Urban Narratives: Rebuilding and Rebranding European Cities from the 20th Century until Present Day



Oppressed and Contested City Spaces

Minsk' Purity: A Negative Rebranding Case of the Capital of Last European Dictatorship

Pavel Voinitski (Kotor)

“Purely as in Minsk” (in Belarussian “Чыста па Мінску”) is the local key slogan that sounds positive for city authorities and some newcomers and guests of the Belarussian capital. Minsk really looks nice –there are straight and well-paved streets with a total absence of garbage, traces of time decay, and even graffiti (with the exception a few legitimized ones). However, what’s behind the beautiful picture and the perfect motto?

This is a city cleaned from its histories, from other, alternative narratives except for the main one. The state uses Minsk as the representation of the “correct”, officially ideologized messages and totally represses personal voices of its citizens. Seemingly having a really pure visual appearance, in terms of practical living, contemporary Minsk has simplified, inhumane public spaces where a person has nowhere to seclude themselves and to not only hide from persecution but just to sit outside in some sort of intimate place like a cozy café. Perhaps this is for the best, since according to current Belarusian laws you cannot gather in groups of more than three people due to the fact it could be qualified as an “illegal gathering”.

In the context of the conference, I believe it will be important to show the Minsk’ case as an example of a European city with more than a thousand-year history, including self-government and the Magdeburg Law –cleaned up and turned into an ahistorical surrogate according to the Soviet modernism patterns. In my opinion, it will be interesting to research how clean and visually attractive public spaces become oppressive.

As a contribution to discussion, I am intending to eliminate the concept of Minsk’s Purity as a specific effective tool for rebuilding and rebranding of the Belarussian capital by the repressive regime of dictatorship.

Kharkiv as a Citadel on The Frontier: Reimagining the City during the Full-scale Invasion of the Russian Federation

Anastasiia Bozhenko (Kharkiv) and Olesya Chagovets (Kharkiv)

In our report, we would like to explore the concept of local identity in the context of Slobids’ka Ukraine, with a specific focus on Kharkiv. Once, this region was a part of so-called Wild Field (Dyke Pole) and in research the forming of this territory usually is studied through the frontier study. Thus, firstly, we would like to study how the idea of frontier and fortress are existed in the contemporary image of the city. Among other organic and synthetic images associated with the region, we could mention the first capital, the so-called conception of the “five Kharkoves” by Yurii Sheveliov and the “fifth Kharkiv” of the contemporary poet Serhij Zhadan; also Kharkiv was considered as a city experiment and “the capital of constructivism”. Since the beginning of the full-scale invasion of Russian Federation the local identity of Slobids’ka Ukraine became more topical, because partially this region is within contemporary Russian territory, and Russian Federation is using its history in order to claim the right for Ukrainian part of Slobozhanshchyna. Thus, the image of the fortress was transformed into the “Kharkiv Zalizobeton” (Armored Concrete). This image has the potential to become a branding tool for the region. At the end, it is important to consider how the region is received on the mental map of Ukraine. Ultimately, the local identity of Slobozhanshchyna, and of Kharkiv in particular, plays an important role in shaping the region's cultural heritage and promoting its unique identity.

Fueling or Challenging Political Discourse: Urban Literary Narratives from Ukraine between Political Complicity and Aesthetic Subversion

Anna Seidel (Wien/Berlin)

On February 24, 2022, the Russian Federation launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, placing numerous cities in a state of exception. From the very beginning, missile attacks, curfews and fear of political sabotage have led toa radical transformation of urban space and practice: Normal everyday routines have become either dangerous or absurd. The exception, on the other hand, has become the new normal.

My paper analyzes recent literary representations of these urban states of exception written by Ukrainian authors (Zhadan, 2023; Belorusets, 2023; Gerassimov, 2022) and discusses whether they participate in or rather subvert the political discourse about the cities in question. I argue that the texts, on the one hand, through their direct appeals to the world public and through their language and medium of publication, corroborate the political, abstracting and quasi-mythological narrative about Ukrainian cities that presents them as helpless victims in need of heroic (international) military defenders.

On the other hand, I claim that, on an aesthetic level, the texts discussed do the opposite: Drawing on relational theories of space (e.g., de Certeau, 1988; Lefebvre, 1991; Lefebvre, 2000), I argue that the texts challenge the power of politics over urban space by showing how city dwellers try to maintain their pre-war everyday routines in a city radically transformed by military actions. By adopting this bottom-up perspective in their literary representations of urban space, the texts reveal the heterogeneity of urban war experience, which again makes them oppose the aforementioned political narrative that tends to abstract the city into a coherent entity. The texts discussed can thus be understood both as accomplices of political urban discourse and as agents of a fight for the urban communities’ right to shape their own narratives—a paradox my paper aims to explore.

National, Confessional, and Ethnic Boundaries

From Maria-Theresiopel to Subotica – The Gradual Reinvention of a Habsburg Hungarian to a Yugoslav Metropolis

Szilveszter Csernus-Lukács (Szeged)

Several well-acclaimed studies in the field of the urban history followed the fate of the greatest metropolis’ of the Austria-Hungarian Empire. While the once second-largest state of the European concert had a multicultural nature, the the 19thand early 20thcentury development experienced a scale of similarity in the urban evolution, such as the case in the Southern-Hungarian metropolis, Szabadka (in German: Maria-Theresiopel, in Serbo-Croat: Subotica / Суботица), presently facing the border of the European Union. The once prosperous economical and cultural “stronghold” of the Great Hungarian Plainsis so far mostly marginalized from the aspect of scientific discourses, parallel with its decline from the 10thmost populous city of Austria-Hungary (3rdmost populous in the Habsburg Kingdom of Hungary) to a border town of Yugoslavia and later, Serbia. Moreover, the unpropitious fate of the city could again be presented with statistical means: while the city became a border town of the I. Yugoslavia, at the same time it was the largest settlement in the whole state, surpassing the capital.

Szabadka/Subotica experienced four shifts of power in the course of 75 years, with conflicting “host states”, exhibiting different world views (–1918, 1941–1944: Western Christianity, 1918–1941: Orthodoxy, 1944–1980s: Non-Aligned Socialism), providing different roles to the city (–1918: regional centre, 1918–: border town).

All regimes tried to reinvent the character of Szabadka/Suboticato its mainstream identity by material (allocation of resources) and immaterial means, such as the architecture, policy on national heritage, conservation and even colonization. It is important to notice, that the city development of Szabadka/Subotica always carried an ethnic-national element to consider, for the settlement has been the centre of the Catholic South Slav Bunjevci minority, with a significant Serb population along with a Hungarian majority. Despite its size and wealth, only the Hungarian-affiliated Bunjevci population considered Szabadka/Subotica its cultural capital (along with the nearby Sombor), for the presence of Szeged (today: Hungary) and Újvidék/Novi Sad (today: Serbia) marginalized the cultural significance of the city already before the first (1918) shift of power and regime change of the region.

It is therefore the role of the scholars of our time to analyze the man-made conflicts, the cityscape endured from the narrative of the city itself and not to reflect on border towns and its urban populations as objects of international conflicts and nation-building state politics. In my presentation I focus on the conflict between radical changes forced upon the cityscape, in contract to the self image or local identity of the city itself.

Loyal to Whom and Freedom for What? Sopron's Struggle for Self-determination Through a Century of Multiple Regime Changes

Tamás Székely (Kőszeg)

The Western Hungarian border town of Sopron (Ödenburg), located 60 km southeast of Vienna, is commonly regarded in Hungary as the “town of loyalty and freedom”. These two terms both carry a positive notion in general, which certainly proves helpful when it comes to tourism, marketing, and communication. However, from a historical perspective, one can observe that both ‘loyalty’ and ‘freedom’ hold rather dynamically changing content depending on political and social development and the cultural background of a given period of time.

The main aim of my paper therefore is to give a short but insightful historical overview of Sopron’s difficult journey through the 20th century, which certainly brought more sorrow than joy upon the inhabitants of the city, whose rich and adventurous history goes back to ancient Roman times (Scarbantia). Through analyzing the city’s ambivalent position in the Austro-Hungarian times (1867–1918), the cataclysm of the post-WW1 border conflict (1918–1921), the economic struggle in the interwar period, the horrible events that occurred in the city during and after WW2 (1939–1949) as well as the oppression by the Communist dictatorship (1949-1989) I seek to answer some difficult questions.

How can we differentiate between the history and memory of a city when it comes to a such turbulent period of history like the 20th century? Do today’s city leaders have to focus equally on the good and bad things or they should prefer one over another when they deal with the identity and historical narrative of their own city? Is it possible to tell a city’s actual and unbiased history within a European framework or do we just have to learn to live with the parallelly existing and often contradicting interpretations? Sopron is a border town, and not only in terms of political geography, consequently its history may hide some clues worth taking into consideration for researchers of urban development.

Voicing the Margins

The Old European Prisons as an Element of The Urban Environment. The History of one Prison

Larisa Kangaspuro (Helsinki)

The issue of prison architecture became especially popular when prison reform became widely discussed in American and European societies in the early 19th century. Prisons are generally known to have four major purposes. They are: Retribution, Prevention, Deterrence and Rehabilitation. The main task of architecture is to make the building "sound" in accordance with its purpose. Prison life offers a unique vantage point from which to analyse current transformations in society, as perceptions of different groups of prisoners are embedded in what James Scott (2012) calls ‘the everyday construction of borders’ through geo-political changes, media representations, political discourses and institutional practices.

By the early 20th century, almost every major European city had one or more prisons. With the growth of cities, the old prisons ended up in prestigious central areas. The question arose: How can a prison and "peaceful" objects of architecture find a common language? The authorities of different cities have solved this problem in their own way.

Katajanokka is a special district of the Finnish capital Helsinki. This is a place with its own unique atmosphere. Formerly a provincial district, which the townspeople did not like to look into, today it has become one of the brightest and most prestigious areas of the city. At the end of the 19th century, a new rather large and capacious prison was built there. The paper discusses what kind of strategies the city authorities did in the rebuilding of the old prison and why? How did the achievement of penology goals affect the decision?

The presenter has an academic background in history and law. The paper offers a study at the intersection of the history of penology and prison architecture, the development of society and urban space.

Kraków's unobvious Romani legacies. Recognizing the role of Romani musicians in consolidating post-war Kraków

Anna G. Piotrowska (Kraków)

Krakow was not destroyed during WWII and could immediately overtook the role of the cultural capital of Poland welcoming, for example jazz musicians. Yet, the city became considered too bourgeoise in the eyes of the Communistic authorities, and the project of a proletarian satellite city of Nowa Huta was implemented already in the early 1950s to counterbalance the ‘elitist’ Krakow. Soon, the Roma who moved to Nowa Huta from the nearby terrains ventured to Krakow’s old town to play musical so there.

It is little known that these Romani musicians were especially active in Krakow’s former Jewish district –Kazimierz, devoid of its Jewish population in the post-war years. Only by the 1970s did Romani bands begin to function in the city’s centrein a more openmanner. Particularly visible was then a band led by a blind violinist Stefan ‘Corroro’ Dymiter, who died in 2002. Twenty years after his death a book was published, a documentary film was realized (uploaded on You Tube), a number of radio programmes broadcast, etc. asthe local Krakow intelligentsia circles activelysought to commemorate the musician also by instigating the idea of erecting a statue or placing a plaque. In all these actions the feeling of nostalgia can be sensed, as well as the need to put a new stamp on Krakow’s touristic image.

In this paper I look at the history of Romani musicians in Krakow after WWII asking the question if they already became a part of Krakow’s ‘authorized heritage discourse’ (AHD) as identified by Laurajane Smith and what are possible problems connected with the hindered recognition of the Romani musical heritage in the city which is more commonly associatedwith (promoting)its Jewish heritage (e.g. Kazimierz), and classical or jazz music (festivals).

Different images of Cluj after the regime change

György Orsós (Pécs)

Cluj-Napoca is a multi-ethnic city in Romania, which has been part of both the Hungarian and Romanian nation-states several times during the 20th century and has therefore become an important arena for rivalries between the two nationalisms. After the regime change, several important image changes have occured. In my presentation I would like to highlight some of the more important ones. After the state socialist period, under the mayor Gheorge Funar, an ethno-nationalist policy emerged, which sought to emphasise the Romanian image of the city, mainly through symbolic politics. However, since the early 2000s, urban planning has created a more tolerant and modern image of an international, European metropolis to base an internationalisation and IT sector take-off. In this part of the presentation, I will show how the development of these images has facilitated gentrification, focusing about the local Roma minority. In the third part of the presentation, I will compare the images of Cluj-Napoca in online tourism promotions (Hungarian and Romanian language websites, guidebooks, youtube videos) according to how they are influenced by the targeted ethnicity.

Queering The Public Space

Sveta Gorlatova (Berlin)

Despite the fact that feminist city concepts have been a part of the urban discourse at least for the last 30 years, there are a great deal of blind spots that need to be developed. Gender-sensitive design made big progress in Umeo, Barcelona, Vienna, Toronto and Berlin, although it is usually based on the notion of a binary gender system and mainly focuses on the needs of women. Meanwhile queer experiences in the city are usually overlooked and even more marginalized. Queer is understood as an umbrella term for any non-conformal identities (queer women, non-binaries, a gender, LGBTQ+, intersex and gender-fluid persons). It looks beyond gender normativity and heterosexual hegemony. In this proposal we explore the notion of “queering the space” and urban experience of queer communities at the local levels. This angel helps to point at our social and urban structures that do not work or could work differently for these communities. The research questions are what does it mean to queer space? How can social and urban structures change to make public spaces more inclusive? And what is the role of collective action in queering the space?

In the first part we explore the social production of space as a medium through which relations between citizens and the environment occur. Then we will look at the production of queer physical public spaces and how the access to it is distributed due to gender, race and class. In the article we explore how neoliberal “queer new normativity” develops and creates a risk of public space commodification. In opposition to claiming physical space as queer, we will look at the project “Queering the map” and investigate a hybrid regime of queerness where a digital mapping tool helps to navigate between virtual and physical notion of “queering the space”. Hybrid reality reveals a different angle and sees “queering the space” as an action and relation rather than determined identity of public space. And in the end we will explore the potential futures of queer urban spaces and utopian visions for more inclusive cities.

Architectonic Visions of Cities

Brand New Old Town of Elbląg. A Multi-dimensional Intervention in a Registered Historic Area

Katarzyna Wiśniewska (Elbląg)

The purpose of this paper is to review the principles of intervention in a registered historic area through a chronological presentation of the various restoration concepts for the Old Town in Elbląg as theoretical foundations for restoration, and to show the transformations in the approach to designing new buildings in a historic area. For almost four decades, the consistent restoration of the Old Town in Elbląg has been theoretically grounded and adapted to present-day conditions.

Using specific examples and defining phases of the restoration of the Old Town in Elbląg, I would like to reflect on whether Retroversion is a process that adapts itself each time to new contemporary needs, or rather Retroversion as an original method came to an end in 2002 when its author ceased to supervise projects, and hence for the past nineteen years we have been simply observing the process of building a New Old Town.

High Paddington: A Town of 8,000 People – Rebuilding London to the Glory of God

Anna Cannon (San Francisco)

“Thousands of homeless families build themselves ‘castles in the air’ as they wait hopelessly on the waiting list of some local authority...A Kensington man who has tackled the problem from the fresh angle, producing not merely a ‘castle in the air’, but a beautiful town for 8,000 people rearing its rooftops above the London fog is Mr. Sergei Kadleigh, Abington Villas architect.” This excerpt from Kensington Post and West London Star from November of 1952, reflects heightened public interest in Kadleigh's innovating housing scheme High Paddington, a development project intended to transform old London's ‘eye sore’ at Paddington square goods yard into a ‘thrilling futuristic glass-walled self-contained town's oaring over 134 feet over London. Although never realized, confirming recent Bob Colenutt's opinion that the vision of the progressive architects in the UK was haltered in its tracks by government policy and professional revisionism, it gained support from some leading British politicians and public figures like Gerald Barry and Robert Allan, who stressed the project significance in its attempt to provide “a radical new approach to the nation's housing problem.”

In my paper I discuss the High Paddington: a town of 8,000 people (1952) scheme by a Russian-born British architect Sergei Kadleigh (Sergei Kadlubovsky 1915 –1998) as an example of a possible but never realized future of London housing. Following Colenutt's argument that the UK post war New Towns had potential to become new type of settlements with balanced communities achieved by good planning, I argue that Kadleigh's project had a potential to provide London with much needed equal housing with high quality design. By reviewing the unpublished architect's lectures and newspaper articles from the period, I intend to demonstrate that Kadleigh inspiration were based on the Neoplatonism of Maurice Nicoll and showed Kadleigh's aspiration to build in the manner of the ancient and Gothic architects “to the Glory of God.”

City Self-Branding

The So-called “Russian Stores” in Berlin's Linguistic Landscape: Self-branding and Decolonizing Perspective on an Urban Phenomenon

Aleksej Tikhonov (Zürich)

Since the reunification of Germany, many people from post-soviet countries moved to Berlin. As the dominant language in the Soviet Union was Russian, the official statistics of Berlin's government counted 5 % of the city's population speaking Russian, about 180.000 people. Because of this amount of people as a potential consumer group, commercial development has occurred in Germany's capital since the 1990s. More and more business was established which was oriented toward the post-soviet consumer. One of the most influential everyday business from the sociolinguistic point of view are the so-called "Russische Läden" (Russian stores) which are nostalgic supermarkets specialized in typical post-soviet food and utility articles -from sweetened condensed milk to alcohol, from Russian literature to samovars.

A year after the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine began, the so-called Russian stores remain in Berlin. The name "Russian shop", which naturally arose among customers, is thus a very unfavorable and outdated term. However, this phenomenon shows the various aspects associated with such collective German terms as "Russischer Laden" (Russian store) in Berlin, especially after February 2022. Therefore, the textual and visual self-branding of the so-called "Russian shops" should be examined in this talk using the methods of linguistic landscapes and answer the question if all the shops can be called Russian indeed.

The survey's data includes almost 30 so-called "Russian stores" in Berlin and is the first survey for the German capital. The linguistic analysis of the self-identification of the shop names shows a revealing perspective not only on the Russian-speaking community of Berlin but the post-soviet and post-socialist identification models in Germany, which should break up with and decolonize the hypernym "Russian shop".

Rebuilding a “Green” City in the Rubble: Conceptions of Urban Nature in the Reconstruction of East-and West Berlin

Berry Jackisch (Toledo)

West Berlin’s green space initiatives were geared toward maximizing public accessibility, replanting trees, repairing and expanding parks and cemeteries, and addressing the growing need for new allotment garden colonies as the “island city” of West Berlin experienced substantial population growth in a relatively short period of time. The rhetoric of green space planning in this era also merits consideration as emphasis on democratization and rebuilding of society and the built environment was often understood in the context of natural renewal of Berlin’s green spaces and a burgeoning Green movement.

My research on East Berlin begins by examining the so-called “comprehensive green space plan.” Here we see how the rhetoric and reality of a planned society altered the day-to-day initiatives to renew East Berlin’s green spaces. Planning for the city’s natural areas became even more important as this part of Berlin experienced a building boom focused on mass-produced apartment blocks in districts like Marzahn and elsewhere in the 1970s. Green space was not merely a decorative or restorative aspect of city planning, but also came into play to supplement short-falls in the planned economy by promoting produce/small animal keeping in allotment gardens and even hunting on the city’s urban edges.

My presentation will contribute to this conference by exploring the role of urban nature in the rebuilding process following wartime destruction. It will also compare and contrast how political ideologies and the demands of the built environment affected planners and environmentalists in West and East as they sought to rebuild green areas throughout Berlin. All of this contributes directly to the main conference theme of rebuilding and rebranding European cities in the 20thcentury.

Milano, tra leggendae realtà: Linguistic Landscape, Persuasion, and the Image of the City

Katarzyna Ciszewska (Łódź)

Throughout the 20th century, Milan, the second largest city in Italy, took on various roles: the capital of industry, fashion, finance, high life, nightlife, culture, art, architecture and innovation. And yet, for many years, compared to other Italian cities, it seemed so grey and uninteresting that the Italians would say: “La cosa piu belladi Milano? Il treno per Roma.” It was only Expo 2015 that changed the character of the city. The renewed Darsena, the City Life project, the Bosco Verticale and other investments showed Milan as a dynamic, smart & green, friendly and beautiful city. But it still faces problems: cost of living, pollution in the suburbs, quality of education, public transport, rights of foreign citizens, gender issues, public health, and tourism. One may ask: who is contemporary Milan for? For the rich, ordinary people, immigrants, tourists or big businesses?

The combination of these sometimes contradictory perspectives makes it particularly interesting to look at the creation of Milan’s image and its self-branding. Various groups participate in the process: local authorities, associations and enterprises operating in the city, residents, mass media and tourists communicate in the public space by placing and reading linguistic signs. I would like to look at this communication act from the perspective of Linguistic Landscape (LL) and research on language and persuasion. The research corpus-a collection of photographs showing the language on outdoor public signs -will be analysed in terms of persuasion, i. e. the ability to change the recipient's beliefs and attitudes towards the city. I will focus on persuasive techniques and modes such as: lexical, morphological and syntactic markers of persuasive strategies, word-formation, semantic transformations, irony, idioms, intertextuality, types of argumentation and visual components of the message.

Narrating and Interpreting Space

Urban Space: an Evolutionary View of the Romanian Novel

Alina Ioana Bako (Sibiu)

When he stated in his well-known work The Urban Revolution that the evolution of urban spaces is linked to the manner in which commercial relations interact with the "political city" made up of "priests, warriors, princes, noblemen and military leaders" (8), Lefebvre anticipated, on a global level, how a pattern of the reflection of trade relations in literature could be generated. That evolution can be studied by analyzing the position that the so-called "marketplace" space can have, in the beginning, on the periphery, only to then move to the central area. In view of our demonstration, we will choose three representative writers for Romanian literature: Ioan Slavici, a novelist from Transylvania, a region where economic relationships were established according to the model of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Liviu Rebreanu who writes about the peasant revolt, mentioning spatial aspects of the Romanian Principalities, and Hortensia Papadat-Bengescu who defines the urban space of Bucharest, from the perspective of social transformations.

In the Romanian novel of the end of the 19th century written by Ioan Slavici, the female character Mara is a merchant, doing business outside the city area, at the bridge, a crossing space, a border, in fact a periphery. The urban space of Arad is thus represented by the detail of the fair that took place periodically also outside the city, demonstrating a development of economic relations, as well as the introduction of details regarding the mapping of extensive rural spaces, as suggested by the author in The Last Landowner (we have shown in a recent article the fact that Transylvania appears on the famous Josephinische Landesaufnahme, which was drawn between 1764-1785, and the forests are mapped in the version from 1876-1877, when the forests, which until then had never been measured, appear on the map).

Another case study is that of the novelist Liviu Rebreanu, where rural space is configured as a "political city" in the novel that describes it, Ion, so that space is then conquered "half in a pacificist manner, half violently", following the scheme on which Lefebvre’s analysis is based: from the political city to the mercantile city, to the industrial city to the critical zone (with the implosion-explosion process). In Romanian society, the transition from political city to industrial city was made as a result of a violent process, which preceded the establishment of the urban area and, to a certain extent, contradicts Lefebvre's theory. In The Uprising, Rebreanu introduces spaces that correspond to the critical stage, because the dirt road, i. e. the unpaved road of the rural area, in case of the Romanian space, represents the starting point of the revolt. As far as the author Hortensia Papadat-Bengescu is concerned, urban space is defined by accumulation, explaining the new relationships that are formed through the arts: music, painting or through travel, with the characters crossing European spaces.

The Image of Czech and Slovak cities in Memories of Belarusian Writers

Natallia Prystupa (Minsk)

Almost every person who is planning a trip to another country starts to collect all the possible information before it. One of the most traditional way is to study travel guides. However, in the 1950s in Soviet Union that work was at its very beginning, because after Josef Stalin’s death the internal and foreign policy started to change. The government paid more attention not only to the Soviet people’s labor practices, but also to their leisure activities. One form of recreation, once vacation durations were increased, was domestic tourism, considering the immense size of the country, the diversity of its natural landscapes and rich history. But changes in foreign policy created the conditions to develop international tourism as well. Czechoslovakia, along with the GDR and Bulgaria, was one of the most popular destinations among the countries that Soviet citizens travelled to. Traditionally, itineraries included visits to Prague, Karlovy Vary, Brno, Bratislava and the High Tatras. So being practically unprepared for an encounter abroad, Soviet tourists experienced serious commotion of emotions. In this context, it is interesting to analyze the image of Czech and Slovak cities which was depicted in the memoirs and works of artists born in Belarus and visited Czechoslovakia in the 1950s and 1960s.Itwill let us determine not only how history and present were intertwined in their memories, but also what their priorities and values were. It will also help to analyze how Eastern Europe was invented as a region from outside.

Creating the Image of (Post-)Soviet Yerevan: Literature in Action

Sona Mnatsakanyan (Berlin)

The 1930s was a very active time for urban development in Soviet countries, including Armenia. Since then, Yerevan - the capital city of Armenia - has seen tremendous changes in terms of demography, cityscape planning, and consequently, image branding. The role of literature in that process was/is very decisive.

My paper will discuss Yerevan, a novel written by a Soviet Armenian writer Mkrtich Armen in 1931. Yerevan was written in the context of a series of construction novels, which were supposed to reflect on building a socialist new world and the transformation of the old one through the labor of Soviet workers and intelligentsia. The novel tells the story of the construction of the city of Yerevan and its transformation from a premodern to a modern Soviet city. The novel’s plot evolves mainly around the competition and disputes of two architect characters, which in addition to being professional, is also fundamentally a dispute of worldviews, that is East vs. West or Constructivism vs. Stalinist neoclassicism.

The novel did not get to a wider readership in its time, because soviet censorship banned it, accusing the author of “preaching local nationalism and orientation towards a feudal East”. Yerevan was republished in 2016, inviting the attention not only of literary circles but also social activists in post-Soviet Armenia, fighting for the protection of urban memory.

In which way did the novel Yerevan challenge soviet censorship? How did the change of temporal and political components impact the reception of the novel? Does that reception question the mainstream narratives about the city? These are the main questions, which I aim to answer with my presentation.

Reinventing the Polish City of Wałbrzych through Film

Svetlana Vassileva-Karagyozova (Lawrence)

My paper examines the Polish city of Wałbrzych as a film set and the meanings it is employed to convey in Andrzej Jakimowski’s film Sztuczki (2007) [Tricks], Agnieszka Holland’s Julie Walking Home (2002) and Emily Atef’s Molly’s Way (2005). Since mid-19thcentury the Lower-Silesian Waldenburg/Wałbrzych has been a coal-mining industrial center. During socialism, the city was thriving economically and culturally, despite the pollution. Soon after the fall of the regime, however, the new Polish government abruptly closed three of the Wałbrzych mines as partofthe plan for restructuring the mining industry. As a result, most miners and workers in the surrounding infrastructure lost their jobs with no prospect of finding new ones and the city experienced an economic collapse. This opened the door to all kinds of social problems: mass unemployment, rise of alcoholism and crime rates, depopulation, and others. It took Wałbrzych many years to overcome the shock of the collapse and begin to make conscious efforts at reinvention. When the city seemed abandoned by the state institutions, it was the Polish creative intelligentsia that kept supporting Wałbrzych’s attempts to reimagine itself. I argue that cinema can play an important role in the construction of a place’s identity because film productions shape physical and symbolic renderings of the city that confirm, but also challenge the traditional ways of seeing it. The three films under discussion embody Wałbrzych’s anxieties about its ugliness and poverty as well as its legendary status of a city of treasure hunters, but they also feature powerful human transformations achieved through the realization that the pursuit of miracles can get people stuck in unproductive behaviors and derail them from exploring other possibilities in life. This message is a nod at Wałbrzych’s post-1990 stubborn fixation on its coal-mining identity and reluctance to consider other forms of self-identification.