City issue

Urban Theory, articles and research

Citizen, resident or volunteer? The right to the city

By Constantina Theodorou

News no1
“Citizens will clean from graffiti the pedestrian way of Apostolou Pavlou (the one that surrounds Acropolis). This action, which calls the citizens to protect and show off their city is the result of collaboration of three different bodies : the journalist’s Nikos Vatopoulos group of citizens “Every Sunday in Athens”, the municipality of Athens and the deputy mayor of Cleaning Andreas Varelas and the anti-graffiti materials company Booka of Elias Andreopoulos. With Nikos Vatopoulos at the role of the basic negotiations person and instigator of the action, it is finally feasible this gathering of power in the name of the city” (link here)

News No2
“With the coordination of ELLET( Hellenic company) and with the initiative of Lydia Carras and Maya Tsoklis, institutions and citizens created the Citizens Network for the Historical Center, aiming to make the Historical Center of Athens viable again and put an end to its degradation. At the historic building of ELLET, citizens of the Historical Center were there on Tuesday 04.11.2014 to declare their decision for the historical Center of Athens to exit the quagmire and make it viable again. (link here)

The discussion about the word citizen
These are two very recent news of the month November 2014. They may be small and without any importance, but there is something very interesting in them, that is not the event itself, but the language of the news, and more specifically the use of the word citizen. A year before the titles of both these articles would be something like that: “volunteer’ s cleaning action” and “residents of the historical center …”
But now the word citizen (politis in greek) comes to replace the words volunteer and resident, while totally replacing the word dimotis (in greek dimotis is the citizen of a city, and politis is a citizen in general, the citizen of a state). This small language shift would not really matter if it happened for every similar news. If e.g. all the volunteers who clean were called citizens and all the residents who talk about their neighbourhoods were called citizens too. Still though, some active citizens, as in Plato’s Academy neighbourhood,( a low income neighbourhood around Plato’s Academy) are still called “residents”, but some others who clean Apostolou Pavlou and meet at the offices of ELLET are upgraded to” citizens”.
Usually the propagandistic use of the word citizen is related with the purpose to emphasize and distinguish the Greek national identity. With this connotation it is used on the news to make the distinction between the criminal immigrant and the victim Greek citizen, or vice versa, rewarding the foreigner who makes a remarkable achievement upgrading him to a citizen, so as to say worthy to be Greek. This is a typical use of the word citizen, defined in the context of a National identity and a Nation-State. But when we talk about the issues of the city where Greek citizens, with the same national identity are discerned to residents, volunteers and citizens, what is the meaning of the word citizen?
The linguistic shift from the volunteer to citizen happens at a time when the words citizen, active citizen and civil society are in the epicentre of every debate and policy planning in EU and around the globe, whereas the word volunteer with all its negative connotations is going to be withdrawn. It is also a moment when the redefinition of the term citizen becomes very urgent, as it gets detached from the clear framework of the Nation-State and expands itself in the broader framework of a denationalized or post-national- transnational identity. What all these mean?
Roughly the denationalized identity is this that is practised even in the context of a nation-state but independently of it, through the participation in smaller or much bigger networks. (e.g. through the participation to a global petition, or the making of neighbourhood park). It is the identity of the citizen who belongs to the Civil Society and it is the one more suitable to approach the issues of the city. The post-national identity suits more to approach situations as these of the citizens of EU, who are simultaneously citizens of a state, and a union of states.
Saskia Sassen, full versed in these matters, gave a lecture last November during the Creative Summit meeting at Stockholm, asking this very crucial question “Who is a Citizen?” The discussion is not literal and is extremely crucial. It has to do with our rights- with our right to space. The definition of “citizen”  requires to define who has rights, which rights and where.

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