Writing a special commission for The New Metropolitan from the post-socialist, post-conflict city of Sarajevo, Boriša Mraović inhabits a city in the midst of an – often brutal – capitalist transformation. His article is set against the backdrop of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s dramatic resurgence in social movements, spurred by the events of February 2014 when the laid-off workers of Tuzla staged a protest that then exploded across the country.
By Boriša Mraović
A real political struggle is that one which concerns the fundamental ordering of a society.
The struggle is often about having the means to practically answer practical questions. How one is free to be, think and express, and how one makes a claim for himself or herself? How society cares about its subjects, but also how it controls? How burdens and benefits of the society are spread over society? And finally, a crucial one, where are the borders of a society which somehow counts me in and to which I somehow belong?
All the particularities aside, one more or less constant feature of the history is the existence of some forms of domination and attempts to defy it. We may call it class struggle. Each epochal change meant devising answers to these questions which were then made into practical arrangements of power and bureaucracy which have once again institutionalized domination.
The domination is not total but it is overwhelming.
It reaches wherever it can and both time and space are at stake. But wherever it reaches the resistance awaits, sometimes strong and organized, other times cynical or romantic. This resistance happens as a practical engagement and as an act of imagination, of thought, sometimes together, other times not.
The resistance takes different forms, different references and operates in different registers. It hacks, it marches, it organises, mobilizes. It also occupies squares and streets all over the world.
A lot has been written about the February 2014 events in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Workers of Tuzla, protests, fires, plenums and all the rest.
Enormous amounts of ink, megabytes and words spent in the last year to report on, understand and qualify the events that have infused the country with the peculiar mix of hope and fear. Although no one can claim the full account on the whole of public discussions that began in a year ago and are still ongoing, it seems that the spatial dimension of the events mostly missed the attention of commentators.
This important connection between space and uprising became visible in one of many slogans which appeared in the streets of Sarajevo during first two months after the protests and the regular daily blockage of the main street.
‘Square of Free Citizens’ said one improvised banner.
This square was not part of any plan, it wasn’t even fixed, it moved around with those that made it. It went around as an expression of hope that a public space, a square, through some sort of constitutive power would create a space where change is possible. It was not meant to be but it should linger in our memory as a reminder that if things will eventually be sorted out (whatever this might mean) they will have to be sorted out in spatial terms also.
At the moment, urban development of Sarajevo, as is the case with so many other cities is almost exclusively real-estate driven.
Major new investment projects are announced, some of which will surely be realized. One of the biggest recent developments is a mastodon business building and a shopping mall erected in the very centre on a parcel previously occupied by an old socialist firm, ‘Magros’, now in a strange state of slow post-privatization chill. The building came after under-the-table local spatial plan adjustments and is still not fully finished. Where it stands now, once was an open-air club and a concert place called ‘Stage’. The building has had a pretty strong affect on the whole neighbourhood which just two years before lost a large undefined, green space used mostly by dog owners, for a shopping mall. Residents grumble and curse but their sentiments are under articulated and reasonably conservative. The profession mostly ‘didn’t like’ the building.
For those who choose to see and treat space as a political arena, this was another cut in the imagined space we are defending.
These spaces are still all over the city. They are ruins, abandoned buildings and complexes, undefined zones, small squares and parks and corners and by standing beside they stand against the domination of the ‘sacredness of the private’ which rules over urban planning as an institutionalized practice of envisioning, designing and determining urban development, and is instead the one which develops and plans, and a non-institutional practice of imagining space as a locus of politics and creative thought.
Their importance rests in the fact that they are still not decided, still open and available for a collective effort of imagination and thus also for a political declaration which, at least rhetorically, may decide to claim, take back and declare free not only a small green corner, ruined kindergarten building or a park, but a whole city.
Boriša Mraović is an independent researcher, writer and political activist from Sarajevo.He has done research in different fields and his main research interests are in political theory, urban sociology and critique of political economy. borisa.mraovic at gmail.com