Minsk Square: A tribute to east Europe in the middle of Bengaluru city

Bengaluru: For those visiting Bengaluru, after the stunning view of the Vidhan Soudha, it is the Minsk Square that is a head-turner. With a full-sized model of the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) sitting majestically at the centre of the square, this busy square located next to Chinnaswamy Cricket Stadium is a famous landmark in the city. But unknown to many, the square is named after an Eastern European city – Minsk, capital of Belarus.

What is even more interesting is that the city Minsk has a square named after Bangalore. Even though many Soviet day statues and street names remain unchanged, a busy traffic junction and a huge park in Minsk was renamed after Bangalore, to show mutual respect.

The two cities, which are known as the silicon valleys of their respective countries, have a 35-year-long relationship. Even though forgotten or unknown to many Bengalureans, Minsk is a sister city of Bengaluru. The Sister City initiative between any two cities will be established to strengthen bilateral exchange relationships in the field of economy and trade, education, culture, information and technology and other sectors of municipal administration; and it dates back to post world war II era.

“Prior to this name change in 1989, Minsk Square was known as Queen’s Road Circle. Interestingly, then instead of the LCA fighter, the circle had a famous Ajeet fighter plane. The 1975-make single seater fighter-interceptor that was decommissioned in 1991 was installed at the centre of the junction,” recollected Wing Commander Prakash Kumar, a former Indian Air Force official who served in Bengaluru during that time.

Minsk, however, is not the only city with which Bengaluru shares the sister city tag. Bengaluru has signed similar MoUs with Reno City in Nevada and San Francisco in the United States of America. According to urban experts, apart from the MoU and naming circles (in the case of Minsk), these programmes have not made a big impact in improving the infrastructure and governance of the city.

A former IAS officer who served as the commissioner of the BBMP said that apart from junkets to these countries, the programme doesn’t boast of any innovations or changes. “In principle, this is a fantastic idea. The fact that a name like Minsk has become a household name in our city shows the success of the cultural exchange in the programme. But, in all three sister city projects, no considerable change on the ground has happened,” he said.

Urban expert V Ravichandar said that there are many issues with the programme itself. For example, who has the ownership of the city. “In Bengaluru BBMP is not an agency that has control over Bengaluru. We have Bescom, BDA and many other agencies. Unlike the mayor of Bengaluru city, a major of San Francisco has much higher authority. There is a big mismatch,” he pointed.

Ravichander also said that there is potential in the programme, but it is not being utilised. “To give an example, San Francisco has a wonderful open-source project, where all data related to city development is available in public. Developers and entrepreneurs can use this data to come up with solutions to the city’s problem. Even though our officers have visited San Francisco, we keep our data like a state secret. It is a lost opportunity,” he added.

However, it is not all a lost cost. In March this year, Minsk Major Vladimir Kukharev met with India’s Ambassador to the Republic of Belarus Sangeeta Bahadur to discuss ways of expanding cooperation between Minsk and Bengaluru. According to a statement, while the Indian side is interested in working in such areas as education, tourism, economy and joint ventures, and the Belarusian side is interested in IT, business and industry.

Following the meeting, both parties agreed to expand educational opportunities in technical specialities and information technology in Belarus for students from India. An ‘India Week’ is also expected to be held in Minsk in September 2022 to showcase the economic potential of the Belarusian capital for Indian guests, the statement added.

Meanwhile for the average Bengaluru, the “Minsk square” remains a part of their daily life, unaware of its connection with the former Soviet Union city.