About the Project

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the communist successor states set about reforming their criminal-justice systems, including prisons, to bring them into line with international and European norms. However, all to a lesser or greater extent still have legacies of the system gestated in the Soviet gulag and exported to East-Central Europe after WWII. These may include the internal organisation of penal space, a collectivist approach to prisoner management, penal labour and, as in the Russian case, a geographical distribution of the penal estate that results in prisoners being sent excessively long distances to serve their sentences. The project will excavate how these legacies interact with other forces, including official and popular discourses, formal policy and individual life histories, to transform, confirm and suppress the ethnic self-identification of prisoners.

The research of the Gulag Echoes project will use a mixed method approach to answer seven major research questions, involving the analysis of interviews, archival and variety of official and unofficial documentary sources, the internet postings and social media. These questions are as follows:

  • The Historical Context
    • Research Question 1: Using quantitative and qualitative measures, what patterns can be discerned in the treatment of ethnic minorities subject to different punishment modalities in Imperial Russia and the Soviet Union?
  • Ethnic Identity Construction of individuals drawn into the Penal Nexus
    • Research Question 2: How has the identity of ethnic minority offenders and their families been constructed in official discourse and popular cultural productions at different periods of Soviet history and how have the dominant motifs changed since 1989/1991?
    • Research Question 3: How have the exceptional features of Soviet and Russian penality had a bearing on the self-identification of ethnic minority prisoners at different moments in Russian history and up to the present time?
    • Research Question 4: How have changes in the ethnic self-identification of members of minority groups drawn into the penal nexus affected their political association and vulnerability to radicalisation historically and today?
  • Globalization and the impact of transformations away from the Soviet model on the treatment of ethnic difference
    • Research Question 5: What impact has membership of the Council of Europe had on the legal and regulatory framework for the treatment of ethnic and religious difference in penal institutions in countries of Eastern Central Europe and the Soviet successor states?
    • Research Question 6: In relation to Estonia, Georgia and Romania, what evidence is there of discrimination, inequality, entitlement and preferential treatment at the level of penal institutions of prisoners belonging to minority ethnic groups and, if there is, when and why did such differentiation emerge?
    • Research Question 7: In relation to transnational prisoners, how do policies and practices at the institutional level impact upon their experiences of incarceration and the decisions they make on re-entry?

The project officially began on November 1st 2018.  It will run for six years, ending on 31st August 2024.

Since 2021, the project has been linked with the Yugoslavian Prison Nationalism, the Politics of Punishment project. The two projects are under the research directorship of professor (emerita) Judith Pallot and exhibit strong research synergies.