantiate the conscious character of the decision of politicians to invoke state-socialism when promoting neoliberal measures, and increased social dumping. We can indicate, however, instances where the two go together, a situation indicative of how “zombie socialism” is a form of symbolic domination of the hegemonic groups in CEE societies (Burawoy 2012Burawoy, Michael2012. “The Roots of Domination: Beyond Bourdieu and Gramsci.” Sociology46: 187206.10.1177/0038038511422725[Crossref][Google Scholar]). Zombie socialism may be employed in different ways for different aims. It may work as a means of gaining support for certain policies and budgetary allocations, as a justification for pragmatic decisions, but also as a way of framing policy priorities and ignoring certain claims in favor of others.

Zombie socialism: ghostly state-socialism after the end of “transition”

In order to spell out what zombie socialism is and how it works, we begin this section by situating our arguments in the sizeable literature on post-socialism and focusing our attention on some renewed analytic strategies for approaching socialism and post-socialism. We then offer several examples of zombie socialism, most notably focusing on two particularly relevant vignettes, one from the early 2000s (Hungary) and another one from 2014 (Romania).

Some scholars have emphasized that “post-socialism” is no longer a spatial container. Ex-socialist countries have experienced diverging economic trajectories. The conventional geographic knowledge used for locating the socialist countries has undergone transformations (Bunce 1999Bunce, Valerie1999. “The Political Economy of Postsocialism.” Slavic Review 58: 756793.10.2307/2697198[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]; Humphrey 2001Humphrey, Caroline2001. “Does the Category ‘Postsocialist’ Still Make Sense.” In Postsocialism: Ideals, Ideologies Practices in Eurasia, edited by Chris Hann1214LondonRoutledge. [Google Scholar]; Pickles 2010Pickles, John2010. “The Spirit of Post-socialism: Common Spaces and the Production of Diversity.” European Urban and Regional Studies 17: 127140.10.1177/0969776409356492[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar], 134; Rogers 2010Rogers, Doug2010. “Postsocialisms Unbound.” Slavic Review 69: 115.[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]). Before the 2008–2009 global financial crisis (GFC) literature classified countries according to “varieties of capitalism” (champions, slackers, corporatist, neoliberal, etc.) and distributed them across elastic symbolic geographies (i.e. Central/Eastern/former Soviet/Baltic/Southern; see Bohle and Greskovits 2007Bohle, Dorothee, and Bela Greskovits2007. “Neoliberalism, Embedded Neoliberalism and Neocorporatism: Towards Transnational Capitalism in Central-Eastern Europe.” West European Politics 30: 443466.10.1080/01402380701276287[Taylor & Francis Online][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]; Pickles 2010Pickles, John2010. “The Spirit of Post-socialism: Common Spaces and the Production of Diversity.” European Urban and Regional Studies 17: 127140.10.1177/0969776409356492[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar], 134; Swain 2011Swain, Nigel2011. “A Post-socialist Capitalism.” Europe-Asia Studies 63: 16711695.10.1080/09668136.2011.611653[Taylor & Francis Online][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]). Diverging economic evolutions during the GFC made internal heterogeneity an even more salient issue. To give just one example, housing markets across the region, and indeed across Europe, have become more heterogeneous (Pittini et al. 2016Pittini, AliceLaurentGhekièreJulien Dijol, and Igor Kiss2016. “The State of Housing in the EU. Brussels: Housing Europe.” Accessed March 7, 2016.http://www.housingeurope.eu/resource-468/the-state-of-housing-in-the-eu-2015 [Google Scholar]). Though in all post-socialist countries nominal housing price indices have decreased compared to the pre-crisis period, in countries such as Slovenia and the Czech Republic, decreases have been relatively small, while in Estonia, Romania, and Bulgaria housing price indices nearly halved in the 2009–2014 period (EMF 2015European Mortgage Federation (EMF). 2015. “A Review of Europe’s Mortgage and Housing Markets.” Accessed March 13, 2016.http://www.hypo.org/Content/Default.asp?PageID=524 [Google Scholar]), mirroring different responses to the crisis (Bohle 2014Bohle, Dorothee2014. “Post-socialist Housing Meets Transnational Finance: Foreign Banks, Mortgage Lending, and the Privatization of Welfare in Hungary and Estonia.” Review of International Political Economy 21: 913948.10.1080/09692290.2013.801022[Taylor & Francis Online][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]). At an urban scale, Hirt (2013Hirt, Sonia2013. “Whatever Happened to the (Post) Socialist City?” Cities 32: S29S38.10.1016/j.cities.2013.04.010[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]) has argued that one may not conceptualize the existence of a “post-socialist city” the way urban scholars spoke of the “socialist city.” Major features of the socialist city – such as high urban core density and an absence of low-density rings, state ownership of urban land, prominent presence of heavy industry, and reduced variety of design – are no longer there.

Aside from becoming a weaker spatial container, post-socialism has also ceased to be a temporal container or recognizable condition (Boyer and Yurchak 2008Boyer, Dominic, and Alexei Yurchak2008. “Postsocialist Studies, Cultures of Parody and American Stiob.” Anthropology News 49: 910.10.1111/anne.2008.49.issue-8[Crossref][Google Scholar]; Dunn and Verdery 2015Dunn, Elizabeth C., and KatherineVerdery2015. “Postsocialism.” In Emerging Trends in the Social and Behavioral Sciences: An Interdisciplinary, Searchable, and Linkable Resource, edited by Robert A.Scott and Stephen M.Kosslyn19New YorkWiley.10.1002/9781118900772.etrds0261[Crossref][Google Scholar]; Ferenčuhová 2016Ferenčuhová, Slavomíra2016. “Accounts from Behind the Curtain: History and Geography in the Critical Analysis of Urban Theory.” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 40 (1): 113131.[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]; Horvat and Štiks 2012Horvat, Srećko, and Igor Štiks2012. “Welcome to the Desert of Transition! Post-socialism, the European Union and a New Left in the Balkans.” Monthly Review 63: 3848.10.14452/MR-063-10-2012-03[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]; Humphrey 2001Humphrey, Caroline2001. “Does the Category ‘Postsocialist’ Still Make Sense.” In Postsocialism: Ideals, Ideologies Practices in Eurasia, edited by Chris Hann1214LondonRoutledge. [Google Scholar]; Rogers 2010Rogers, Doug2010. “Postsocialisms Unbound.” Slavic Review 69: 115.[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]; Tuvikene 2016Tuvikene, Tauri2016. “Strategies for Comparative Urbanism: Post-socialism as a De-territorialized Concept.” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 40 (1): 132146.[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]). Elizabeth Cullen Dunn and Katherine Verdery – two scholars closely associated with the ascent of the concept of post-socialism – observed recently that “after all, no one now refers to western Europe as ‘post-feudal’” (Dunn and Verdery 2015Dunn, Elizabeth C., and KatherineVerdery2015. “Postsocialism.” In Emerging Trends in the Social and Behavioral Sciences: An Interdisciplinary, Searchable, and Linkable Resource, edited by Robert A.Scott and Stephen M.Kosslyn19New YorkWiley.10.1002/9781118900772.etrds0261[Crossref][Google Scholar], 1). Most countries have institutionally reached what Francis Fukuyama (1992Fukuyama, Francis1992The End of History and the Last ManNew YorkFree Press. [Google Scholar], xii) saw at the beginning of post-socialism as the end of history; that is, “a form of society that satisfied its deepest and most fundamental longings.” The great expectations of the early 1990s elites in post-socialist countries have been fulfilled: they are recognized by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the European Union (EU), and the United States as liberal democracies and “functional” market economies. Most countries have become EU and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) members. Despite perpetual calls for reform and “the rhetoric of incompleteness,” the region is fully capitalist, providing a pool of cheap and educated labor close to the core of the EU (Horvat and Štiks 2012Horvat, Srećko, and Igor Štiks2012. “Welcome to the Desert of Transition! Post-socialism, the European Union and a New Left in the Balkans.” Monthly Review 63: 3848.10.14452/MR-063-10-2012-03[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar], 39). As Horvat and Štiks (2012Horvat, Srećko, and Igor Štiks2012. “Welcome to the Desert of Transition! Post-socialism, the European Union and a New Left in the Balkans.” Monthly Review 63: 3848.10.14452/MR-063-10-2012-03[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]) put it, “in this respect, the Transition as such is long over. There is nothing to ‘transit’ to anymore.” Additionally, as Caroline Humphrey (2001Humphrey, Caroline2001. “Does the Category ‘Postsocialist’ Still Make Sense.” In Postsocialism: Ideals, Ideologies Practices in Eurasia, edited by Chris Hann1214LondonRoutledge. [Google Scholar], 13) noticed, the generations brought up under socialist regimes have disappeared, or are at best, retired from the political and economic scene (see also, Stenning and Hörschelmann 2008Stenning, Alison, and KathrinHörschelmann2008. “History, Geography and Difference in the Post-socialist World: Or, Do We Still Need Post-socialism?” Antipode 40: 312335.10.1111/j.1467-8330.2008.00593.x[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar], 329). People who were still relatively young at the time of the 1989 transformations are now, themselves, fast approaching retirement age.

In addition to being a weaker spatial and temporal container, scholars have indicated additional issues. They include the lack of comparison and the overemphasis on processes coming to the CEE region, rather than moving out of the region (Rogers 2010Rogers, Doug2010. “Postsocialisms Unbound.” Slavic Review 69: 115.[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]; Stenning and Hörschelmann 2008Stenning, Alison, and KathrinHörschelmann2008. “History, Geography and Difference in the Post-socialist World: Or, Do We Still Need Post-socialism?” Antipode 40: 312335.10.1111/j.1467-8330.2008.00593.x[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar], 313; Wiest 2012Wiest, Karin2012. “Comparative Debates in Post-socialist Urban Studies.” Urban Geography 33: 829849.10.2747/0272-3638.33.6.829[Taylor & Francis Online][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]). Rogers (2010Rogers, Doug2010. “Postsocialisms Unbound.” Slavic Review 69: 115.[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar], 3) has pointed that it is not enough to understand how “various post-socialist contexts serve as sites for debate about how transnational or global processes (from democratization to neoliberalization to religious conversion) have come to the former Soviet bloc.” Rogers goes on to suggest that “just as significant … are other sites, more complex circulations, and understudied vectors of transnational movement that are not bound by the world regions bequeathed to us by Cold War configurations of knowledge and power.” Similarly, echoing insights from comparative urbanism (Robinson 2010Robinson, Jennifer2010. “Cities in a World of Cities: The Comparative Gesture.” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 35: 123.[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]; Wiest 2012Wiest, Karin2012. “Comparative Debates in Post-socialist Urban Studies.” Urban Geography 33: 829849.10.2747/0272-3638.33.6.829[Taylor & Francis Online][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]), Rogers warned against obsessive and implicit comparisons with Western experiences, encouraging scholars to bring to the fore the global interconnectedness (and subordination) of post-socialist cities.

Against this backdrop, some studies have offered renewed ways for rethinking time and space in relation to socialism and post-socialism. Seeking to “liberate the Cold War from the ghetto of Soviet area studies” and to enter into a dialog with postcolonial scholarship, Katherine Verdery (2001Verdery, Katherine2001. “Whither Postsocialism?” In Postsocialism: Ideals, Ideologies Practices in Eurasia, edited by Chris Hann1528LondonRoutledge. [Google Scholar], 20) urged scholars to identify the enduring effects of cold war tectonics, proposing the analytics of “post-Cold War studies.” According to Verdery, this would allow a different perspective on the twentieth century by situating socialism and post-socialism, like post-colonialism, globally, as “the effects of the Cold War were not confined to any single world area[,] but … wholly pervasive throughout most of the twentieth century” (21; see also, Chari and Verdery 2009Chari, Sharad, and Katherine Verdery2009. “Thinking between the Posts: Postcolonialism, Postsocialism, and Ethnography after the Cold War.” Comparative Studies in Society and History 51: 634.10.1017/S0010417509000024[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]; Dunn and Verdery 2015Dunn, Elizabeth C., and KatherineVerdery2015. “Postsocialism.” In Emerging Trends in the Social and Behavioral Sciences: An Interdisciplinary, Searchable, and Linkable Resource, edited by Robert A.Scott and Stephen M.Kosslyn19New YorkWiley.10.1002/9781118900772.etrds0261[Crossref][Google Scholar]; Pitcher and Askew 2006Pitcher, Anne, and Kelly Askew2006. “African Socialisms and Postsocialisms.” Africa 76: 114.10.3366/afr.2006.0001[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]; Rogers 2010Rogers, Doug2010. “Postsocialisms Unbound.” Slavic Review 69: 115.[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]). Interesting empirical research, ethnographic and historical, has emerged recently, such as the German Democratic Republic’s housing construction in Vinh City, Vietnam, as part of “international solidarity” between socialist countries (Schwenkel 2015Schwenkel, Christina2015. “Spectacular Infrastructure and its Breakdown in Socialist Vietnam.” American Ethnologist42: 520534.10.1111/amet.12145[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]) and the schooling of students from African countries in Romanian universities (Gheorghiu and Netedu 2015Gheorghiu, Mihai Dinu, and AdrianNetedu2015. “African Students and the Transformation Process of Romanian Education. From the Political Issue of Internationalism to the Romanian Educational Offer between 1970 and 1990.” Scientific Annals of the ‘Alexandru Ioan Cuza’ University. New Series Sociology and Social Work Section 8: 131143. [Google Scholar]).

Finally, some other studies have enriched our understanding of post-socialism by gazing above and below ground, to the vertical and material dimensions of post-socialism, enlarging the understanding of transition by incorporating the sociotechnical dimensions of cities. Above ground, Gentile (2015Gentile, Michael2015. “The Post-Soviet Urban Poor and Where They Live: Khrushchev-Era Blocks, ‘Bad’ Areas, and the Vertical Dimension in Luhansk, Ukraine.” Annals of the Association of American Geographers105: 583603.10.1080/00045608.2015.1018783[Taylor & Francis Online][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar], 583) documented the importance and neglect of vertical segregation of socialist-era housing, calling for “increased sensitivity towards the third dimension of space in contemporary urbanism.” Beneath-ground, Rogers (2014Rogers, Doug2014. “Energopolitical Russia: Corporation, State and the Rise of Social, and Political Projects.” Anthropological Quarterly 87: 431451.10.1353/anq.2014.0017[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]) outlined the “energopolitics” dimension of transition, while Bouzarovski, Bradshaw, and Wochnik (2015Bouzarovski, StefanMichael Bradshaw, and AlexanderWochnik2015. “Making Territory through Infrastructure: The Governance of Natural Gas Transit in Europe.” Geoforum64: 217228.10.1016/j.geoforum.2015.06.022[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]) discussed how different from the conventional symbolic geographies Europe looks beneath ground, from the point of view of pipes and gas flows.

In this contribution, we point to a different analytic venue, centered on the strategic essentialization of socialism, not by the subalterns of post-socialist societies, but by the winners of transition. Although the socialist and post-socialist institutional heritage has become, after almost 30 years, extinct, and although the actually existing socialism fades quickly into the deep history of the present, the vivid resurrection of the socialist past is part of the hegemony that furthers neoliberalism and disciplines the population of such countries. Thus, instead of imagining capitalism as being built “on and with the ruins of communist system” (Smith and Pickles 1998Smith, Adrian, and John Pickles1998. “Introduction.” In Theorizing Transition: The Political Economy of Transition in Post-communist Countries, edited by John Picklesand Adrian Smith124LondonRoutledge. [Google Scholar], 2), one may argue that post-socialist capitalism has been built by the winners of transition using the “ghost” of communism in order to discipline the workforce into giving up social justice claims (Poenaru 2013Poenaru, Florin2013. “History and Intellectual Class Struggle in Post-communist Romania.” PhD diss., Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology, Central European University. [Google Scholar]; Simonica 2012Simonica, Anca2012Critical Engagements with and within Capitalism: Romania’s Middle Managers after SocialismBudapestDepartment of Sociology and Social Anthropology, Central European University. [Google Scholar]). Simonica (2012Simonica, Anca2012Critical Engagements with and within Capitalism: Romania’s Middle Managers after SocialismBudapestDepartment of Sociology and Social Anthropology, Central European University. [Google Scholar], iii) argues that in Central and Eastern Europe “capitalism is not only built with the ruins [of socialism], but also by keeping its ghost alive.” As a zombie, the actual and imagined socialist past functions as an “ideological antioxidant” (Žižek 2001Žižek, Slavoj2001Did Somebody Say Totalitarianism? Five Interventions in the (Mis)use of a NotionLondonVerso. [Google Scholar]). For Slavoj Žižek, ideological antioxidants are arguments, usually coming from pro-business corners, holding that “any radical emancipatory political project necessarily ends up in some version of totalitarian domination and control” (5). In much of the post-1989 historical cycle, the specter of the communist period acts as the “ultimate bogey” for pre-empting social claims. Any attempt to challenge post-socialist neoliberalism is, as in other cases, “denounced as ethically dangerous and unacceptable, resuscitating the ghost of ‘totalitarianism’” (4).

We do not use the metaphor of the zombie to suggest that socialism lingers and creeps in to take over the region once more or indeed the capitalist world, as some market fundamentalists suggest (see, for instance, Marsland 2004Marsland, David2004. “Caliban or Taliban.” Society41:4851.10.1007/BF02690204[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]). Indeed, zombie metaphors are sometimes used to suggest that an outdated idea returns to haunt the present and seize the future (hence “zombie neoliberalism,” “zombie politics,” “zombie economics,” “zombie capitalism”; see Giroux 2011Giroux, Henry2011Zombie Politics and Culture in the Age of Casino CapitalismNew YorkPeter Lang.[Crossref][Google Scholar]; Quiggin 2010Quiggin, John2010Zombie Economics: How Dead Ideas Still Walk among UsPrincetonPrinceton University Press. [Google Scholar]; Peck 2010Peck, Jamie2010. “Zombie Neoliberalism and the Ambidextrous State.” Theoretical Criminology 14: 104110.10.1177/1362480609352784[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]). Nor do we use it to suggest the rise in CEE of occult economies, although there is an abundance of conspiracy theories and fascination with occult explanations of political developments (Comaroff and Comaroff 1999Comaroff, Jean, and John Comaroff1999. “Occult Economies and the Violence of Abstraction: Notes from the South African Colony.” American Ethnologist26: 279303.[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]). Similarly, we do not use the idea of the zombie along the lines of the work of mourning for the millions of victims who perished during the Stalinist regimes as outlined by Etkind (2009Etkind, Alexander2009. “Post-Soviet Hauntology: Cultural Memory of the Soviet Terror.” Constellations16: 182200.10.1111/cons.2009.16.issue-1[Crossref][Google Scholar]). Rather we seek to explore why the winners of transition still need socialism, instead of letting it go. Like the bokor (zombie master) in the classic movie White Zombie (1932, director Victor Halperin), such winners seek to produce docile subjects by dismissing social claims voiced by the “losers” of transition as being communist, outdated, anti-democratic, anti-meritocratic, unsustainable, regressive, covertly totalitarian, or at best, naive. Zombie socialism has had since the early 1990s – with different intensities in different historical moments in each country – constitutive capacities for the allocation of wealth, social dumping, and the reduction of support for redistributive policies. Despite its temporal and geographic variation, it tended to occupy a central place in the entire post-socialist period and it has represented the local flavor of post-socialist neoliberalism.

We thus focus less on the rescaling and analytic portability of the concept of post-socialism, but rather revisit some major themes of class and inequalities in post-socialist societies (Dunn 2004Dunn, Elizabeth C.2004Privatizing Poland: Baby Food, Big Business, the Remaking of LaborIthaca, NYCornell University Press. [Google Scholar]; Dunn and Verdery 2015Dunn, Elizabeth C., and KatherineVerdery2015. “Postsocialism.” In Emerging Trends in the Social and Behavioral Sciences: An Interdisciplinary, Searchable, and Linkable Resource, edited by Robert A.Scott and Stephen M.Kosslyn19New YorkWiley.10.1002/9781118900772.etrds0261[Crossref][Google Scholar]; Eyal, Szelényi, and Townsley 1998Eyal, GilIvánSzelényi, and Eleanor R. Townsley1998Making Capitalism without Capitalism: Making Elite Struggles in Post-communist Central EuropeLondonVerso. [Google Scholar]). In so doing, we reinforce Rogers (2010Rogers, Doug2010. “Postsocialisms Unbound.” Slavic Review 69: 115.[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar], 15) methodological point that in ex-socialist countries the study of contemporary capitalism should proceed “through the study of post-socialisms, rather than abandoning it for a generalized neoliberalism” (see also, Stenning and Hörschelmann 2008Stenning, Alison, and KathrinHörschelmann2008. “History, Geography and Difference in the Post-socialist World: Or, Do We Still Need Post-socialism?” Antipode 40: 312335.10.1111/j.1467-8330.2008.00593.x[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]), as well as Brenner and Theodore’s (2002Brenner, Neil, and NikTheodore2002. “Cities and the Geographies of ‘Actually Existing Neoliberalism’.” Antipode 34: 349379.10.1111/anti.2002.34.issue-3[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar], 349) suggestion that “an adequate understanding of actually existing neoliberalism must therefore explore path-dependent, contextually specific interactions between regulatory landscapes and emergent neoliberalism.”

Let us present some examples of zombie socialism. One illustrative vignette of zombie socialism is the first term in power of the FIDESZ political party in the late 1990s and early 2000s Hungary (Gergo Pulay, personal communication).11. FIDESZ is the main conservative party in Hungary and has dominated Hungarian politics since its landslide victory in 2010. Prime Minister Victor Orban is its main spokes person. Magyar Hírlapis one of the main outlets for conservative and traditional values in Hungary. http://hun.politika.narkive.com/6JEFhroi/lumpenproli-panelproli.View all notes FIDESZ ideologues pushed for the reimagining of the Hungarian polity on the opposition between a republic of bourgeois citizens and the panelproli – “proletarians from the Communist apartment buildings”; that is, the inhabitants of concrete, prefabricated socialist-era high-rise apartment buildings. Zsolt Bayer – an opinion leader and publicist of Magyar Hírlap, co-founder of FIDESZ, and friend of current Prime Minister Victor Orban – emphatically stated in 2002 that “Hungary is not going to allow the lumpenproletariats of the waterheaded [i.e. overcentralized] Budapest, and within that Pest, to decide what should happen to this country.” Replacing the socialist-era term worker (munkás), “panelproli” came to denote “middle class” constituencies, the former socialist working class and its remnants. Its usage was often intermixed with the equally depreciative term “lumpen”; that is, the mass of the uneducated and uninformed in the Hungarian context of the early 2000s (Halmai 2011Halmai, Gábor2011. “(Dis)possessed by the Spectre of Socialism: Nationalist Mobilization in ‘Transitional’ Hungary.” In Working-class Populism and the Return of the Repressed in Neoliberal Europe, edited by Don Kalband Gábor Halmai113141New YorkBerghahn. [Google Scholar], 129). The reference to Pest as opposed to Buda also connotes the working class or at best “petty-bourgeoisie,” opposed to the “middle class” or “historically noble” zone in Buda. These were strictly symbolic class geographies, since the actual social map of Budapest is significantly more complex. The link between the “panelproli” and Pest (and not Buda) is due to the historically developed working-class quarters of Pest such as Csepel or Angyalföld, even if these were not strictly communist-built industrial quarters (existing since the late nineteenth century onward). This example is particularly telling since even if Hungary has been a “champion” of a transition to capitalism in the first decade of the 1990s, its political and economic elites reinserted socialism as part of the foundation of that type of political scene.

A second case study example of zombie socialism is in the housing vision of the ex-Romanian President Traian Basescu.22. Traian Basescu’s housing practices were the opposite of his philosophy. He is currently charged with money laundering through real estate transfers and the illegal self-allocation of state housing, while he was a mayor of Bucharest in the early 2000s.View all notes Toward the end of his second mandate (2010–2014), marked by austerity programs, political turmoil, anti-trade union legislation, and labor flexibility policies, he declared at a meeting,

Watch American movies and notice the way they pack up three suitcases and leave home because they have not found a well paid job … I would not like to see you educated in the spirit of “I want to own a home”, but rather “I want a job and a salary first.” … I do not want to suggest that one does not need a home. One does, but you should be pragmatic, not sentimental. We are left with this home [ownership] thing from the communists.33. Super-homeownership is actually not a communist-era process, but strictly a post-1991 phenomena, the year the state housing privatization legislation passed.View all notes To own a house. But back then, the job was offered where you had the house. But life in a free economy, a free society means competition and competition pushes people to be mobile. (Mediafax 2014Mediafax. 2014. “Băsescu: Aș vrea să nu vă educați în spiritul‚ Vreau casa’, prima dată, ci loc de muncă și salariu[Băsescu: I Would Like You to Get Educated Not in the Spirit I Want a House First, but a Job and a Salary].” Accessed on July 15, 2016.http://www.mediafax.ro/social/basescu-as-vrea-sa-nu-va-educati-in-spiritul-vreau-casa-prima-data-ci-loc-de-munca-si-salariu-13263843 [Google Scholar])

He reinforced this moral and economic negative view of homeownership in another statement saying that “the lack of mobility is first and foremost generated by the way we were raised to own homes and when you lose your job you sit in your house and you consume your poverty.” The only chance to see increased mobility, according to him, was to see the minimum wage increase, rather than see wages increase above minimum wage (InCont.ro 2014InCont.ro. 2014. “Băsescu îndeamnă investitorii străini să-și caute singuri angajații: Mergeți după forța de muncă, nu așteptați ca în SUA că nu va veni[Băsescu Advises Foreign Investors to Go Searching for Employees: Go After the Workforce, Don’t Wait Like in the US, It Won’t Come].” Accessed July 15, 2016.http://incont.stirileprotv.ro/joburi-romania/basescu-indeamna-investitorii-straini-sa-si-caute-singuri-angajati-ldquo-mergeti-dupa-forta-de-munca-nu.html [Google Scholar]).

This statement is particularly meaningful because it crystallizes several layers of violence. First, it casts the only significant form of wealth that Romanians have – and indeed other people living in super-homeownership societies – as idle and non-productive. Second, it disregards that for people across Europe “a significant preference for homeownership is reported, and renting suffers from an image as an inferior, temporary form of tenure” (Pittini et al. 2016Pittini, AliceLaurentGhekièreJulien Dijol, and Igor Kiss2016. “The State of Housing in the EU. Brussels: Housing Europe.” Accessed March 7, 2016.http://www.housingeurope.eu/resource-468/the-state-of-housing-in-the-eu-2015 [Google Scholar], 26). Approximately 70% of Europeans are currently homeowners, and about 40% own without a mortgage. Third, the ex-president’s take on housing represents the viewpoint of employers, many low wage-paying industrial producers coming from Western Europe, and human resource companies, who cast super-homeownership as a bad “housing fix.” Employers in Romania complain that people are immobile because they own housing, ignoring the fact that about one-third of wages are minimum wages, thus making it impossible to pay market rent if people move out of their homes. Pro-business and fiscal conservative voices have often rehearsed this theme. Theodor Stolojan, a former prime minister and architect of neoliberal policies explained at a libertarian think-tank meeting that “We [have] a rigid housing market … which does not help at all … labor market flexibility.”44.http://www.cadi.ro/index.php/vizualizare/articol/multimedia/382View all notes A labor legislation specialist explained the lack of labor mobility by the fact that geographic mobility inside a company “resembles in some respects the mandatory jobs assignments at the end of college practiced during the Communist period,” in addition to the problem of homeownership (BusinessMagazin 2007BusinessMagazin. 2007. “Salariul de relocare [The Relocation Salary].” Accessed April 20, 2016.http://www.businessmagazin.ro/cover-story/salariu-de-relocare-1054845 [Google Scholar]). A human resources consultant explained that Western Europe has much fewer homeowners than Romania and that there people are used to living their entire life renting, thus moving much more easily (2007). These last arguments disregard the fact that there is no link between homeownership and economic growth. China’s homeownership rate is 90%, while in Singapore, another country with sustained growth and strong neoliberal, developmentalist state, 80% of the housing stock is provided under the public homeownership program (Chua 2000Chua, Ben Huat2000. “Public Housing Residents as Clients of the State.” Housing Studies 15: 4560.[Taylor & Francis Online][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]2011Chua, Ben Huat2011. “Singapore as Model: Planning Innovations, Knowledge Experts.” In Worlding Cities: Asian Experiments and the Art of being Global, edited by A. Roy and A. Ong2954OxfordWiley – Blackwell. [Google Scholar]). Furthermore, one key difference between homeownership-oriented housing systems in CEE and more rental-oriented systems in Germany, Austria, or France is the strict enforcement of rent capping and rent regulations on the private renting sector, which enables renters to have security of tenure (staying longer in their rented homes, as opposed to moving more easily).

There is no shortage of zombie socialism arguments. Another example of putting zombie socialism to work is the link business elites draw between a communist-era lack of work ethic and reduced productivity with the lack of justification – indeed, the impossibility – of wage increases. On the grounds of “productivity,” a public high school teacher in East Berlin is paid 85% of what the same teacher is paid in West Berlin for the same amount work.55. We thank Matthias Bernt for pointing out this situation.View all notes The cause of Melania Trump’s plagiarism of Michelle Obama’s speech at the 2016 Republican National Convention, according to a political scientist born in Poland and currently teaching in the U.S., is “the culture of cheating in Eastern European schools inherited from state-socialism” (Nalepa 2016Nalepa, Monika2016. “Melania Trump and the Culture of Cheating in Eastern European Schools.” The Washington Post. Accessed July 15, 2016.https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2016/07/20/melania-trump-and-the-culture-of-cheating-in-eastern-european-schools/ [Google Scholar]).66. Melania Trump has been in the U.S. almost half of her life (since 1996, according to https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/feb/26/donald-trump-melania-trump-first-lady).View all notes Forms of moral consumption and liberal politics are often treated as communist-era impositions on freedom of choice. In Poland, women’s rights (abortion, in vitro fertilization, civil unions, teaching of sex education) are an apocalyptic threat for the Catholic Church – an institution feared by Polish politicians – prompting a bishop to state that the “ideology of gender presents a threat worse than Nazism and Communism combined.” (Sierakowski 2014Sierakowski, Slawomir2014. “The Polish Church’s Gender Problem.” New York Times, January 27.http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/27/opinion/sierakowski-the-polish-churchs-gender-problem.html?_r=1. [Google Scholar]) Attempts to practice non-racist language are treated as “political correctness,” which, along with multiculturalism, represent no less than “American Communism” for one influent self-proclaimed cultural and fiscal conservative in Romania. For the same public figure, even the disregard of speed limits in traffic is due to the communist-era double-speak and culture of informality (Patapievici 2014Patapievici, Horia Roman2014. “Oamenii trăiesc într-o societate în care nu este fericirea pe stradă, dar măcar poți trăi fără a fi urmărit zilnic [People Live in a Society in Which It’s Not Happiness on the Streets but at Least You Can Live Without Being Followed Everyday].” Gândul interview. Accessed July. 15, 2016.http://www.gandul.info/interviurile-gandul/h-r-patapievici-la-25-de-ani-de-la-revolutie-oamenii-traiesc-intr-o-societate-in-care-nu-este-fericirea-pe-strada-dar-macar-poti-trai-fara-sa-fii-urmarit-zilnic-13729329 [Google Scholar]).

Zombie socialism, class dynamics, and neoliberal social policies in Central and Eastern Europe

Taking into account such forced associations between the extinct socialist period and social justice agendas that might slow down or alleviate the fate of the losers of transition, it should come as little surprise that, as Ger Duijzings (2010Duijzings, Ger2010. “From Bongo Bongo to Boston via the Balkans.” In Urbanisierung und Stadtentwicklung in Südoesteuropa vom 19. Bis zum 21. Jahrhundert[Urbanization and City Development in Southern and Eastern Europe from the 19th to the 21st Century], edited by BohnThomas and Marie Janine Calic93132MünchenOtto Sagner. [Google Scholar], 109) put it, “some of the features of neoliberalism have taken their purest form in Eastern Europe” (see also, Smith and Rachovská 2007Smith, Adrian, and Alena Rachovská2007. “Domesticating Neo-liberalism: Everyday Lives and the Geographies of Post-socialist Transformation.” Geoforum 38: 11631178.10.1016/j.geoforum.2007.03.003[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar], 1163). The post-socialist neoliberalism has been particularly good at exploiting labor and passing on the cost of reproduction of labor (housing, social expenditures) from capital to labor. In this section, we describe some of the effects of zombie socialism in three areas: the glorification of the “middle classes”; labor and taxation policies; and especially, housing. We look at housing in greater detail, because the privatization of housing under post-socialism can be seen as the most comprehensive retreat from a domain of public policy engaged in by governments in the CEE region. The continuous discounting of housing as an area of government intervention and as a vector for the delivery of social services makes housing policy a telling example of zombie socialist social dumping.

Glorification of the “middle classes”

Many cases of zombie socialism, including some that we outlined above, share Janus-faced tropes: the glorification of the middle class as a rupture with the communist past and the attack on the welfare system and the poor as a vestige of the same socialist past and arrested development. One political process present in many countries across the region is that the winners of the transition from socialism advocate the concentration of public spending on the middle class (i.e. themselves), while simultaneously trying to disconnect the rest of society from public budget spending. As Ost (2015Ost, David2015. “Stuck in the Past and in the Future: Class Analysis in Postcommunist Poland.” East European Politics and Societies and Cultures29: 610624.10.1177/0888325415602058[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar], 614) put it, the “middle class”77. As Ost (2015Ost, David2015. “Stuck in the Past and in the Future: Class Analysis in Postcommunist Poland.” East European Politics and Societies and Cultures29: 610624.10.1177/0888325415602058[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar], 614) nicely noticed, “the only group unproblematically labeled a class” in these countries.View all notes as a concept is “breathtakingly vague,” but the media and politicians in the CEE region generally refer to it as the employees of multinational companies, the creative class, the educated urbanites, established businessmen, and aspiring “entrepreneurs,” but also top public employees. In Russia for instance, there is an “excessive fascination with the middle class … as the dominant class of the future, one that would be the carrier of the new values of democracy and a market society” (Crowley 2015Crowley, Stephen2015. “Russia: The Reemergence of Class in the Wake of the First ‘Classless’ Society.” East European Politics and Societies and Cultures29: 698710.10.1177/0888325415599202[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar], 701). Poland saw significant discussions of who the not-yet-existing middle classes ought to be after the fall of communism (the nomenklatura? the diaspora? the skilled service sector?), rather than what happens to the non-“middle-classes” (Ost 2015Ost, David2015. “Stuck in the Past and in the Future: Class Analysis in Postcommunist Poland.” East European Politics and Societies and Cultures29: 610624.10.1177/0888325415602058[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar], 610–614; see also, Boyadjieva and Kabakchieva 2015Boyadjieva, Pepka, and PetyaKabakchieva2015. “Inequality in Poverty: Bulgarian Sociologists on Class and Stratification.” East European Politics and Societies and Cultures29: 625639.10.1177/0888325415599572[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar], 629 for Bulgaria; Makovicky 2014Makovicky, Nicolette2014Neoliberalism, Personhood, and Postsocialism: Entreprising Selves in Changing EconomiesNew YorkRoutledge. [Google Scholar]).

The implicit and often explicit message of such glorifications is that the state should cater to those successful in the market, rather than those at the margins of society. According to this meta-narrative which seems to be shared across the region, the state should reform, discipline, and especially put to work the lower classes. The lower classes are market failures because – so the narrative goes – of the survival of socialism in their minds, in public institutions, and policies. Thus, they need to be purged of non-market behaviors such as dependence on government assistance (Eyal, Szelényi, and Townsley 1998Eyal, GilIvánSzelényi, and Eleanor R. Townsley1998Making Capitalism without Capitalism: Making Elite Struggles in Post-communist Central EuropeLondonVerso. [Google Scholar], 12). Often times the cult of the middle class accompanies derogatory remarks to lower classes, amounting to “postsocialist Eastern Europe’s own variant of Orientalism,” as Elizabeth Dunn (2004Dunn, Elizabeth C.2004Privatizing Poland: Baby Food, Big Business, the Remaking of LaborIthaca, NYCornell University Press. [Google Scholar], 92) put it. Such working class bashing is frequent in the current Romanian discourse that contrasts young people who work in the skilled service sector to the uncultured and “uncivilized” working class, but also to elderly political constituencies, constantly accused of “bolshevik” temptations. Similarly, in Poland, the “middle class” – supposedly belittled by socialism – is now threatened by the poor. The imagined middle class, composed of “emerging property owners, professionals, and ‘knowledge workers’ distinguished by their interest in high culture, knowledge of foreign languages, a broad way of thinking, and positive work ethos (‘not just doing one’s job and going home’)” – has the ability to save Poland from “civilization incompetence” and from the inability of the lower classes who are accused that they “drink, fight, rely on public assistance and spend their lives watching TV” (Ost 2015Ost, David2015. “Stuck in the Past and in the Future: Class Analysis in Postcommunist Poland.” East European Politics and Societies and Cultures29: 610624.10.1177/0888325415602058[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar], 615; see also, Fleming 2012Fleming, Michael2012. “The Regime of Violence in Socialist and Postsocialist Poland.” Annals of the Association of American Geographers. 102: 482498.10.1080/00045608.2011.620512[Taylor & Francis Online][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]).

Zombie socialism in labor and taxation policies

As of 2013, the share of wages to GDP was lower than the EU 28 average in all post-socialist countries excepting Slovenia, which was the highest in the EU (Figure 1). Whereas, the EU 28 average of the percentage of GDP that goes to labor is 56%, post-socialist countries vary between 43.9% in Slovakia, 44.6% in Lithuania, 45.8% in Romania, 47.8% in Poland, 48.6% in the Czech Republic, and 54.0% in Bulgaria (see Figure 1). This is indicative of a situation of a weaker negotiation power of the labor force relative to capital.

Figure 1. Share of wages to GDP in EU countries in 2013 (adjusted wage share to total economy as percentage). Source: European Commission (https://knoema.com/ECAMECODB2016/annual-macro-economic-database-2016).

The winners of transition have been particularly efficient at forcing down the price paid for labor and appropriate higher shares of the surplus for capital. In all former socialist countries (except the Czech Republic), the percentage of people earning less than two-thirds of the national median gross hourly earnings is above the EU average, which is 18%. Save for Cyprus, Ireland, and the United Kingdom, all of the 12 countries where 20% or more of the labor force is paid the minimum wage are post-socialist. In Lithuania, low-wage earners amount to no less than 39% (Figure 2).

Figure 2. The share of people earning less than two-thirds of the national median gross hourly earnings in EU countries in 2010. Source: Eurostat (http://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/web/gdp-and-beyond/quality-of-life/low-wage-earners3).

With the exception of three countries, all post-socialist EU member countries spend significantly less on social protection (as a percentage of GDP) than Western European countries. Expenditure on social protection in post-socialist countries is substantially lower than in the countries with a longer and deeper capitalist history. The EU28 average spending on social protection is 19.5% of GDP. Save for Slovakia (20%), countries like Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, and Romania spend as little as 11.4% (Romania) and 13.4% (Bulgaria). Hungary, Poland, and Slovenia spend slightly more (15.6–18%), but still below the European average (Eurostat 2016Eurostat. 2016. Press Release “General Government Expenditure in the EU in 2014.” Accessed March 7, 2016.http://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/documents/2995521/7214399/2-22032016-BP-EN.pdf/596b9daa-b9d6-415d-b85a-b41174488728 [Google Scholar]).

Under such circumstances it should also come as little surprise that the imposition of the cost for the reproduction of labor on households creates particular tensions in the work–life balance. Many post-socialist countries are quite similar in their location relative to the rest of the European Union. There is clear evidence in European statistics that post-socialist employees work longer hours than the rest of Europeans (Chelcea 2015Chelcea, Liviu2015. “Post-socialist Acceleration: Fantasy Time in a Multinational Bank.” Time and Society 24: 348366.10.1177/0961463X14563018[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar], 348–350). This is visible in the number of people who work more than 40 h/week, during weekends, and 48 + hours/week: 12 of the 16 countries where people work more than the EU average are post-socialist (348–350). Accordingly, a significant percentage of the population of post-socialist countries experience issues of work-life imbalance. One report found that the “disruption of work-life balance at both home and work is especially a problem in some central and east European countries.” (Eurofound 2012Eurofound. 2012. “Third European Quality of Life Survey – Quality of Life in Europe: Impacts of the Crisis.” Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg. Accessed March 13, 2016.http://www.eurofound.europa.eu/sites/default/files/ef_publication/field_ef_document/ef1264en_0.pdf [Google Scholar], 63). Whereas, “only” 40–50% of the population experiences conflicts at work and/or home in the Netherlands, Italy, or Denmark, the figures vary between 63 and 73% for Latvia, Bulgaria, Estonia, Poland, Romania, the Czech Republic, and Hungary (2012, 65). Only Slovenia, Slovakia, and Lithuania are beneath the EU28 average (57%).

Other tangible effects are the evacuation of the social justice agenda from the social democratic parties in the region and the emergence of a neoliberal consensus, punctuated occasionally by ecologist movements, geopolitical disruptions, or nationalist overtones, as is the case in Hungary and recently, Poland (Vesalon and Cretan 2015Vesalon, Lucian, and Remus Cretan2015. “‘We Are Not the Wild West’: Anti-fracking Protests in Romania.” Environmental Politics24: 288307.10.1080/09644016.2014.1000639[Taylor & Francis Online][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]). Most social democratic parties that were, in theory, supposed to stand for the losers of transition have adopted Tony Blair’s “Third Way.” As one scholar put it,

the weakness of left parties in Central and Eastern Europe is less visible in their electoral support than it is in their intellectual support. After decades of intellectual hegemony, left ideas literally vanished in the region, leaving neoliberalism to rule as the only game in town. (Dragoman 2015Dragoman, Dragos2015. “Where Have All the Marxists Gone? The Intellectual Left, Ideological Debate and Public Space in Post-communist Romania.” Studia Politica 15: 229247. [Google Scholar], 229)

Some social democratic leaders became fervent pro-business champions in order to disassociate themselves from the communist past. The 2012–2015 Romanian social democrat prime minister, Victor Ponta, described himself as “the most pro-business Prime Minister in Europe,” while simultaneously spending substantial efforts to avoid any association with leftist politics and over-performing the rejection of communism.88. For instance, he declared that he has voted for the anti-communist presidential candidates, thus against the candidates of his Social Democratic Party, which gathered, in the 1990s and 2000s, many second- and third-tier nomenklatura and socialist-era technical intelligentia.View all notes The reformed communists of the Social Democratic Party in Croatia “became the party most associated with neoliberalism and closing the integration into EU” (Grdešić 2015Grdešić, Marko2015. “Class Discourse in Croatia: Where did it go? Is it coming back?” East European Politics and Societies and Cultures 29: 663671.[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar], 665).Finally, another tangible effect of zombie socialism is the adoption across the entire region of flat income tax regimes in the 2000s (1994 in Estonia). Except for the Czech Republic and Slovakia, which repealed their flat-tax legislation in 2012, all countries currently tax according to this libertarian creed. As one commentator put it, the “many countries [in the region] trumpeted their flat-tax regimes as a symbol of their transition to a market economy and their openness to investment” (Bloomberg 2013Bloomberg. 2013. “Flat-tax Wave Ebbs in Eastern Europe.” Accessed April 20, 2016.http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2013-05-15/flat-tax-wave-ebbs-in-eastern-europe [Google Scholar]), with Macedonia lowering it to 10% for both corporate and income tax purposes (KPMG 2015KPMG. 2015. “Investment in Macedonia.” Country Report. Accessed July 15, 2016.https://www.kpmg.com/MK/en/IssuesAndInsights/ArticlesPublications/Documents/2015-Investment-in-Macedonia-web.pdf [Google Scholar]). Neoconservative circles in the West, such as the Cato Institute in the U.S., acclaimed it enthusiastically (Bloomberg 2013Bloomberg. 2013. “Flat-tax Wave Ebbs in Eastern Europe.” Accessed April 20, 2016.http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2013-05-15/flat-tax-wave-ebbs-in-eastern-europe [Google Scholar]). Worthy of an illustration of Foucault’s idea of the “boomerang effect”99. The boomerang effect, according to Foucault ([1975–1976] 2003Foucault, Michel. (1975–1976) 2003Society Must be Defended: Lectures at the Collège de France 1975–1976LondonPenguin. [Google Scholar]), occurs in situations when military, administrative, and political technologies that European colonial states transported to the colonies were later used on these European populations themselves. A good illustration is the slippage between Baghdad and Hurricane Katrina’s New Orleans in the way militarization and containment of “suspicious” groups proceeded (see Graham 2009Graham, Stephen2009. “The Urban ‘Battlespace’.” Theory, Culture and Society 26: 278288.10.1177/0263276409349280[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar], 285). Similarly, drones – initially used in wars overseas – are increasingly used to control crime in cities in the U.S. (see http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/how-are-drones-used-in-us/).View all notes ([1975–1976] 2003Foucault, Michel. (1975–1976) 2003Society Must be Defended: Lectures at the Collège de France 1975–1976LondonPenguin. [Google Scholar]), one laudatory study by two U.S. professors of economics explained that,

[The flat tax in ex-socialist countries] goes beyond the current definition of what the standard package of feasible economic reform policy ideas is supposed to contain. It is not an attempt to “catch-up” with the richer Western economies, but actually a means to “get ahead” using cutting-edge free-market ideas. It is the former communist countries that seem to be leading the way in liberal, free-market economic reforms. We see Western academics travelling to Eastern Europe not to teach, but to learn. (Aligicǎ and Evans 2009Aligicǎ, Dragos, and Anthony J. Evans2009The Neoliberal Revolution in Eastern Europe. Economic Ideas in the Transition from CommunismCheltenhamEdward Edgar.10.4337/9781848445949[Crossref][Google Scholar], 184)

As one may notice from the data above, social claims for redistribution have been expelled or, at the very least, marginalized in most policies regarding labor, work–life balance, social protection, and taxation in CEE countries. We turn next to housing in greater detail, because the privatization of housing under post-socialism can be seen as the most comprehensive retreat by governments in the region from a domain of public policy.

Zombie socialism and housing policies

The one measure that defined the transition from socialism and had the longest lasting effects on urban built environments has been the privatization of state-owned housing and the creation of (super) homeownership societies in Central and Eastern Europe. Two and one-half decades after this political measure, collective ideologies that might guide housing policies are still largely absent in CEE countries (Stephens, Lux, and Sunega 2015Stephens, MarkMartin Lux, and PetrSunega2015. “Post-socialist Housing Systems in Europe: Housing Welfare Regimes by Default.” Housing Studies. Advance online publication.[Taylor & Francis Online][Google Scholar]). When policy measures are implemented they usually reflect knee-jerk reactions to outside pressures, such as the requirements of EU accession or the pressure of the GFC. Tenure structures still distinguish former socialist countries from Northern and Western European ones, but also from Southern European ones. The clearest distinction is the very high rate of outright ownership of housing – tending toward 80%, and (with the exception of Hungary) very low rates of mortgage uptake – as low as 2 or 3% in Romania and Bulgaria (EQLS 2012EQLS. 2012European Quality of Life Survey. Accessed July 15.http://www.eurofound.europa.eu/surveys/european-quality-of-life-surveys/european-quality-of-life-survey-2012. [Google Scholar]). After the devolution of housing responsibilities to local governments and the rapid privatization in the early 1990s, a historical cycle of disinvestment and moral abandonment of housing by governments began. At least, during the 1990s, the governments in the region equated homeownership with the absence of housing problems. Although many governments in Europe have promoted homeownership since the 1980s as the overarching goal of housing policy, in the case of CEE the reason might have been more related to a virtual “policy collapse” (Pichler-Milanovich 2010Pichler-Milanovich, Natasha2010. “Urban Housing Markets in Central and Eastern Europe: Convergence, Divergence or Policy ‘Collapse’.” International Journal of Housing Policy 1: 145187.[Taylor & Francis Online][Google Scholar]) in which the role of the state was much reduced.

Following the 2000s, governments in the CEE region began to recognize housing as a structural problem affecting particularly the younger cohorts that had not benefitted from giveaway privatization and were finding it increasingly difficult to launch housing careers outside parental homes (Roberts 2003Roberts, Kevin2003. “Change and Continuity in Youth Transitions in Eastern Europe: Lessons for Western Sociology.” The Sociological Review51: 484505.10.1111/j.1467-954X.2003.00432.x[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]). In countries like Romania, for example, this realization prompted the organization of a national housing agency that would build much-needed social housing aimed directly at young households (Amann, Bejan, and Mundt 2012Amann, WolfgangIoan Bejan, and AlexisMundt2012. “The National Housing Agency – A Key Stakeholder in Housing Policy.” In Social Housing in Transition Countries, edited by J. HegedusN. Teller, and M. Lux210223LondonRoutledge. [Google Scholar]). These were not necessarily poor households, but households that were considered capable of shouldering the rents. The GFC, however, put an end even to these meager efforts, and instead, measures reinforcing the homeownership-biased system were put in place, this time with a neoliberal financialized twist. The “First Home” mortgage guarantee program in Romania depends on the government essentially subsidizing banks to give affordable mortgages to people who want to buy homes. Similar measures, intended to reinforce neoliberal capitalism, were put in place in other countries in the region, but not all, following the GFC (see Bohle 2014Bohle, Dorothee2014. “Post-socialist Housing Meets Transnational Finance: Foreign Banks, Mortgage Lending, and the Privatization of Welfare in Hungary and Estonia.” Review of International Political Economy 21: 913948.10.1080/09692290.2013.801022[Taylor & Francis Online][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar] for a discussion of post-GFC policies in Estonia and Hungary).

This lack of awareness of the importance of housing went hand in hand with a dismissal of claims to housing rights particularly coming from disadvantaged groups. Housing became a merit good in political discourses instead of a right, one that would have to be earned following a career. Meanwhile, housing adequacy, affordability, and accessibility problems have become ever more pressing. In what follows we will highlight some of these problems as evidenced by cross-national statistical data, and we will discuss the work of zombie socialism in furthering social dumping.

The privatization process that affected housing units themselves was followed by the devolution and, in some cases, privatization of state utility companies that serviced residential buildings. The elimination of central government subsidies for utilities and the liberalization of fuel prices resulted in skyrocketing utility costs that crippled the ability of newly minted homeowners to sustain their status (Buzar 2007Buzar, Stefan2007. “When Homes Become Prisons: The Relational Spaces of Postsocialist Energy Poverty.” Environment and Planning A 39: 19081925.10.1068/a38298[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]; Fearn 2004Fearn, James2004. “Preface.” In Too Poor to Stay, Too Poor to Move, edited by JamesFearn912BudapestOpen Society Institute.[Crossref][Google Scholar]). Despite widespread homeownership, which could in principle be associated with increased asset security, rising utility costs severely impeded the ability of outright homeowners to maintain themselves as owners, let alone benefit from the quality of life usually associated with homeownership (Mandic 2010Mandic, Srna2010. “The Changing Role of Housing Assets in Post-socialist Countries.” Journal of Housing and the Built Environment 25: 213226.10.1007/s10901-010-9186-5[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]). In 2011, more than 20% of the populations of Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, Romania, Poland, and Latvia reported arrears on utility bills, far above the EU average of 15% (13% in the EU 15) (EQLS 2012EQLS. 2012European Quality of Life Survey. Accessed July 15.http://www.eurofound.europa.eu/surveys/european-quality-of-life-surveys/european-quality-of-life-survey-2012. [Google Scholar]). The effects of these measures fell disproportionately on poor jurisdictions, since the more affluent areas were capable of continuing to partially subsidize utilities, while poorer ones shifted responsibility directly onto consumers (Table 1).

Table 1 Housing conditions in Central and Eastern European countries (percent).

A direct result of rising utility costs in the region has been the increase in energy poverty, particularly among poor households. According to data from Eurostat (2014Eurostat. 2014Statistical Tables: Income and Living Conditions, Quality of Life. Accessed March 3, 2016.http://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/data/database [Google Scholar]), nearly 47% of households in Bulgaria, 34% of those in Lithuania, 20% of those in Latvia, and about 15% of households in Hungary, Romania, and Poland are not able to keep their homes adequately warm. As opposed to Western European countries, where energy poverty is a combination of low-income and low-energy efficiency of buildings, in Central and Eastern Europe this has combined with the increase in fuel prices prompted by unfettered price liberalization after the fall of state socialism (Bouzarovski 2013Bouzarovski, Stefan2013. “Energy Poverty in the European Union: Landscapes of Vulnerability.” WENE3: 276289.[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]). The lack of an adequate social safety net that could shelter income-poor households from energy price increases is yet another symptom in the systematic trend of shifting responsibilities away from the welfare state and onto individuals and households, while at the same time dismissing social claims from poor and disadvantaged groups.

Giveaway privatization and the creation of a class of poor homeowners (Fearn 2004Fearn, James2004. “Preface.” In Too Poor to Stay, Too Poor to Move, edited by JamesFearn912BudapestOpen Society Institute.[Crossref][Google Scholar]) in the region have not fundamentally altered the relationship between the state – as the institution mainly responsible for capital investments in the built environment – and homeowners. The absence of coherent housing policies and, one may argue, the absence of housing policies at all, has impeded both the delivery of social services through housing and structural investments in housing stocks. This has resulted in the continuous deterioration of socialist-era housing and a rise in housing deprivation, especially among income-poor households, those who acquired the poorest quality housing in the privatization process. Meanwhile, a lack of building standards to control speculative building in cities and over reliance on self-help building in rural and suburban areas has led to the proliferation of substandard housing among newly built units as well (Soaita 2012, 2013Soaita, Adriana2012. “Strategies for in situHome Improvement in Romanian Large Housing Estates.” Housing Studies 27: 10081030.10.1080/02673037.2012.725833
Soaita, Adriana2013. “Romanian Suburban Housing: Home Improvement through Owner-building.” Urban Studies 50: 20842101.10.1177/0042098012471980 
). Severe housing deprivation in the region far exceeds European averages, particularly for households with incomes below 60% of the median (Pittini et al. 2016Pittini, AliceLaurentGhekièreJulien Dijol, and Igor Kiss2016. “The State of Housing in the EU. Brussels: Housing Europe.” Accessed March 7, 2016.http://www.housingeurope.eu/resource-468/the-state-of-housing-in-the-eu-2015 [Google Scholar]).

Access to owner occupation is severely restricted due to the underdeveloped, and at times outright predatory, mortgage practices that remained unregulated by governments, particularly in countries in Southeastern Europe. The mortgage sector in Romania, for example, developed in the early 2000s and remained dependent on foreign bank capital until the financial crisis, a situation similar in other CEE countries. The sector has been periodically plagued by scandals, and public wariness of getting into mortgage debt pushes people to opt for informal channels to finance home purchase (Druţǎ and Ronald, forthcomingDruţǎ, Oana, and Richard RonaldForthcoming. “Young Adults’ Homeownership Pathways and Intergenerational Support in a Post-socialist Housing Market: Homes, Meanings and Practices.” [Google Scholar]). In 2009, representative interest rates on mortgage loans in Romania were 7.16%, higher only in Hungary, 11.55%, Bulgaria, 10.09%, and Poland 7.26% (EMF 2015European Mortgage Federation (EMF). 2015. “A Review of Europe’s Mortgage and Housing Markets.” Accessed March 13, 2016.http://www.hypo.org/Content/Default.asp?PageID=524 [Google Scholar]). Historically low interest rates following the GFC remained higher in these countries compared to Western European counterparts. Interest rates in 2014 were 8.48% in Hungary, 6.66% in Bulgaria, 5.05% in Croatia, 4.68% in Romania, and 4.10% in Poland compared to 2.53% in Germany or 2.73% in France (EMF 2015European Mortgage Federation (EMF). 2015. “A Review of Europe’s Mortgage and Housing Markets.” Accessed March 13, 2016.http://www.hypo.org/Content/Default.asp?PageID=524 [Google Scholar]). Nevertheless, some countries in the region, like the Czech Republic, Slovakia, or Slovenia did converge toward European averages.

Unable to access owner-occupied housing and form autonomous households through their own efforts, young households in post-socialist societies remain highly dependent on the resources that parents have acquired in the post-socialist privatization (Mandic 2008Mandic, Srna2008. “Home-leaving and its Structural Determinants in Western and Eastern Europe: An Exploratory Study.” Housing Studies 23: 615637.10.1080/02673030802112754[Taylor & Francis Online][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]; Roberts 2003Roberts, Kevin2003. “Change and Continuity in Youth Transitions in Eastern Europe: Lessons for Western Sociology.” The Sociological Review51: 484505.10.1111/j.1467-954X.2003.00432.x[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]). Gifting of property or in vivo inheritance, financial transfers covering a substantial amount of the value of a property, bank guarantees, and mortgage installment payments are common forms by which older generations support their adult children, especially among the middle classes (Druţǎ and Ronald, forthcomingDruţǎ, Oana, and Richard RonaldForthcoming. “Young Adults’ Homeownership Pathways and Intergenerational Support in a Post-socialist Housing Market: Homes, Meanings and Practices.” [Google Scholar]). For those parents who were not able to secure sufficient assets, however, multigenerational living in overcrowded apartments is the only way to provide for their offspring. Data from Eurostat (2014Eurostat. 2014Statistical Tables: Income and Living Conditions, Quality of Life. Accessed March 3, 2016.http://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/data/database [Google Scholar]) suggest that among urban dwellers, 54% of Romanians, 50% of Bulgarians, over 40% of Croatians and Poles, and over 35% of Latvians, Hungarians, and Slovakians live in overcrowded households.1010. Eurostat measures overcrowding in the following manner: A person is considered living in overcrowded conditions if the household does not have at its disposal a minimum number of rooms equal to one room for the household; one room per couple in the household; one room for each single person aged 18 or more; one room per pair of single people of the same gender between 12 and 17 years of age; one room for each single person between 12 and 17 years of age and not included in the previous category; one room per pair of children under 12 years of age.View all notes

Meanwhile, among young people aged 25–34, 58% in Croatia, 57% in Slovakia, 50% in Bulgaria, and over 40% in Romania, Hungary, Poland, and Slovenia continue to live in parental homes (Eurostat 2014Eurostat. 2014Statistical Tables: Income and Living Conditions, Quality of Life. Accessed March 3, 2016.http://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/data/database [Google Scholar]). Particularly, in continental Western European countries (e.g. the Netherlands, Germany), more balanced housing systems in which publicly provided or non-profit housing were more readily available, and the private rental sector was more tightly regulated, enabled the early emancipation of young adults. These systems, smoothing intergenerational inequalities through state intervention, have come under increasing stress throughout Europe due to welfare state retrenchment policies (Arundel and Ronald 2016Arundel, Rowan, and Richard Ronald2016. “Parental Co-residence, Shared Living and Emerging Adulthood in Europe: Semi-dependent Housing Across Welfare Regime and Housing System Contexts.” Journal of Youth Studies 19: 885905.10.1080/13676261.2015.1112884[Taylor & Francis Online][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]). The privatization of social housing and gradual change in the mandates of housing associations are reducing the scope of the social housing sector, while increasingly young populations are dependent on private rental (Lennartz, Arundel, and Ronald 2015Lennartz, ChristianRowan Arundel, and Richard Ronald2015. “Younger Adults and Homeownership in Europe through the Global Financial Crisis.” Population, Space and Place 22 (8): 823835.[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]). However, the dismantling of the state housing monopolies and the equation of publicly provided housing with undeserved state handovers have decimated these systems, in particular in Southeastern Europe.

For example, as of 2011 the share of social/state housing in the CEE region remained extremely low: 2% in Croatia and Romania; 3% in Slovakia; 4% in Estonia, Hungary, and Slovenia; 8% in the Czech Republic; 10% in Poland; and 16% in Russia (Lux and Sunega 2014Lux, Martin, and PetrSunega2014. “Public Housing in the Post-socialist States of Central and Eastern Europe: Decline and an Open Future.” Housing Studies 29: 501519.10.1080/02673037.2013.875986[Taylor & Francis Online][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar], 507). In some countries, for instance Romania, the private rented sector in urban areas, continues to function in a gray area, dependent on individual landlords, unscrutinized with regard to quality, with contracts only rarely registered with the designated authorities, and offering very little security of tenure (Bejan, Botonogu, and Armasu 2014Bejan, IoanFlorinBotonogu, and IustinArmasu2014. “TENLAW: Tenancy Law and Housing Policy in Multi-level Europe, Country Report, Romania.” Accessed July 15, 2016.http://www.tenlaw.uni-bremen.de/reports/RomaniaReport_09052014.pdf [Google Scholar]). Some countries in the CEE have fared better than others, and maintain, for example, structures for the provision of cooperative housing (Poland, Czech Republic).

The above litany of housing problems would suggest immediate and sweeping action, from central as well as local governments. However, housing and social policies in many countries in the region usually turn a blind eye to these problems. The financing of new social housing continues to be problematic, particularly in countries in which it is dependent on resources available to local municipalities. Even in countries like Romania or Slovakia where national social housing programs are in place, public budgets for housing construction are constantly facing cuts (Amann et al. 2012Amann, WolfgangJoszef HegedusMartin Lux, and Elizabeth Springler2012. “Financing Social Housing.” In Social Housing in Transition Countries, edited by J. HegedusN. Teller, and M. Lux5064LondonRoutledge. [Google Scholar]). Meanwhile, requests for social housing from vulnerable groups are ignored or refused. There is no social housing to allocate.

Conclusions

In this article, we sought to contribute to the ongoing debate on whether “post-socialism” still makes sense as an analytic category in Central and Eastern Europe. We think that it sometimes does, but sometimes does not. Our discussion indicates that it does make sense to speak of socialism (and its post) as an absence – a negative entity – that still produces effects. We have focused less on the rescaling of comparative strategies or the rescaling of geographic categories. Rather, we emphasized the extent to which the ghost of socialism (and its post-socialist extensions) has managed to function as an enabler of policies maintaining low wages, reduced social spending, and diminished state involvement in domains such as housing. The obsessive references to the socialist past have had constitutive powers, creating a particularly strong version of neoliberalism. Zombie socialism arguments have become a convenient and strategic ideological device for furthering social dumping, increasing inequalities, and reducing support for redistributive policies. In this sense, in its post-1989 negation, socialism continues to be extremely relevant: the usage of spectral and mythological representations of socialism has, for the winners of transition, the capacity to preempt social justice claims and to structure political relations in the allocation of wealth.

The article proposed the idea of zombie socialism as an analytical concept for understanding experiences of actually existing neoliberal capitalisms (Brenner and Theodore 2002Brenner, Neil, and NikTheodore2002. “Cities and the Geographies of ‘Actually Existing Neoliberalism’.” Antipode 34: 349379.10.1111/anti.2002.34.issue-3[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]) in Central and Eastern European countries. As well as defining the concept and its dimensions, the article offered examples of how the rhetoric of zombie socialism is constructed in political discourses in the region and documented, with respect to a number of social policy domains, what the potential effects of zombie socialism may be. The analysis, however, did not point to episodes of usage of zombie socialist discourse in specific policy-making processes. Though arguably these exist, tracing these connections in any direct form is difficult without access to backstage conversations of politicians. What we documented in this article is one particular role of the socialist past – that of boogeyman/spectral figure meant to discipline the population along neoliberal ideological tenets.

Our discussion of the uses of zombie socialism and data analysis has several potential implications. First, scholars sensitive to the local dynamics should be skeptical and eschew language of “transition,” “reform,” and the like. As Horvat and Štiks (2012Horvat, Srećko, and Igor Štiks2012. “Welcome to the Desert of Transition! Post-socialism, the European Union and a New Left in the Balkans.” Monthly Review 63: 3848.10.14452/MR-063-10-2012-03[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]) argue, there is nothing to transit further toward any longer. One may say that some of these countries have so much “transitioned” to capitalist market economies that they embraced market-fundamentalist ideas that may seem extreme in countries with a longer capitalist tradition in Western Europe or the United States (Duijzings 2010Duijzings, Ger2010. “From Bongo Bongo to Boston via the Balkans.” In Urbanisierung und Stadtentwicklung in Südoesteuropa vom 19. Bis zum 21. Jahrhundert[Urbanization and City Development in Southern and Eastern Europe from the 19th to the 21st Century], edited by BohnThomas and Marie Janine Calic93132MünchenOtto Sagner. [Google Scholar], 109; Smith and Rachovská 2007Smith, Adrian, and Alena Rachovská2007. “Domesticating Neo-liberalism: Everyday Lives and the Geographies of Post-socialist Transformation.” Geoforum 38: 11631178.10.1016/j.geoforum.2007.03.003[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar], 1163). Further use of concepts that evoke “incompleteness” and “catching up” are likely to mask additional transfers of economic burden on employees, households, and lower classes. Despite difficulties in positioning these countries in area studies taxonomy (Gilbert et al. 2008Gilbert, AndrewJessica GreenbergElisa Helms, and StefJansen2008. “Reconsidering Postsocialism from the Margins of Europe: Hope, Time and Normalcy in Post-Yugoslav Societies.” Anthropology News 49: 1011.10.1111/anne.2008.49.issue-8[Crossref][Google Scholar]), it might be more emancipatory for the populations of these countries to accept them as “fully transitioned” and thus be in a better position to resist the fallacies of zombie socialism.

Second, one may speculate on the potential of these countries to become Europe’s “other” once more, but this time in a new sense, as the poster children of neoliberalism. The story of the flat tax, to which we alluded, with its potential to travel back to the metropole, is a good example of how the region may send back “on steroids” some of the neoliberal wisdom and the phobia of the (welfare) state that it received. Just as the cold war and the fear of Soviet socialism had constitutive effects on expanding social welfare and increased state intervention in Western European economies during the cold war (Verdery 2001Verdery, Katherine2001. “Whither Postsocialism?” In Postsocialism: Ideals, Ideologies Practices in Eurasia, edited by Chris Hann1528LondonRoutledge. [Google Scholar], 19; see also, Stenning and Hörschelmann 2008Stenning, Alison, and KathrinHörschelmann2008. “History, Geography and Difference in the Post-socialist World: Or, Do We Still Need Post-socialism?” Antipode 40: 312335.10.1111/j.1467-8330.2008.00593.x[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar], 317), the emergence of a neoliberal belt in Central and Eastern Europe might have transformative effects on the constitution of welfare systems in Western societies. Note the rise of pride in the CEE region around the idea of the “New Europe,” the unapologetic embrace of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), and arguments by immigrants from ex-socialist countries that West Europeans work too little compared to them. It may also have an effect on other parts of the world, as the neoliberal technocratic elites originating in CEE seem to have a special pedagogic appetite to share their experience in other countries that enter the neoliberal labyrinth.

Third, we wonder what the chances are that the concept of post-socialism (understood differently than a temporal container that is replaceable with other temporal delineators) will travel to other geographical areas (Tuvikene 2016Tuvikene, Tauri2016. “Strategies for Comparative Urbanism: Post-socialism as a De-territorialized Concept.” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 40 (1): 132146.[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]). Although we, like others, are sympathetic to this possibility, there is little evidence of that happening (Pitcher and Askew 2006Pitcher, Anne, and Kelly Askew2006. “African Socialisms and Postsocialisms.” Africa 76: 114.10.3366/afr.2006.0001[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar], 2, 3). If, for three decades post-socialism has not traveled outside of CEE and the FSU, we do not see it being applied elsewhere productively and substantively in the future. There is little evidence that scholars of and from Cuba, Vietnam, Zambia, and Tanzania use research on post-socialist Central and Eastern Europe in order to understand their post-cold war conditions. Such countries belonged to the periphery of socialism then and they will belong, if at all, to the conceptual periphery of post-socialism (see Pitcher and Askew [2006Pitcher, Anne, and Kelly Askew2006. “African Socialisms and Postsocialisms.” Africa 76: 114.10.3366/afr.2006.0001[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar], 2] on this point). As unappealing as it may be, when it comes to post-socialism, area studies themes seem to predominate over innovative cross-fertilization of different geographic regions. It is increasingly acknowledged that some concepts and theories in urbanism that have been developed around Western experiences have the capacity to pass as universal, rendering the rest “local” (Stenning and Hörschelmann 2008Stenning, Alison, and KathrinHörschelmann2008. “History, Geography and Difference in the Post-socialist World: Or, Do We Still Need Post-socialism?” Antipode 40: 312335.10.1111/j.1467-8330.2008.00593.x[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar], 315). So too, as post-socialism has been developed in relation to Central and Eastern Europe, it is hard to believe that it will have the power to pass for a universal concept rendering European or African experiences as local. Instead, its role is important for documenting how the circulation of power, people, capital, ideas, and commodities in, out and through Central and Eastern Europe, reshapes the rest of world.

Disclosure statement

No potential conflict of interest was reported by the authors.

Funding

This work has been supported by the European Research Council Starter’s Grant awarded to Prof. Richard Ronald for the project HOUWEL [grant number 283881].

Acknowledgements

The authors would like to thank Gergö Pulay, Adrian Deoancă, Matthias Bernt, Richard Ronald, Lucian Vesalon, Michael Gentile and Slavomíra Ferenčuhová for their help and suggestions.

 

Notes

1. FIDESZ is the main conservative party in Hungary and has dominated Hungarian politics since its landslide victory in 2010. Prime Minister Victor Orban is its main spokes person. Magyar Hírlap is one of the main outlets for conservative and traditional values in Hungary. http://hun.politika.narkive.com/6JEFhroi/lumpenproli-panelproli.

2. Traian Basescu’s housing practices were the opposite of his philosophy. He is currently charged with money laundering through real estate transfers and the illegal self-allocation of state housing, while he was a mayor of Bucharest in the early 2000s.

3. Super-homeownership is actually not a communist-era process, but strictly a post-1991 phenomena, the year the state housing privatization legislation passed.

4. http://www.cadi.ro/index.php/vizualizare/articol/multimedia/382

5. We thank Matthias Bernt for pointing out this situation.

6. Melania Trump has been in the U.S. almost half of her life (since 1996, according to https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/feb/26/donald-trump-melania-trump-first-lady).

7. As Ost (2015Ost, David2015. “Stuck in the Past and in the Future: Class Analysis in Postcommunist Poland.” East European Politics and Societies and Cultures29: 610624.10.1177/0888325415602058[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar], 614) nicely noticed, “the only group unproblematically labeled a class” in these countries.

8. For instance, he declared that he has voted for the anti-communist presidential candidates, thus against the candidates of his Social Democratic Party, which gathered, in the 1990s and 2000s, many second- and third-tier nomenklatura and socialist-era technical intelligentia.

9. The boomerang effect, according to Foucault ([1975–1976] 2003Foucault, Michel. (1975–1976) 2003Society Must be Defended: Lectures at the Collège de France 1975–1976LondonPenguin. [Google Scholar]), occurs in situations when military, administrative, and political technologies that European colonial states transported to the colonies were later used on these European populations themselves. A good illustration is the slippage between Baghdad and Hurricane Katrina’s New Orleans in the way militarization and containment of “suspicious” groups proceeded (see Graham 2009Graham, Stephen2009. “The Urban ‘Battlespace’.” Theory, Culture and Society 26: 278288.10.1177/0263276409349280[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar], 285). Similarly, drones – initially used in wars overseas – are increasingly used to control crime in cities in the U.S. (see http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/how-are-drones-used-in-us/).

10. Eurostat measures overcrowding in the following manner: A person is considered living in overcrowded conditions if the household does not have at its disposal a minimum number of rooms equal to one room for the household; one room per couple in the household; one room for each single person aged 18 or more; one room per pair of single people of the same gender between 12 and 17 years of age; one room for each single person between 12 and 17 years of age and not included in the previous category; one room per pair of children under 12 years of age.

References