Public Space, Buildings, Ideologies, and Politics

 204187_big Si el pueblo no hace política, los políticos mandan

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I have just finished reading an interesting book, which is called Political Poloverejnosti [translates as Semi-public Politics]. It is, in its core, a case-study done by an anthropologist, which talks about the destruction of one old cultural center in Pilsen. Its main theme, however, is the clash between narratives and ideological perceptions of reality – old Bolshevik, new neoliberal, progressive and regressive, active and passive and many more. The book’s author, Petra Burzova, tries to uncover, how different groups of people perceive public space differently, and how they express their position by constructing their own personal narrative. I cannot go into the detail here, because author works with different theories and uses methods that are not familiar to me, so let me just point out a few points that struck me as a reader.

What came as the most surprising thing to me, is the author’s ability to connect seemingly unrelated things – political ideologies, narratives, buildings, public space, life experiences and so on. Questions that arose were, for example: What happens when we destroy a building which constitutes the public space? How its absence talks to us? Or, why do we connect revitalization of certain public space with its commercialization?

In the book, we learn about the motives of each one of the actors (politicians, architects, bureaucrats, activists). I liked the fact that the author does not exclude ordinary people. On the contrary, author’s notes on the reactions and emotions observed around the destroyed building open even more questions.

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One important thing I have learned is that city inhabitants care more about public space than about the city budget. This fact can be easily exploited by active groups that try to convince people to give them trust in reconstruction of certain public areas. It often leads to further commercialization of public space. Neoliberal discourse, as it seems, is the strongest one to be heard, and cities tend to listen to rich interest groups which promote investment. New shopping malls, supermarkets, and other commercial buildings appear everywhere. In many cases, people accept their passive role, and don’t intervene with interests. What happened in Pilsen was thus unprecedented. Activists were able to mobilize enough people to call for referendum, in which activists defeated developers. As a consequence, public debate remains open, while old ruins of the previously demolished cultural center haunt passers by.

In Olomouc, we used to have an old passenger airplane (!!!) parked near the city center. When it was sold to a private collector, it was an event for the whole city, people went to the streets and took photos, I witnessed that they talked about their memories connected to its location. The whole story was covered in-depth by the local media, including interviews with city representatives and new owner.

letadlo

 

What really scares me is that it is a common practice to exclude or ridicule narratives constructed by those people. Their own perceptions and histories are homogenized (often expressed as their abstract desires: They do/don’t want…) and expressed by active groups in order to support their claims. In the end, public debate is no longer public, because it does not take place in public or deals with public opinion. Read the last sentence one more. Citizens turn into a yes/no voters, without having a voice in the debate about the options. And that is an underlying problem in many other areas as well (I wrote about it before).

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Introduction to the Apocalypse: On the Form and Method. Or Method and Form. Or Both.

And here I am.

We live in an era of deep conflict, which has its root in an uneven distribution of wealth, resources and power. It is not possible to assume this status quo is unchangeable or even natural to us as a society. If we do not reflect on our positions soon, we will indeed be living in the future that will be a fucking mess.

This blog is something I have been thinking about for a very long time. Yet my passivity made me postpone it almost ad infinitum. But as the time passes by, I feel more of an urge to express myself clearly and put a new form to my ideas.

I decided to write in English for the reasons that are compatible with my perception of reality. This seems a little bit odd, but let me explain. I do believe that personal blogs are slowly yet constantly becoming increasingly important for both public and science. Being an aspirant for a PhD. in political science, I have found myself more and more interested in the opinions expressed freely on the Internet rather than formulated and published in the academic journals, where the form usually exceeds the content. I by myself have experienced the tedious academic procedure where it is the critique of the methodology what is established as a core of the science. What I quickly realize was that many of my colleagues often lack any ideas. They are just education-made-machines that pop out a series of articles and books, without clearly considering the basic process of their so called scientific approach.

Blogs are different. They offer space to those who are not satisfied with the current standards, and it gives them a very important tool for self-expression that, if good, reaches more people and gives them day-to-day inspiration in their lives. This is why I write in English, instead of Czech. We need to overcome the obstacles – language, culture, tradition; in order to be able to realize our sameness.

My reality is different from the reality most of us finds ourselves in every day. It is living and changing. It constantly demands my adjustment, and it gives me further reasons to explore science as well as culture. It is not possible to capture it by mere observation. It has to be lived.