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.

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.

The workshop “Punishment in Global Peripheries: Contemporary Changes and Historical Continuities”, 23-25th June 2021

Dr Larisa Kangaspuro  attended the online workshop “Punishment in Global Peripheries: Contemporary Changes and Historical Continuities”. The realities of peripheral countries have long been overlooked and, at best, reduced to sources of data. This scenario is not different in the Punishment and Society field. Though the number of comparative studies on punishment has increased since the 2000s, this scholarship has failed to integrate peripheral countries into the debate, concentrating in a small number of countries of the Global North. This workshop was a response to the historical Northern, Western-centric feature of criminology and the unequal relations of subordination and dependency which has shaped the production of knowledge in the field. It aimed to bring contemporary changes and historical continuities in punishment in peripheral countries into the centre of the discussion.

This workshop was co-hosted by the Global Criminal Justice Hub of the Oxford Centre for Criminology (United Kingdom) and the Programa Delito y Sociedad, Universidad Nacional del Litoral (Argentina).

Link to the workshop programme

Cooperation between two projects


The Academy of Finland has awarded a grant to Judith Pallot for a project that has strong synergies with GULAGECHOES. It is entitled: Yugoslavian “Penal Nationalism” and the Politics of Punishment in the Contemporary Western Balkans: Testing the Limits of the European Human Rights Regime in the EU’s Southeastern Neighbourhood”.  The project will employ two post-doctoral fellows; Dr Brendan Humphreys, a political historian,  who is well-known in the Aleksanteri Institute, and Dr Olga Kantokoski, a political sociologist,  who will migrate to the Aleksanteri from the Social Science Faculty. The ‘Balkans project’ starts on 1st September 2021, but cooperation between the two projects began today with a joint meeting to identify common interests going forward.

Тwo intensive off-site work sessions to code the interviews

During the course of the March and April, the GULAGECHOES team held two intensive off-site work sessions to code the interviews that the project had been able to complete since fieldwork began in earnest in the later autumn 2019. To date, and despite COVID-19 travel restrictions team members and sub-contracted researchers have been able to take over 100 interviews with former prisoners in Russia, Estonia, Georgia and Romania. This just under one half of all the interviews planned for the project, and which we hope to continue as COVID-19 restrictions begin to lift allowing the ‘home team’ to get into the field. The purpose of the two three-day workshops was to begin the process of coding the interviews taken in Russia. In earlier workshops we had all got to grips with Atlas.ti and had had refined the code groups and codes that a preliminary reading of interviews suggested would be productive answering the main research questions of the project,  as well as suggesting new categories.  Taking the work off-site focused attention at the task at hand and helped us to achieve what we set out to do, and more.

The conference «Thirty years later: the soviet legacy, its practices and discourses», 23-24th April 2021

Dr Larisa Kangaspuro  attended the online conference «Thirty years later: the soviet legacy, its practices and discourses», organised by the Moscow School of Social and Economic Sciences (MSSES), the European University at St. Petersburg (EUSP), Group for the anthropology of post-socialism «Soyuz» of the American Anthropological Association and the New Literary Observer Publishing House (NLO). The first day was  included a section Ethnicity, «race» and migration. Presentations and discussion were enriched knowledge for our project.

Link to the conference programme

Сonference: Globalising Eastern Europe – New Perspectives on Transregional Entanglements that took place in Leipzig and online 20-24 April 2021

Three members of the GULAGECHOES team took part in a conference: Globalising Eastern Europe – New Perspectives on Transregional Entanglements that took place in Leipzig and online 20-24 April 2021.

The panel was entitled “Transregional entanglements of Crime and Punishment”. It gave members of the GULAGECHOES team to present some of their preliminary findings from the fieldwork that we have been able to undertake, despite COVID-19. Dr Costanza Curro gave a paper on her work on reform in the Georgina prison system: “Perspectives on the Europeanisation of Georgia’s penal system” and Dr Rustam Urinboyev presented the interviews he took with former Uzbek prisoners who served their sentences in Russian penitentiaries:  “Locked up in Russia: transnational prisoners’ social relationships within and across the prison walls”. These were put in the context of post-1989-1991 members of the former communist countries of international human rights organisations by Professor Bill Bowring of Birkbeck College, the University of London and the project leader, Professor Judith Pallot, who also organised the panel. Dr Sofiya Gavrilova of the IFL, Leipzig chaired and commentated.

The conference was organised by the British Association for Slavonic and East European Studies (BASEES) Regional Conference in conjunction with Leibniz Science Campus “Eastern Europe – Global Area” (EEGA)

The project Director taking part in the round table event of members of the EEGA-BASEES organising committee summing up a successful conference

Online research workshop “Immigration, racism and nationalism”, University of Helsinki

On 30 November 2020, the postdoctoral researchers of the GULAGECHOES team attended a workshop organized by the ESSO-group (Social Psychologists studying Ethnic Relations at University of Helsinki), Helsinki Inequality Initiative (INEQ), and the Centre for Research on Ethnic Relations and Nationalism (CEREN) at the University of Helsinki, titled “Im­mig­ra­tion, ra­cism and na­tion­al­ism”. The workshop brought together scholars from social psychology, media and communication studies, sociology and political science to join in discussions on challenges of representing immigration, racism and nationalism. Presentations discussed rhetorical, visual, and affective dimensions of communicating these topics.

In addition to addressing the actual challenges of communication, the workshop was aimed to strengthen interdisciplinary dialogue and to take stock of recent theoretical and methodological developments. How can insights from different fields of study be mutually beneficial? How can we enhance interdisciplinary efforts to integrate different kinds of knowledge into multidimensional and nuanced understanding of these complex issues?

Link to workshop programme:


Webinar on ethno-political conflicts in Russia

18th November 2020

The Working Group for Social Sciences under the Finnish-Russian Commission for Scientific and Technological Cooperation (funded by the Academy of Finland) and Tampere University organised a webinar on ethno-political conflicts in Russia. Contemporary Russia has to deal with the legacy of Soviet state by reconfiguring inter-ethnic relations. This process opens a Pandora’s box of inter-ethnic tensions and conflicts. The search for solutions is complicated by numerous other social problems – inequality, inadequate institutions and international tensions. Will Russia be able to cope with these problems and what options look realistic in the contemporary situation? The team members of the GULAGECHOES project attended the webinar.

Webinar On the resilience of the Vory

13th November 2020

This webinar was organised between the Gulagechoes team and the research group headed by Federico Varese, Professor of Criminology, the University of Oxford, UK. Federico is a leading expert on the Russian mafia and author of several books and many articles dealing with the Vory-v-Zakone (the Russian mafia) including two monographs – The Russian Mafia (OUP, 2001) and Mafias on the Move (PUP, 2011) and his most recent Mafia Life. The seminar arose because of a recent article about the Russian Vory that Federico and Jakub Lonsky, University of Liverpool, had published about the resilience of the Russian Vory-v-Zakony who are strongly associated with the Soviet and Russian prison system. The webinar lasted two hours with both sides agreeing to continue cooperation in the future.