This article examines practices of (re-)claiming in Bishkek through the prism of “multitemporal fieldwork.” Focusing on the young male residents of a Soviet-era neighborhood, I trace their ways of performing belonging in a rapidly changing urban environment. Most significantly, these men’s coming of age has been accompanied by a gradual detachment from their exclusive focus on a neighborhood community that locally used to be known as Shanghai. Already during our first encounter in 2007, the primary territorial orientation for these residents’ social identification and integration had shifted: it then addressed the larger unit of the whole city, where the claim of “being an urbanite” was made by referring to the neighborhood’s administrative name, Iug-2. My most recent observations document not only how “married life” further disconnected these young men from the 2013 neighborhood realities, but also that a multitemporal perspective allows to (re-)contextualize various claims on Bishkek diachronically.
This article presents an “alternative urban history” of Bishkek (Frunze). We describe the history of Soviet streets and of the everyday life of young people, whose narratives fit neither the Soviet nor the post-Soviet history textbooks. Yet, these stories are extremely important, rich, and unique. They reveal the complex dynamics of the social organization of urban territories in cities of Soviet origin. The research has shown that the territorial youth culture of Frunze had much in common with similar developments in cities all across the Soviet Union. At the same time, it developed its own particular features, complexities, and diversities due to specific local conditions. The study also provides insights into the power of territory. It reveals how identities, everyday practices, and the socialization of young people were embedded in the specific geographies of the Kyrgyz capital.
In Kyrgyzstan, and especially in Bishkek, practices of social activism have been evolving and taken more meaningful and organized forms. Today, there are all kinds of activist groups and movements that are not simply struggling for resources, but feature solid ideological foundations and concrete visions. This introduction provides a brief overview of contemporary social activism in Bishkek.