Local Situation: Kaliningrad

View of the Kaliningrad cathedral from the rear | Local Situation: Kaliningrad | Going Public | Photo: Vladimir Sedach, source: Wikimedia Commons
View of the Kaliningrad cathedral from the rear | Local Situation: Kaliningrad | Going Public | Photo: Vladimir Sedach, source: Wikimedia Commons
Destruction of the authentic urban structure in the WWII, chaotic and often ambiguous urban planning of the 2nd half of the XX century, large scale privatization and commercialization of the 1990s - 2000s and the following economic downturn put tremendous impact on the character and quality of public space in Kaliningrad. Despite the city infrastructure was significantly improved within the last decades (several redeveloped areas) and specifically on the occasion of the 750th Anniversary of the city, there still remain abandoned, lifeless and neglected sites, which often reflect a certain lack of respect for historical and cultural heritage among city many planners, developers and citizens. At the same time in commercially attractive and designated for consumption areas public space is shrinking and quite often becomes overregulated (“no money – no right to be public”). The most usual activities in public space are consumption, transit (on the way to/from home to/from somewhere else) and large scale official city celebrations/events, while small scale, informal, sporadic events and interaction between city dwellers is still quite rare. At the same time, as social researcher Anna Karpenko notes, the aim of consumption in Kaliningrad in most cases consists in demonstrating consumption as such, not in creating a space for communication and public discussion.

One can’t but mention that regardless some limitations caused by the general social and political climate in the country, one can observe a number of positive tendencies in public space development in the city. In some cases the possibilities for public participation widen and, thus, the need for public space grows. During the last five years there emerged new and quite open public spaces (e.g. privately owned Club Kvartira, Reporter Club) or existing spaces were appropriated by specific groups (e.g. bikers and racers at Ploshad Pobedy in the evenings), but certain communities (e.g. pensioners, migrant workers) still hardly find a way to fully enjoy their rights for public space and are often marginalized.

As far as public space, both physical and virtual, is concerned in general, one experiences a lack of procedures and platforms for voicing and negotiating interests of various social and political groups, lack of space for public debate and critical reflection.

Therefore “Going public: on the possibility of a public statement” focusing on public space as well as critical reflection and analysis of various concepts of the public is very relevant to the local context. It also corresponds to the programming priorities of the Baltic Branch of the National Centre for Contemporary Arts, that has been active in the field of public art since the late 1990s, mainly focusing on heritage and identity related issues.
Yulia Bardoun
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