Identity Struggle in Post-Socialist City – Rebranding Belgrade, Reinventing Skopje

  • Abstract:

    More than two decades after the collapse of the socialist system, most of the countries of the Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) with more or less success completed their transition to market-oriented democratic societies. Due to aggravating post-conflict conditions, some of the successor states of the former Yugoslav Federation are not only still coping with complexities of the transition process, but also with the challenge to (re)create deleted or faded national identities. Former Federation is today a group of independent nation states that were influenced by modernist functionalist planning for decades, fundamentally transcending national boundaries and local specificities. The only remaining shared context of the fragmented post-socialist environment is complex post-conflict recovery process driven by neoliberal agenda. The analysis of physical transformations of two case cities within this framework should explain political background of national identity building through large-scale urban development initiatives. Belgrade as the former federal and current capital of modern Serbia was strongly marked by the legacy of the former communist and socialist regimes that went hand-in-hand with technocratic planning principles. The city also still suffers from negative image, generated by the international media during the Balkan conflicts. As an extreme example of state-led regulatory intervention, the paper sets in focus on questionable large-scale brownfield redevelopment of Belgrade waterfronts, as an attempt to rebrand the city and improve Serbia’s international position. On the other hand, ‘reinvention’ of capital of modern Macedonia, Skopje, is propelled by the blurry national identity after the separation, additionally burdened by the legacy of still unsolved inter-ethnic conflicts. In this case, urban identity in-making seems to look upon other European capitals, resulting with a ‘perfect’ historic city with roots in antiquity from the period of Alexander the Great. Newly designed heritage, invented from the scratches, represents another alternative for the purpose to set an idealized capital for the newly-born European nation. Although the above-mentioned approaches are seemingly different, both of these cities share the striking similarity in their top down approach, non-transparent decision-making and politically orchestrated process of recreating national identities, delivered through large-scale urban redevelopment initiatives.