Across The Plaza: The Public Voids Of The Post-Soviet City by Owen Hatherley

By Owen Hatherley

The great, proverbially windswept plazas equipped lower than “really latest socialism” from the Twenties to the Nineteen Eighties are broadly thought of to be dead areas, designed to intimidate or no less than galvanize. but in the event that they are just of use to these in strength, why is it they've been used so effectively in protest? From Petrograd in 1917 to Independence sq. in Kiev in the course of the Orange Revolution, those areas became focuses for mass protest. starting in Berlin’s Alexanderplatz, and taking in Warsaw, Ljubljana, Kharkov and Moscow, Owen Hatherley heads looking for riot, architectural glory and horror. alongside the best way he encounters the extra civic squares that changed their authoritarian predecessors and unearths that, satirically, the outdated centres of energy are extra conducive to dissent than those new, ostensibly democratic plazas.

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Protests have recently occurred on the squares investigated in this text, but what sort of protests are they? In Kharkov, cab drivers protested against tax rises and young people camped out against corruption; at Plac Defilad, the owners of market stalls rioted when they were forced out for a mooted Museum of Modern Art. Their grievances are very probably just, but there’s something telling there. The protesters are small businessmen asking to be given a proper chance in a capitalism that is dominated by multinational corporations and/or local oligarchs, or they are protesting against corrupt neoliberal politicians, with the implicit promise that less corrupt neoliberals will be tolerated.

Construction work is taking place in front of it, presumably in order to soon obscure the inhabitants’ view of the central space. This space forms part of the Silesian Uprisings Monument, designed by sculptor Gustaw Zemla and architect Wojciech Zablocki — one of the largest Communist-era monuments to survive in Poland, due to its impeccably patriotic theme, a celebration of the successful insurrections against German rule that took place in these disputed territories after the First World War, before their incorporation into the newly independent Polish state.

Some Soviet ceremonial squares have, for all their menace, certain leavening features — some benches, some shelter, a fountain, something. Dzherzhinska Square, despite its relatively diminutive proportions, was evidently nothing so jolly. It was designed with menace primarily in mind. An empty, irregularly paved space denuded of wreath-laying and parades leads at the furthest end to a monument dedicated to the valiant Cheka. A stark stone plinth alternates between a dark and a light red, and atop that are two gigantic, interlocking severed heads — one for each wing of the state, its sword and its shield.

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