It is often assumed that there was practically no squatting and violation of property rights in former socialist countries. This rests on the assumption that the private property was either abolished or limited, and that the state took over the role of social provider which apart from universal health care included cheap and affordable housing. But the recent scholarship has contested these assumptions, and the studies on squatting (of land and buildings alike for establishing residence) in Eastern Europe and Central Asia have revealed a variety of informal practices related to housing. Furthermore, these practices have continued in these societies after the fall of socialism and are rather to be seen as the consequences of intensive rural to urban migration as well as the shift to market economy.
In this conference we seek to discuss the phenomenon of informal housing and property rights that emerged in communism and have continued until the present day in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. We are interested in collecting a variety of practices of informal housing and contextualizing them within the broader theoretical framework of informality and property rights. To that end, we are particularly interested in the analyses of the state’s attitude towards squatters and violators of the property rights in comparative perspectives. This may illuminate the circumstances that enabled squatting of houses and land plots; the real political power and effectiveness of state laws on housing and property regulations; but also, the space of political and social negotiations between the social actors and the state.
We would like to focus on two salient problems. The first represents the squatting of the state and private buildings and apartments that has been occurring since communist era until the present day. This aspect was understudied perhaps because the level of the performance and the approach varied greatly from country to country, which have contributed to fluidity of the concept of informal housing in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, and finally to its neglect in academic studies. Whereas in German Democratic Republic it was relatively widespread, in Lithuania, Poland or Czechoslovakia it had taken subtler forms. But as of the fall of the communism some of the countries of Eastern Europe have been witnessing the public growth of the squatting scene, which unlike earlier times now has rather political than social character. To that end, we would like to find out whether similar reasons have caused the shift from subtle to the public performance of squatting; to what extent is the intention of squatters just the legalizing of their housing situation; can this phenomenon be explained by the poverty; to what extent the squatting can be understood as resistance to the state and authorities; and finally, what is the importance of squatters for the resistance movements in post-socialist countries.
The second focus of the workshop would be on squatting of land plots and building of illegal houses and quarters such as favelas or shanty city districts. Research has shown that it was initiated by an increasing rural-urban migration in the cities of the former Soviet states that has continued until the present day. Internal migrants arriving in massive numbers in capital cities or administrative centers, due to inadequate and unaffordable housing, started to squat land plots, usually in the outer fringes of the cities and establish residence usually without any essential infrastructure such as electricity, water, or sewerage system. Only in Serbia it is estimated that 700 000 houses have been illegally built in the period from the 1970s until today. Likewise, massive illegal settlements in Kyrgyzstan have become a new battlefield for gaining or maintaining political influences of the state and political parties through managing and manipulating the inhabitants and their representatives. Nevertheless, there is very little known about these processes. By comparing and contrasting different regions, we will try to understand how the state manages the informal settlements and what it does when the conflicting interests arise; under what circumstances this phenomenon has been socially accepted and unproblematized; what is the negotiation capacity of illegal settlers; whether the occurrence and development of informal settlements indicate different concepts and regimes of property?
The workshop represents a partisan endeavor that gathers the leading scholars in this field of studies and engages them in inspiring theoretical and empirical exchange. It is aimed at collecting knowledge and enlightening the aspects of the housing and property rights and setting up the basis for the focused and thorough examination of this phenomenon in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.