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City (Un)defeated: Streams of Struggle

Zagreb’s city center – the old town on the hill, the neo-gothic cathedral and the turn-of-the-20th-century downtown always featured on postcards – might seem like it was built in some other, more central part of Europe and transported a bit further down southeast.

One would not be too far from the truth in thinking that the city was built somewhere else, since it emerged as imperial periphery and was built in the image of its imperial centers. Yet, the careful eye of the urban planner or architect might be able to catch different historical and ideological trajectories of urban development, coupled with disruptions, fractures and interferences within the power relation of the center and the periphery.

The city development progressed or was disrupted by the imperial powers that ruled over it, shaping and constraining it to fit the needs of other, more important cities all the way up until the mid-20th century when, finally, it started to grow on its own terms. Yet even when Zagreb was part of a colony, local planners struggled to create a space that would define the city’s identity, autonomy and purpose. The struggle between different visions of its future, one of an autonomous subject and one of a colonial outpost, created the foundation of the modern city we see today.

Studying its development now, we can say that it was nevertheless developed with a clear planning strategy that had been reaffirmed and survived different systems up until the neoliberal pressures of the last three decades, which are peaking nowadays and aiming to disrupt and erase. When we look at Zagreb today, we can read its continuous east-west lines shaped by the hill in the north and the Sava river in the south as a terrain where many struggles materialize.

It is a place of famous underground revolutionary resistance, but also a place of conflict between the powers altering this collective memory through a process of historical revisionism and those trying to honor its history. It is a city that displaced some of its vital functions, such as industry and education, and vehemently displaced thousands of its ethnic-minority citizens by way of two wars, but also a city of persistent workers’ fight and undying antifascist resistance.

During the four days of the conference we aim to pay attention to these struggles across and between different neighborhoods, with their told and untold stories. We will not only listen to the stories from local activists and practitioners, but also take a closer look behind the struggles and see how they have – through success or failure – framed and shaped the city. We will approach the city as a living political body, a community that allows – or doesn’t allow – certain currents to affect its material development and quality of life.

Through guided city tours we aim to tell the story of how Zagreb was formed by its struggles and how they continue to be an essential dimension of its present and future life. Focusing on the lack of public and affordable housing and the neoliberal waterfront and other investments as urgent issues to be addressed and publicly discussed, we will look directly into the eyes of a disturbing future and try to open the front line of yet another struggle.

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