My research looks at intangible aspects of dissonant Soviet heritage in present-day Kazakhstan. In particular, it explores museum practices and museum-community relationships in a local state museum (the former House Museum in honour to Valerian Kuibyshev (1949-2000), a revolutionary and Soviet politician (1888-1935), vs. the Museum of Kokshetau (2000 to present)) as a case-study. Numerous new heritage sites in Kazakhstan are currently responding to the global, economic and political issues of the new nation-state which emerged in 1991 after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Flourishing state-sponsored heritage with a strong Kazakh character is intended to support the new national imagination both materially and visually, and to present post-Soviet Kazakhstan as nation domestically and abroad. I focus on the local level in order to examine the unique ‘everyday life experiences’ of these processes and use a bottom-up approach to explore otherwise neglected connections, conflicts and contexts.
One of my particular interests is to show how the ignorance and exclusion of Soviet heritage from a new homogenized ‘heritage industry’ by Kazakhstani government on the one hand, and the personal motivation and enthusiasm of museum personnel and local individuals on the other, gave a birth to a new cooperation between a museum and its public. In this light, a local museum provides a sense of identity, nostalgia and a therapeutic feeling to people who feel marginalized or excluded from a new present, or who might feel uncomfortable sharing a new reality, thereby escaping to the (sometimes idealized) past. During my four-month ethnographic field work in Kokshetau (Kazakhstan) I was completely involved in the life of the museum, participating in its daily routine: planning and discussing, meetings, guiding tours and events. My empirical material comprises data collected from state archives (Almaty, Kokshetau), observations of visitors and museum personnel, analyses of museum production, interviews and informal talks with the curators (including the former), museum guides, visitors and ordinary citizens of Kokshetau.