Post-socialist Tbilisi (1991-Present)
The Postsocialist City
The collapse of socialism and the ensuing civil war led to the rise of an abject "wilderness city" which still haunts living memory, a city where electrical, heating and hot water infrastructures stopped functioning, feral erstwhile household pets roamed in packs and armed men become the diagnostic signs of public spaces. The abjection of the postsocialist city also provoked desires to erase this city, and either transform the ruins of existing cities of Tbilisi and Batumi into gleaming cities of the future modeled on Singapore, or to build an entirely new future city (Lazika) without the taint of the past. In this section of the project we explore how the contemporary city is not only haunted by the ruins of the past but also by visions of the future.
"Whose Tbilisi?” The postsocialist city between past and future
The period of chaos and unregulated capitalism following independence in the 1990s,"My Tbilisi", the cultured city of late socialism, was transformed into an unfamiliar no-man's-land: "Whose Tbilisi?"This was a city whose public spaces, erstwhile emblems of a socialist cultured order, no longer appeared to belong to the cultured citizenry but to wild dogs, armed men, faceless capitalists, Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), and "uncultured" rural people.Building on previous SSHRC funded research on IDP integration in the postsocialist city (2009-2012), we locate Tbilisi within a literature on postsocialism (Humphrey 2002), asking how the dereliction and privatization of public spaces and infrastructures (electricity, hot water, central heating) produces a sense of abjection which is reflected both in the press and in the "urban turn" ofGeorgian writers, film-makers and animators of this period, as well as reflected in popular images of city streets metaphorically haunted by spectral goblins called kajis ("horned devils)", variously uncultured capitalist parvenus and rural people. We explore the way the ethnically homogeneous postsocialist city is haunted by spectres of cosmopolitanisms past and future, including affects like a nostalgia for a lost multiethnic cosmopolitanism as well as fears of a "real" cosmopolitanism embodied in the presence of "Asian" foreigners. We explore these anxieties by locating the city within a broader theoretical literature of "spectral urbanism" (Pile 2005, Edensor 2005, Luckhurst 2002), which explores how the city is characterized by a kind of "ghostliness", entanglements of place and affect (also Thrift 2004, Pile 2010), haunted by figurative and real ghosts inhabiting the ruins of its material pasts.But we argue that the city is not only haunted by the past, but also by the future (van der Hoorn 2009, Nielsen 2011, Pelkmans 2013). Drawing on a literature that explores how previously abject socialist and Asian cities engage in compensatory projects of technologically sublime "hyperbuilding" ( Buchli 2007,Ong2011, Grant 2014), we explore how this same general sense of abjection in which an actually existing city presented itself as ruins generates in the 2000s aspirational fantasies, both attempts to physically erase the image of the abject past from Tbilisi and Batumi (Fredriksen 2013), and to rebuild these cities as gleaming "future cities"modeled on Singapore or Shanghai (Lagerkvist 2007, 2010), seeking to create a truly cosmopolitan, global and yet Georgian city.This fantasy finally led to the proposed city of Lazika, a planned but never realized gleaming city of skyscrapers whose "future ruins" are located in a swamp in western Georgia.