PhD Student in Anthropology,
CUNY Graduate Center
Controlling ‘Independence’ Avenue: Prohibitions and possibilities in downtown Minsk
This paper asks how authoritarian control is exercised in and through the built environment on Prospekt Nezavisimosti (Independence Avenue) in downtown Minsk, Belarus. Known for being an outpost of repression in an otherwise politically and economically liberal region, Belarus retains many of the defining features of the socialist era, including state-owned industries and collective farms, an extensive social welfare system, state-controlled media, and lack of concern with EU notions of civil liberties and human rights. In this essay I will explore some of the spatial and material aspects of this repression: How does state control of the built environment in downtown Minsk work in conjunction with hard force to minimize the visibility and power of non-state actors and thus economic and political alternatives to the current regime? How is state power accommodated and/or contested by urban residents through their uses of public space? And what can answers to these questions tell us about Belarus’s exceptional post-socialist trajectory? These are some of the questions I will explore through a consideration of the ongoing struggle in urban Minsk over the control of buildings, monuments, place names, billboards, retail establishments, public squares and other aspects of the built environment.
Emily Curtin is a doctoral student in Cultural Anthropology at the CUNY Graduate Center and an adjunct instructor at Queens College. She holds a BA from Wesleyan University and an MA from University College London. Her areas of interest include post-socialism, the built environment, citizenship, authoritarianism, modernity and neoliberalism.