June 03, 2010

Free Cities

Mark (#24, 2010)

The notion of freedom is universal. Yet baptizing a town or city with the prefix or suffix of free, liberty or freedom seems to be a rather European idea. 93 languages from Afrikaans to Zulu where researched but the outcome was rather surprising since more than 90% of all places we found are in English, Spanish, German or Slavic language. It seems that within Europe the free town concept was used as instrument for urban development while outside it was used as marking the end from European oppression.

Here the four identified periods of city branding with free, liberty or freedom:

German free market towns: In the middle ages in Germany, places where called free towns when they were granted with a large part of self governance. In contrast to imperial cities, free towns were barred from paying taxes as well as loyalty to the emperor.

Sloboda settlements: Sloboda was a kind of settlement in the history of Russia, Belarus and Ukraine. The name is derived from the early Slavic word for "freedom" and may be vaguely translated as "free settlement". Often a sloboda was a colonization-type settlement with freedom from taxes as an incentive.

The ‘New World’: The idea of freedom in the Americas is a kind of export product from Europe since most of the European migrants to the New World where looking for a better life, liberated from the burdens they left behind. Two other stimulators for baptizing new cities with free or liberty are the abolishment of slavery (a free state was one in which slavery was either prohibited or eliminated) and the American Declaration of Independence (1776).

Philippine independence: In the Philippines one finds surprising amount of “free cities” in Spanish and English. The country’s notion about liberty is double as well, since its celebrates liberation day in June 12, the day the Spanish sold the Philippines to the US in 1898, while the true liberation was in July 4, 1946 when finally the US left the island.

Producer: Theo Deutinger, Andrew Snow

In collaboration with: Partizan Publik & Bevrijdingsfestival Amsterdam