‘We want to live precisely in Kazan, not Amsterdam, Berlin or London’

Enzhe Dusayeva on research on Tatarstan capital’s uniqueness and identity

‘We want to live precisely in Kazan, not Amsterdam, Berlin or London’
Photo: vk.com/endgel

What is the identity of Kazan? What is the logic of its historical development? What cultural codes does the capital of Tatarstan have? In an interview with Realnoe Vremya, historian and culture expert Enzhe Dusayeva talked about this and interim results of creating a concept of sustainable development of the historical settlement of Kazan.

“It not always matters who rules this city. Kazan unchangeably equally puts its accents, makes corrections”

Enzhe, why does one need to research urban identity?

In my opinion, to understand ourselves and others, identify a city’s attractiveness for citizens, establish the concept of sustainable development, for the economy too. I would like cities to save their human resources and be attractive to both the locals and guests so that people will live all happily ever after there.

What is urban identity?

Let’s put an example. We are a set of different identities. We are at the same time employees of different corporations, offices, university teachers or journalists, friends, representatives of different ethnicities, and the list can go on and on.

Sociologists found out that despite our different identities we can talk about precisely urban identity, for instance, a citizen of Kazan, Saratov and Yekaterinburg. For instance, I feel I am a citizen of Kazan, though I was outside Kazan for quite a long time. This is urban identity, it is what we study with our working group trying to understand who citizens of Kazan are and what makes them different from citizens of other cities.

As I understand, you and your colleagues work on the concept of sustainable development of the historical settlement of Kazan. How did this job begin and what are the latest results of your research?

It was Tatarstan President Rustam Minnikhanov’s idea of developing the concept, thanks to it a corresponding working group appeared. Mayor of Kazan Ilsur Metshin chairs the project, architect Oleg Maklakov heads the design group.

Photo: Oleg Tikhonov
It was Tatarstan President Rustam Minnikhanov’s idea of developing the concept, thanks to it a corresponding working group appeared. Mayor of Kazan Ilsur Metshin chairs the project, architect Oleg Maklakov heads the design group (photo)

The quest for answers to the following questions unites us: how to make Kazan more attractive? What rules to go by to build up the city centre without doing harm to it? How can we keep the balance given all modern-day challenges? You see yourself that the issue of globalisation is topical today. And many cities are becoming very alike. In addition, Russia hasn’t completely interpreted, realised the Soviet legacy yet. This is why, on the one hand, Russia has many similar cities built in the Soviet era, and, on the other hand, westernisation, globalisation dictate their standards for construction, improvement. One can turn out in the world’s modern cities in a space that reminds one of any European city. It is such a common trend. In this respect, the research on urban local identity becomes crucial. And I emphasise that we want to be and live precisely in Kazan, not Amsterdam, Berlin, London, in the city with manifested identity but in step with the times.

I am a member of the working group of sociocultural research chaired by Maria Leontieva who is a sociologist, the coordinator of the Kazan office of the Centre for Applied Urbanism. Our work consisted of conducting sociological surveys, high-quality interviews in focus groups. I personally dealt with historical and cultural analysis, studied research literature, sources, interviewed experts.

As a result, we concluded that as a city Kazan has its own logic of development. In this respect, it not always matters who rules this city. Kazan unchangeably equally puts its accents, makes corrections. It was very important for us to understand what combination of elements gives the city the highest sustainability and opportunities for further development.

In our block, we used the methodology by founder of the Centre for Applied Urbanism Svyatoslav Murunov. He detected a three-layer model of a city. Every city has its unique landscape, an activity that was established for long within the territory’s geographical characteristics as well as experience, values. In other words, what logic in the end determined the behavioural strategy.

Photo: Oleg Tikhonov
In our block, we used the methodology by founder of the Centre for Applied Urbanism Svyatoslav Murunov. He detected a three-layer model of a city

“Kazan is still considered as a borderland”

What cultural codes does Kazan have?

During the historical and cultural analysis, we found out the following cultural codes or experiences. Kazan is a borderland. Kazan was the northern outpost of Volga Bulgaria. It was a physical border. It was kind of post that controlled and protected the territory. Today Kazan isn’t peripheral Komsomolsk-on-Amur, however, the experience of being the borderland turned from physical space into symbolic. And the city is still considered as some frontier. It is a trend Kazan successfully uses. For instance, it is the border of the East and the West, the border of Orthodoxy and Islam. Being the centre is another important culture code or experience of our city. Kazan was and still is a Muslim and Orthodox centre.

The return of the icon Our Lady of Kazan is some update of this cultural code. Kazan was also an industrial, commercial, educational centre. This code of experience is also used in the idea of Kazan as a sports capital.

Apart from the centre, Kazan knows how to be a capital. Centre means an ability to accumulate and smartly distribute resources, while capital, besides this, is able to produce new thoughts and products and transmit them. And Kazan is. It is not accidental that it was the capital of the Khanate of Kazan.

Photo: Maksim Platonov
Being the centre is another important culture code or experience of our city. Kazan was and still is a Muslim and Orthodox centre

Being a pillar is an important experience of Kazan. And for the first time, it was manifested when the miraculous icon Our Lady of Kazan was obtained and it participated in the volunteer army of Minin and Pozharsky in 1612. The years of the Great Patriotic War are the next peak when factories, the Academy of Sciences were evacuated to Kazan. Kazan mobilises when needed. The code of experience as pillar has the second important content — to be an innovator and serve as a test site. Kazan was and still is in the vanguard of the electronic government, the issue of the self-employed.

That’s to say, we make up some things for the federal agenda and test them on ourselves. It is a continuation of the code of pillar. In this case, we aren’t Atlas, it is rather mutually beneficial cooperation. I mean we make up big reforms ourselves and get bonuses from their implementation. We know how to transmit our capabilities, competences. Kazan can become a successful example of federalism when a region develops when it requires something and at the same time serves as a pillar.

The next stage of our work is to research how the established model resounded in the set of identities of a citizen of Kazan.

Talking about the performance of the whole team, these are the interim results. Firstly, there were determined different zones of historical settlements (HS), and the specification of regulations for them is created. Secondly, all documents that regulate relationships with the territory of HS in the legal framework, and recommendations for complementing regulations were formed. Thirdly, it is offered to clarify land use and development rules within the space planning regulation. Fourthly, historical and genetic research on visual identity of different parts of HS was done. Fifthly, there was created an approach allowing recommending functions of a plot of land in the land use and development rules on the basis of the historical and cultural code. Sixthly, the city’s historical and cultural development was analysed, and a set of key experiences and values of the territory was offered.

In the sociocultural block, mental plotting was done too. Residents of the city were offered to paint not the whole city but only its historical centre by zones that inspired them, required attention of authorities and were dangerous. It turned out in the end that the citizens considered the integral environment as a zone of comfort with violations in the physical environment or the citizens considered the territories with lost cultural codes as zones that required improvement or were dangerous.

Photo: Maksim Platonov
It turned out in the end that the citizens considered the integral environment as a zone of comfort with violations in the physical environment or the citizens considered the territories with lost cultural codes as zones that required improvement or were dangerous

What do the violations in the physical environment mean?

It is a physical loss of buildings, facilities or the landscape. I will put an example of Lokomotiv beach that was popular in the Soviet era. It has towers, boat stations and so on. It was actively used by citizens, and now it isn’t a well-kept territory. Part of the physical environment was really lost or go to seed. Interestingly, citizens painted Lokomotiv beach in three colours: green as an inspiring site, yellow as a place requiring attention to be paid and red as a dangerous site. Our group sees the return of the Volga River to Kazan and the citizens as one of the tasks.

Today IT Park is located in Sukonnaya Sloboda, it is the 21st-century production”

You note in your research that Kazan and Tatarstan in general became a part of Russia. Or is there still any separateness? Isn’t Kazan considered as a periphery that is far from the centre?

As strange as it might sound, despite the geographical situation of Kazan and Tatarstan, this issue continues concerning people. It arises probably because Kazan is unusual. Our bright identity is plain to see.

If we look at the map, Kazan is in the very heart of Russia. Your question is rather provoked by the code of experience as a borderland. The story of Kazan being the border ended when it was included in the Russian state. If we look at the 17th century, it was the time when people reflected on past events. Kazan gradually became a centre of Orthodox in the Volga region despite the presence of the other religion. Contemporary Kazan is part of Kazan with its bright identity, with its logic of development. Kazan is like a phoenix that revives conserving its identity.

We also see it in quarters that even don’t have a physical environment anymore, but the code is preserved. For instance, Sukonnaya Sloboda, the textile factory of cloth makers was founded as early as by Peter the Great. It was a site of a riot, an industrial centre. Today IT Park is located in this area, it isn’t production in the traditional sense of the word, but it is the 21st-century production because ideas are generated here. In this respect, we can see succession.

Kazan considers itself as part of one organism at the same time realising its ability to offer and fulfil interesting ideas, projects.

Photo: Maksim Platonov
Today IT Park is located in this area, it isn’t production in the traditional sense of the word, but it is the 21st-century production because ideas are generates here. In this respect, we can see succession

What new ideas did Kazan offer in the past?

This question confuses me because there were a lot of ideas and discoveries. The educational cultural code of experience is key to Kazan. The university is the base, and here we can remember discoveries made by Lobachevsky, the Kazan Chemistry School, Vishnevsky, Bekhterev in medicine and others.

At the same time the team of the university and industry has been operating in Kazan since the 19th century. The soap that was famous even outside the Russian Empire (the baby hares named by Chemistry Professor Aleksandr Zaitsev whose last name stems from “hare”) was a kind of Kazan brand. The first catgut factory opened in the USSR in Kazan that produced cords for surgery and strings made of cattle intestines. Video recorder was invented in Kazan, however, it was put into operation only in the USA. Bulag Galeyev researched and created light organ. Sultan-Galiev made up Islamic Marxism, which spread later in Egypt, Algeria, Libya. Sadri Maksudi and Yusuf Akchura’s ideas of national statehood were implemented in Turkey. And this isn’t the full list, one could dedicate a separate article and even research on this topic.

What do you think makes Kazan different from other cities in Russia and in the world?

The bright image that not only architects, artists but also ordinary people pay attention to. When you arrive in Kazan, you understand that our landscape is an electrocardiogram. It is ups and downs, highlands and lowlands, minarets and bell towers. It isn’t Kyiv, it isn’t Rome on the hills, but any citizen of Kazan says that the first, second, third mountain is well known. And the Kazan rhythm is like an electrocardiogram, which in the end provides a unique combination of the natural and architectural landscapes.

We haven’t compared Kazan with other cities deliberately. However, the combination of two cultures, religions as well as bilingualism creates a bright image of the city. You especially pay attention to it when leaving Kazan, when the desire to find towers with minarets, hear multilingualism becomes explicit. It seems that we got used to it in Kazan. Any combination is possible in public space, and Kazan got used to accepting and accepts “the other”. Kazan is also interested in the Soviet legacy. It seems to me that we have a mixture of Orthodoxy, Islam and the Soviet legacy as well as the 21st-century city with modern buildings. It is a kind of Kazan post-modernism. And Kazan is a young city too — students’ city, which adds it special charm and dynamism.

By Matvey Antropov
Tatarstan