Contested socialist past and capitalist aspirations of infrastructure projects in former Soviet peripheries
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the newly independent states faced dramatic decay or collapse of infrastructures, particularly in the rural and de-industrialized areas of Central Asia or the South Caucasus. Yet, in the past decade, the region has also witnessed proliferation of infrastructure integration schemes, often tied to diverse grand visions of playing crucial role in Europe-Asia connectivity. In this article we draw on ethnographically rooted research on urban public transport provision and development of hydropower plants across Central Asia or the South Caucasus to observe how new large-scale infrastructure projects are justified and contested on the ground. We argue that that in the context of post-Soviet peripheries two powerful and mutually reinforcing discourses dominate the promotion and contestation of large-scale infrastructure projects: on the one hand, the decay of and nostalgia for Soviet-era modernization-through-infrastructures; on the other hand, the feeling of inferiority in relation to the West and the catch-up logic of development. We observe that governments and local and transnational financiers deploy both, the promises that were associated with infrastructures in Socialist times, as well as the promises related to better capitalist futures. Past and future focused justification strategies then obscure the sacrifices – displacement, devastation of living environments, lack of access to essential services - that various communities have to endure in the present. Both with mobility systems and hydroelectric power plants, past and future are activated to defend a compromised present. We then discuss the challenges that the local resistances face when contesting infrastructural plans or ongoing infrastructure projects. We illustrate their complex but often precarious strategies to draw on the experiences of the Soviet environmental or nationalist movements, and to emphasize differences between socialist infrastructures and the current privately owned and governed or dept-driven infrastructural projects.