The purpose of this paper is to investigate the form of young male socialisation referred to as birzha, in its relation to public space in Georgia. Birzha defines a group of young men who meet regularly in urban open spaces in Tbilisi’s neighbourhoods. Partly considered as the initial step of a criminal career, belonging to birzha is a mark of identification with one’s local group. The contested nature of public space is illustrated by the conflicting relation between birzha’s bottom-up use of public space and top-down projects of urban renovation sought by Saakashvili’s government.
Drawing upon literary and media sources, and analysing fieldwork data collected in 2008-2009 and 2014, this study explores how the announced (re)construction of public space under Saakashvili resulted in institutional interventions from above which curtailed public space’s accessibility.
The present analysis points out contradictions in Saakashvili’s government’s political narrative on public space. In the institutional focus on a future of order, transparency, and democracy, birzha is an insistent reminder of an informal and corrupted past. Banned from futuristic projections of the public space, in the present birzha is annihilated by state repression, enforced in opaque zones out of public sight.
Focusing on a largely overlooked phenomenon in social science research, the paper highlights the ways in which conflicting approaches to public space affect the relation between political institutions and citizens. Delving into ambivalent public/private divides in post-socialist societies, the study of Georgian birzha offers an original angle for investigating the contestation of urban public space in relation to political legitimacy and transparency.
Curro, C. (2015), "Davabirzhaot! Conflicting claims on public space in Tbilisi between transparency and opaqueness", International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy, Vol. 35 No. 7/8, pp. 497-512. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJSSP-12-2014-0122
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