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Ala-Too as the Main City/Country Square: Changing Forms, Uses, and Meanings

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image of Central Asian Affairs

This article explores the relationship between reformatting of Bishkek’s central square “from above” and mosaics of meanings, claims, and practices produced by different social actors “from below” in response to the ongoing transformation of this space. Drawing on narratives of long-term Bishkek residents and recent internal migrants to the city, we investigate commonalities and divergences in their perception of Ala-Too’s changing image. It is shown why the square, despite its planned multifunctionality, does not fulfill the needs of various segments of the city population. We also analyze political meanings of the “emptiness” of the square and the ambivalent public reaction to the ways it is being “filled.” The square becomes a spatial mirror of society—a society that remains in constant flux, searching for social stability and for unifying national symbols, heroes, and slogans.

Affiliations: 1: Institute of Oriental Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow, Russia, ; 2: Institute of Oriental Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow, Russia, ; 3: National Research University Higher School of Economics, Moscow, Russia,


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