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Kulshat Medeuova: The post-Soviet memoryscape in Kazakhstan. Lecture & discussion

Kulshat Medeuova is Professor of Philosophy at the L.N. Gumilyov Eurasian National University in Nur Sultan. Her work develops interdisciplinary approaches to the philosophy of culture, urban anthropology and memory practices in Kazakhstan. Her recent research engages with the epistemological dimension of nationalising practices such as: the creation of a new capital for Kazakhstan; the secret life of monuments, and decolonisation and knowledge production in post-Soviet Kazakhstan. Her major research projects include:

  • Anthropology of morality: discourses and everyday practices in modern Kazakhstan” (2012-2014)*** 

  • How authoritative spaces are formed: a comparative analysis of industrial and postindustrial cities (2013-2015)*

  • Current practices of memory: conceptualising the past and constructing identity in the contemporary culture of Kazakhstan (2015-2017)***

  • Memory places in Kazakhstan (2017)**

  • 'Places of memory’ in the modern culture of Kazakhstan: commemoration in public spaces (2018-2020)***

  • Cultural diversity and new memory places in Kazakhstan (2020)**

  • Current practices of memory: conceptualising the past and constructing identity in the contemporary culture of Kazakhstan (2015-2017)***

* funded by the Open Society Institute, Hungary

** supported by the French Central Asian Studies Institute (IFEAC)

***financed by the Ministry of Education and Science of the Republic of Kazakhstan

The post-Soviet memoryscape in Kazakhstan
22 September. 09:45 – 11:15Register here (open to all)

The logic of a transforming commemorative landscape, in a newly independent state striving for self-determination, involves at least two major trends.

On the one hand, there is the ideological replacement and displacement of Soviet monuments with new ones, initiated by the state itself.
Using the case of the memorialisation of Ablai Khan, I will consider how this displacement and replacement took place in different cities of Kazakhstan. How difficult was the search for an unambiguous solution and what is the current fate of Soviet monuments in Kazakhstan? How has the foregrounding of the traumatic memory of the Gulag and other aspects of colonisation through modernisation changed the idea of the Soviet?

On the other hand, we witness the emergence of new regional, family, religious, and clan memory actors, producing spaces where emotional heroes of cultural memory dominate to a greater extent. Another feature of the commemorative landscape in the nationalising state is the use of an emotional register in the monuments of batyrs, biys, mythical characters and undeservedly forgotten heroes of the recent past. But this register is used in spaces outside cities or large settlements. Overall, the memorial landscape of Kazakhstan mixes urbanised and routine memory practices. Practices of constructing mazars and historical steppe landmarks (balbals) have come to penetrate cities, and equestrian monuments are being installed along the highways, thereby creating a bizarre hybrid of the Soviet, post-Soviet and imaginary pre-Soviet.

The lecture was prepared on the basis of field research conducted since 2015, as well as thanks to joint work with Ulbolsyn Sandybaeva and Dametken Tolgambaeva.