Reimagining a Siberian City: Contested Pasts and Futures of Post-Soviet Ulan-Ude
(Vytautas Magnus University)
Paper short abstract:
This paper explores practices and discourses of place-making in a multi-ethnic post-Soviet urban environment in Ulan-Ude (Buryatia, Russia), defined by a recent and continuing urban migration. It focuses on the ongoing indigenisation and de-secularisation of the urban environment.
Paper long abstract:
Over the last three decades, the city of Ulan-Ude (Buryatia) in Siberia has undergone substantial changes in terms of not only its cityscape, but also the ways in which it has been experienced and its past and futures have been interpreted, imagined and anticipated. In this multi-ethnic region, up until the late Soviet period the rural/urban divide also went across ethnic lines: Buryats mostly led a rural life while Russians inhabited the city. As Buryat urban migration rapidly increased in the later Soviet period and thereafter, many experienced Ulan-Ude as a hostile and acutely Russian environment. In the post-Soviet period, however, Ulan-Ude has largely become a multi-ethnic "contested city" (Low 1999) with its burgeoning Buddhist temples, Buryat-style monuments and architecture, public rituals and celebrations, and "ethnic" businesses. As the Buryats are looking ahead to the potential futures in the fast-changing city, they are also revisiting its past by offering competing interpretations of the region's colonial history. This paper, based on one year-long ethnographic fieldwork in Ulan-Ude, will explore various practices and discourses of place-making in a multi-ethnic post-Soviet urban environment, defined by a relatively recent and continuing urban migration. It will particularly focus on the ongoing indigenisation and de-secularisation of the urban environment, part of which is both a rethinking of the past (such as reviving public ritual offerings to forgotten pre-colonial local spirits of the land) and the anticipation of the future (such as building a Buddhist prayer wheel to purify and improve the communal karma).
Heritage geographies in the age of mobility