Carceral Practices: A Theme at the Aleksanteri Conference, 2023


In this brief blog piece, PI Judith Pallot highlights the project’s role in the recent Aleksanteri Conference.

The 22nd annual Aleksanteri Institute Conference was held on 25-27th October in Helsinki. Its theme was Decolonising the Global East: legal choices, political transformations, carceral practices. GULAGECHOES and the Academy of Finland, Yugoslavian Penal Nationalism projects were co-sponsors of the conference and members of the research team (Olga Zeveleva, Mihkhail Nakonenchnyi and Brendan Humphreys), on the programme committee. The projects organised two plenary sessions with international participants. The plenary panel “Carceral Practices” discussed the placing of the former communist countries’ prisons in the global penal system. The speakers were Dominique Moran, professor of carceral geography from the UK, Alan Barenberg, leading gulag historian from the USA, Kreshimir Petkovic, specialist on the western Balkans, and Petru Negura, specialist on Moldova. The plenary round table “From Prisons to Organised Crime”, took place in the Think Corner and it brought together two experts with rather different views to debate the role of prison subcultures in the Russian Federation; Gavin Slade from Nazarbayev University, Kazakhstan and Rustam Urinboyev from Lund University, Sweden.

Dominique Moran discusses her research contributions to the field of Carceral Geography
Rustam Urinboyev and Gavin Slade discuss at the conference’s final plenary session.










In addition to the two plenary sessions, we organised four other panels on carceral practices with fifteen participants from Finland, Germany, Sweden, the UK, Georgia, USA, Ukraine, Croatia, and Moldova. These examined Carceral Dilemmas in Central Asia and Russia´s Muslim Peripheries; Mythmaking, Terror and Memory in the gulag; Decentering Histories of Carcerality and Penality in the Global East; and Labour, “Life” and Repression in Carceral Spaces in the Global East.

Other penal theme events were organised during the conference. We were fortunate to be able to display an exhibition of prison art from Russia titled, “Attention, Prison! This an exhibition of posters created by incarcerated youth in Russian juvenile colonies based on their personal experience. This exhibition was produced by The Center for the Promotion of Criminal Justice Reform, Russia. It is the oldest human rights organization that works with the issues of incarceration, criminal justice, and the execution of sentences.
Delegates also participated in a workshop on prison art run by Free Translation, a multi-disciplinary project showcasing international works by persons affected by imprisonment.

The conference also was chosen for the premier of the film project of GULAGECHOES. “Wardens’ Gardens” is based on the research of Costanza Curro and Vakhtang Kekoshvili in Khoni, Georgia, and utilizes interviews conducted for the project with former prison officers who worked in correctional colonies in Khoni. The interviewees discuss the specific features of the late Soviet prison system in one of the national republics. The film was followed by a discussion and lively question and answer session led by Dr. Curro.

Warden’s Gardens premiered at the Aleksanteri Conference. You can watch it here:

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