Through the Lens of Transition, “The Transformation of the Public Space” was our third online event to take place in our new webinar format on the 12th of June. The speakers at this event were: Andrei Zavadski, researcher and communications scientist; Zhenya Kulyeba,  urban activist, NGO “Misto Sad / Garden City”; and Gruia Badescu, urbanist, Alexander von Humboldt postdoctoral fellow at the University of Konstanz. Our aim was to discuss the ways in which the coronavirus pandemic changes our perception of public space, and particularly how the state of public space affects democracy and the ability to demonstrate one’s political views openly and freely.

We began our discussion with each panellist presenting their experience with the transformation of a public space in a city they know well, with our first speaker Gruia discussing first the commercialisation of essential spaces in Bucharest, even of places that have important memory and politicisation attached to them. Andrei went on to discuss the significance of statues and their locations in both his native town in Belarus and his later home in Moscow, and Zhenya continued with her experience working with her organisation to transform public space in Kiev for the benefit of the public and to unite them in communities in places of history and memory that could otherwise become commercialised.

These initiatives to encourage the public to take part in the care of public space and therefore take responsibility for their public spaces were then discussed. We also touched on the concept of public and private life and whether its change from Soviet times to now has an effect on people’s incentive. This led into a discussion on whether this gap between public and private is experiencing a resurgence due to people’s fears of the public space in times of the COVID-19 pandemic, and how this may bleed into our perception of virtual spaces as substitutes. We ended with Andrei noting that the fear of the public space diminishes when it comes to fundamentally important issues, such as recent protests for the Black Lives Matter movement all over the world, “people all over the country are going out into these streets to fight for their rights… for reclaiming your rights and your dignity, the public space is crucial.”

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