Welcome to Bishkek

September 6 2009
Changing guard outside the State History Museum

Changing guard outside the State History Museum

The thing that’s really striking about Bishkek so far is how clean everything is. From the moment we landed this morning, everything’s sparkled. Except, of course, the bits that don’t. In the centre – all I’ve seen so far – there’s no litter, loads of giant Soviet era parks and statues, and huge imposing buildings. Plenty of space though – it’s a hard city to feel too oppressed in.

The guards are doing a great job. No-one's stolen a giant bronze relief in ages.

The guards are doing a great job. No-one's stolen a giant bronze relief in ages.

Underneath the veneer, though, there’s clearly another story to tell – the broken mosiacs in the pavements outside the State museum, the run down area to the back of the park, the large number of dilapidated buildings further out, the terrible roads.

There’s clearly a large amount of civic pride here, although it may sometimes go too far: the only homeless guy I’ve seen so far was being bundled into the back of a police car. There’s also a lot of nostalgia for the Soviet days, when the standard of living was higher for most. As a result, if you like your artwork constructivist, this may be the place to see it.

Unlike many ex-Soviet states, loads of statues and bronze reliefs of proud workers have been left in place or are on display in the State  museum along with hundreds of letters from Lenin and other memorabilia. Nice story about the giant Lenin statue outside our hotel – apparently, when he was taken down from the front of the museum to be replaced by a spirit of freedom figure, people complained they missed him. So he was relocated tot the park outside the back door, facing the parliament building. It’s not as nice a view as the museum, but he seems happy there.

Parliament's just over there.

Parliament's just over there.

Long day tomorrow – two government ministers and two senior Red Cresent officials to interview, then off to the first of the projects in the afternoon. Must go do interview preparation.

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