Cities for profit – from Belgrade to Limassol

On the 23rd of June, residents of Limassol, the second-largest city in Cyprus, will be organising a protest against further construction of luxury apartments and office spaces which has increased rent prices in their city by almost 25% over the last two years. By pursuing a policy of attracting foreign investment, the state placed itself at the service of big capital and turned on the working class and socially vulnerable strata, whose chances of affording housing grow ever slimmer. We fully support the demands of Limassol residents and urge everyone fighting for the preservation of commons and cities ran in the interest of their peoples, not profits, to express their solidarity.

Against the will of its residents, Belgrade is getting the Belgrade Waterfront urban development project. Following the same logic, Limassol is getting Trilogy, Limassol Neo, Aura… and countless other residential and business spaces whose appealing names conceal obnoxious prices. In the first three months of 2018 alone, the Cypriot government issued permits for the construction of 25 high-rise buildings in Limassol, with sixty more on the waiting list. These high-rises are planned to have 30 or 40 floors, with private pools, courts, parking lots and other “pros” of a millionaire’s – or a billionaire’s – life. However, the lifestyle of an average Limassol resident, naturally, doesn’t include such luxuries.

Being the largest Cypriot port and an important island centre of global finances, Limassol bears the weight of increasing investment, which blossomed after the Cypriot government introduced its citizenship-by-investment programme in 2014. According to this programme (whose various forms are being applied in more than twenty countries around the world), anyone who invests at least 2 million euros in property or business development in Cyprus becomes an EU citizen within six months – along with their family members – thereby gaining free access to other EU countries, where they can create new investment paradises.

In a not-so-distant future, Belgrade and Limassol’s similarities might include an introduction of a similar citizenship-by-investment programme in Serbia, for which urban development schemes pave the way. Though Serbia hasn’t yet become a member of the EU, it maintains a visa-free regime with 138 countries in the world. It also has the lowest corporate tax rate in all of Europe and wholeheartedly promotes its workforce as “high-skill and low-cost”, which has already proved to be a magnet for foreign investment. Though the above-mentioned programme doesn’t yet exist, the existing legal framework recognises the possibility of granting Serbian citizenship to people whose activities are deemed “in the interest of the Republic of Serbia” by the Serbian government. That’s already a good basis for modelling investor-shaped cities.

The Belgrade Waterfront itself was presented as such: a project “of national importance”, or even an investment “in the public interest”. A lex specialis was passed in order to bypass the existing legal framework and urban planning regulation and thus enable the earliest possible start of construction. The only way the public participates in this project is by unwillingly paying for it. Dozens of millions of euros have already been spent to provide the necessary infrastructure – dozens of millions of taxpayers’ money. On the other hand, it is the foreign investor that is the majority stakeholder, being able to translate their right of use into the right to property and then rent the objects to third parties. Public money is used to finance private profit – and the public didn’t have a say in deciding whether the Belgrade Waterfront is indeed an investment “in the public interest”.

That’s precisely why the connection between Belgrade and Limassol should come through joint struggles of their residents for the public interest and the commons. The governments of Serbia and Cyprus are competing with each other, trying to attract as much foreign investments as possible. They are at the same time ignoring the wishes and the needs of the majority of the populations of their countries and violating their rights in order to meet the investors’ interests. If the state meets the interests of capital, it cannot at the same time meet the interests of the people.

On the 23rd of June, residents of Limassol will be demanding a state intervention to make housing more affordable – either by decreasing rent prices or by building social housing for the many and not the few. They will also demand more public spaces and to be involved in the decision-making processes concerning public-related questions. If the state is responsible to the majority of the people and not a handful of capitalists, it won’t deceive people by bumbling about a “new city concept” and “attracting tourism” as means of creating benefits for all. It will instead intervene directly for the benefit of the working class, the impoverished and socially vulnerable groups and strata. However, as we see every day, the capitalist state won’t voluntarily do so – not unless there’s a persistent, clear, mass pressure “from below”.

Thus we support the struggle of Limassol residents for a Limassol which is truly theirs – a city for ordinary people and not for millionaires and billionaires. We invite you to express your solidarity either by sharing this statement or by writing something on your own. Hasta la victoria!

This article first appeared on the Serbian Website marks21

Advertisements