Fieldwork in Georgia, August 2021

Researchers: Costanza Curro and Vakhtang Kekoshvili

Our main fieldwork site was Khoni, a small town in the Western region of Imereti that was home to a penal colony from the 1930s to the beginning of the 1990s. Prisoners worked in a vast tea plantation that spread across the hills surrounding the town. The economic and political, but also social and cultural life of Soviet-era Khoni (which was then named Tsulukidze) revolved around the colony, which was the source of employment for nearly the totality of the population. We were hosted by a local family, which helped us establish contacts with the town and its inhabitants. During our time in the field, we talked to several people involved in the colony’s life in the 1970s and 1980s. We recorded 16 interviews with former colony directors or deputy directors, heads of otryady, accountants, doctors, inspectors, guards, suppliers and prisoners. Since little is known about the colony and there is nearly no material available, we were interested in reconstructing the history of the colony, the tea plantation and their relationship with the town in the first place. Against this background, we collected professional and personal experiences from a variety of perspectives, which helped us shed light on the politics and economics of the colony, as well as on the social, cultural and moral dynamics underpinning its life. In addition, we explored the vast space of the colony and the tea plantation. In particular, we were able to access some of the buildings which in the past housed prisoners, guards and administration. We also mapped the spatial organization of the five separate units – locally referred to as zonas – that made up the colony.

What lies behind FSIN’s promoting of “forced labour used as an alternative to deprivation of liberty”?


In a new article in Riddle, an online journal on Russian affairs, project PI Judith Pallot discusses how to interpret the recent announcement that the Russian Prison Service to contract out = penal labour to work on the BAM railroad.  The publication is available in Russian and in English. A longer version is available here on the project blog.


Last month FSIN (the Russian Federal Corrections Service) made the startling announcement that it was negotiating a contract with the Russian Railway Authority to use penal labour to work on the Baykal-Amur railway project.  FSIN’s right to sub-contract out penal labour to private companies and other state agencies is an extension of the punishment of ‘force labour as an alternative to deprivation of freedom’ (принудительные работы применяются как альтернатива лишению свободы) which was added to the criminal correction code in 2011.[1]

Continue reading “What lies behind FSIN’s promoting of “forced labour used as an alternative to deprivation of liberty”?”

GULGACHOES presents its preliminary findings at the 6th ICCEES convention that took place virtually 3rd-8th August, 2021

The International Council for Central and East European Studies finally held its quinquennial convention, delayed from 2020, last week.  We were supposed to be in Montreal but, as has become the norm, the conference took place virtually.  This was originally planned as the event when GULAGECHOES would present its preliminary findings to the international Russian, Eurasian and East European area studies audience and we still had the opportunity to do this.  Jeff Hardy of Department of History, Brigham Young University and Judith Pallot, Director of the Aleksanteri Institute had organised a two-session panel entitled  Ethnic, Religious, and Cultural Tensions in the Gulag and Its Successors I & II. There were eight paper givers and two discussants five of whom were from the project.  Mikhail Nakonechnyi talked about how people from the southern republics fared in the gulag northern camps based on the work he was able to do in the Russian archives before they were closed by lockdown. The other papers were given by Emily Johnson of the University of Oklahoma and Tyler Kirk, University of Alaska on letters and testimonies written by gulag prisoners. In the second session three of the papers were from the project; Judith introduced the theme of ethnicity in Russian prisons today with a paper analysing the official discourse on the concept of the multi-cultural prison; Albina Garifzyanova and Elena Omelchenko from Kazan University and HSE St Petersburg respectively, presented the findings from interviews with former prisoners in the Urals, and Rustam Urinboyev, presented his findings form Uzbekistan. Jeff Hardy rounded out the pane with a paper on religion in the late Soviet gulag.  Recordings of all these papers, and the proceedings of the conference in general will be made available on the ICCEES conference website (panels 3.2 and 14.5) for the next two months at

Discussant Professor Alan Barenberg delivers his verdict on our papers in session 14.5.