Freedom of Speech, Symbols, Memories, and the Politics of Public Space


Hrvoje Cvijanovic (University of Zagreb)

Eric Heinze (University of London)

Natalie Alkiviadou (University of Central Lancashire, Cyprus)

New conflicting debates on freedom of speech in the public arena have been shaped around the controversies regarding limiting freedom of expression, regulating hate and extreme speech, political correctness, or new politics of securitization aiming at censoring, limiting, tracking, or policing speech and different kinds of expression in the name of the state security and anti-terrorism laws. Additionally, we are witnessing a proliferation of public contestations regarding political symbols and symbolic manifestations of expression, questioning historical narratives through the so-called memory laws, and the politics of public space. On the one hand, these processes can be linked to the governmental or non-governmental attempts to regulate totalitarian or non-democratic symbols, the symbols usually related to disputable historical regimes, hate groups and radical social movements, while on the other hand, to the attempts of political actors and the public itself in contesting problematic historical narratives and legacies (memory laws), or through the so-called politics of public space, i.e. reclaiming the public space through its political remodeling by questioning particular symbolical meanings and removing/replacing “undesirable” monuments, renaming streets, squares, etc.

It is particularly interesting to track these struggles in former Eastern Europe with many political actors and national legal frameworks advocating for a criminalization of all the symbols related to non-democratic regimes, especially those of the Communist terror, followed by the memory laws and the processes of “removing and renaming” the public space for the democratic citizenship. Similar attempts in battling “undesirable” historical legacies along with the processes of “removing and renaming” have been witnessed across the United States recently.

Taking some of these processes and examples into an account, we would like to open a panel for more general discussion on these issues by exploring the theoretical underpinnings related to the discourses of freedom, the arguments for limiting free speech, the controversies around drawing the lines between free and hate/extreme speech, political correctness and the limits of expression, as well as the controversies around policing speech under recent anti-terrorism laws and the politics of securitization. Moreover, we would like to explore the importance of symbolic speech and the attempts to regulate symbols in the public domain, or the attempts in regulating public space itself through the processes of “removing and renaming” those statues, symbols, streets, and squares that have been causing social disputes and evoking traumatic memories. Hence, we encourage contributors to consider these, and similar other issues. Suggested topics include but are not limited to:

•       Free speech and the role of institutions in regulating speech (government policies, university policies, NGOs)
•       Hate/extreme speech controversies
•       Political correctness and its influence on language and art
•       Politics of securitization, anti-terrorism laws, and the justifications for limiting speech
•       Regulation of totalitarian and non-democratic symbols
•       Memory laws and “removing and renaming” sites of public contestation (streets, squares, monuments) in dealing with the disputable historical narratives and memories
•       Different national and supranational legal frameworks in regulating speech, symbols, and memories

The idea of the workshop is to engage into discussion on these conflicting understandings of freedoms and contested narratives, and provide the opportunity to publish successful papers in an edited volume on the topic.

Abstracts should be 400-500 words. Please send the proposal to by June 1st. Participants will be notified of their acceptance by 11th June 2018, allowing time for qualifying applicants to apply for a bursary. Final papers will be due by the end of August in order to circulate these to workshop participants in advance of the conference. Successful papers will each have about 30-40 minutes of presentation time, plus Q&A.

For any questions and queries, please send an email to