Contested Heritage, Troubled Future: Memory Wars in the Urban Fabric

Urban Inequalities Forum: Sofia, 21-23 June 2024

In times of crisis, urban heritage becomes more contested than ever. The present crisis overwrites the past. As Walter Benjamin says, “not even the dead will be safe from the enemy, if he is victorious”.

Monuments and other artifacts of memory are under constant attack by relentless historical revisionism. Entire neighborhoods are erased from living memory by organized amnesia and then subjected to a process of gentrification, which simply displaces misery. A plethora of aspects of the city’s functioning, organization, and development are called into question. Economic practices that fall outside the purview of capital-friendly consumption such as farming and craftsmanship, as well as leisure activities, such as outdoor sports, dancе, and the use of public baths, are fast becoming contested legacies. Infrastructures ensuring affordable public transport, early childhood care, or public water supply are increasingly privatized and thus relegated to the domains of contested heritage. Meanwhile, in Gaza, an entire people, along with its history and built environment, are becoming obliterated and consigned to a past that is expected to be forgotten, too. In some places, people die twice.

Today more than ever, crises are the new normal, disrupting the existing urban fabric by treating it not as a lever for social development but rather as a means for profit. Disputes over diverse types of heritage often belie deeper political disagreements about the present and the future development of our shared life. Some of these quarrels function as smokescreen hiding more important current conflicts, while the future itself depends on the resolution of others. Yet, how do we tell one from the other?

What are the sites of memory in the contemporary city? How about the sites of forgetfulness? What kind of role do museums and public art play in a post-national context? What is and what ought to be the fate of socialist monumental heritage in Eastern Europe? What about Ottoman heritage in the Balkans? How do literature, cinema, and the media shape public memory about the city? What are the economic legacies of the (post)modern city? In what ways do dissonant legacies intervene in the contestations of inequalities characteristic of modern cities and the policies supposed to mitigate them? What scars has the transition from industrial to post-industrial development wrought on the city? What is the future of urban agriculture in the face of an irreversible climate breakdown? What sense do we make of the past when it’s too late to save the future? Is the future itself already turning into a contested heritage?

Join the third edition of the Urban Inequalities Forum, organized by the KOI collective with the financial support of Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung, to discuss these and related issues with Bulgarian and international scholars, activists and experts.

The speakers are Dona Pickard, Donka Mihaylova, Ina Valkanova, Manuela Boatcă, Andrea Pruchova Hruzova, Ina Belcheva, Miladina Monova, Areej Ashhab, Naum Trajanovski, Bryan Gigantino, Aneta Vasileva, Saygun Gökarıksel, Sonja Lakić, Dotan Halevy, Olivier Givre, Dijana Jelača, Nikola A. Venkov-Rose, Tsvetelina Hristova, Krassimir Terziev, Sofia Grigoriadou, Ovidiu Tichindeleanu, Himmat Zoubi, Ivo Strahilov, Slavka Karakusheva, Elise Billiard Pisani, Alexandra Kowalski.

Full program available at:

Drawing by Anna Karakalou. Design: Pavel Yanchev