Dr Larisa Kangaspuro, a researcher whose historical study in the project focuses on Ethnicity in the Imperial Russian prison system after the Great Reforms, visited the National Archives of Georgia in July-August 2022. Georgia was part of the Russian Empire from 1801 to 1917. Then it was Tiflis and Kutaisi provinces. Many different nationalities and different faiths inhabited the territory of the modern Georgia. Within two weeks, documents generated by both state prison authorities and civil society organizations were discovered, for example, official correspondence from the Imperial Main Prison Administration (the GTU) in St. Petersburg with the Tiflis Governor or reports and personal correspondence from the head of the Ladies’ Committee of the Society for Prisons. These previously unpublished documents allow clarifying the issues of ethnicity and interethnic relations in prisons on the outskirts of the Russian Empire from the second half of the 19th to the beginning of the 20th centuries.
12 August 2022: Dr Olga Zeveleva published a guest essay on the English-language news site Meduza, reviewing how prison food is part of discriminatory practices in Russian prisons.
We are delighted to welcome Dr Olga Zeveleva back to the project after maternity leave. She is continuing her work on the Estonian and Russian case studies, as well as her analysis of human rights organisations in a prison context.
In Early June Dr Curro returned from three weeks in Georgia in which she supervised the filming for the gulagechoes video. The deteriorating research environment in Russia over the past year meant that we had to abandon our previous plan to make a project video recording the experiences of ethnic minority former prisoners in FSIN’s facilities. We decided to shift the site of filming to Gorgia and focus of the video on ‘prison work’ in the late Soviet period. The late Soviet period in the USSR has been much neglected in research on the history of the Soviet prison system and we aim to use our film to begin to fill in the gap. During her previous field trips to Georgia, Dr Curro has worked in a settlement near Kutaisi that was host until the 1990s to a collection of correctional labour colonies developed to provide labour for the tea plantations. A majority of the older population in Khoni were associated with the correctional colony in some capacity and were prepared to share their reminisces about working in the Soviet prison system with our project.
On June 16-18, Dr Costanza Curro and Dr Vakhtang Kekoshvili attended the international conference ‘Socialism’s divergent masculinities: Representations of male subjectivities in Soviet constellations and beyond’, organized by Dr Matthias Schwartz and Dr Dirk Uffelmann at the Leibniz-Zentrum fur Literatur-und Kulturforschung (ZfL) in Berlin. The conference, which was originally scheduled in June 2020 and was postponed twice because of the COVID-19 pandemic, hosted around 20 cultural and media studies, literature and social sciences scholars from German, American, British, Finnish, Georgian and French academic institutions. The conference papers explored the aesthetic representations of male subjectivities beyond the normative hegemony established by Soviet official propaganda from a variety of perspectives – film and music, satirical press, ethnography and literary production, amongst others. Participants discussed the discrepancies between socialist-realist and neo-traditionalist images and the multitude of divergent male subjectivities produced by Soviet everyday life, which somehow found their way into artistic and cultural representations. Such representations, we assumed, are a prism through which social and cultural changes can be analyzed. Dr Curro and Dr Kekoshvili’s presented a paper titled ‘The thieves in law in Georgia: Resilient, resisting or fallen masculinities?’, which investigated the masculinities attached to figure of the kanonieri kurdi (thief in law in Georgian) in the narratives and practices emerged from their recent fieldwork in Western Georgia.
During the visit, she had consultations with lawyers on the operation of the ICC in relation to the alleged war crimes in the Ukraine war She also gave a paper at a one-day workshop on the impact of the war in Ukraine with reference on the agricultural and rural economies of the region. He paper addressed the issue of how the resources of rural and peripheral regions in Russia are being mobilized for the war in Ukraine, which include consideration of the role of the prison service and prison volunteers in the war.
The annual gulagechoes workshop took place this year after the interruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Sadly, on this occasion the war in Ukraine meant that some Russian passport holders who have contributed to the project were unable to attend, in person. Nevertheless, we were able to assembly an international group of scholars who are now becoming leaders in the field of post-communist penological studies for a three-day workshop.
Now that we have passed the halfway mark in the project and are nearing the end of the data collection phase of our work, we were in a position to take stock of what we have achieved so far and what gaps remain to be filled. The first session of the workshop was concerned with identifying the principal themes that have surfaced from the project’s historical and geographical case studies. It was gratifying that there was a remarkable degree of agreement among those present about the themes and how they might be woven into a co-authored monograph that will showcase the advances the project is making in research on penality across the Eurasian region. Subsequent sessions focused, in turn, on the case studies lead by each of the project’s research fellows; the historical antecedents in the Soviet Gulag, the country examples of Russia, Estonia, and Georgia. The project was fortunate that Lili di Puppo, a visiting fellow at the Aleksanteri Institute was able to lead discussion on the Muslim case study and we look forward to welcoming her in a formal capacity to the project in the autumn.
The workshop took place in the perfect location of the Nuuksio National Park, where we appropriated two apartments that allowed us to self-cater, which gave us flexibility to combine work with breaks when we could enjoy the beauty of the park.
25th April 2022 Dr Mikhail Nakonechnyi took part in the book launch of the edited collection “Rethinking the Gulag: Identities, Sources, Legacies” edited by Alan Barenburg and Emily Johnson, Indiana University Press. The book launch was hosted by the Harriman Institute of Columbia University. Mikhael’s paper was on the manipulation of mortality statistics in the gulag. He was joined by Gavin Slade, Sarah Young, and Dan Healy ,as well as the volume editors. The YouTube of the papers and discussion can be accessed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H-Wuz_-Z11U
Members of the GULAGECHOES team presented their work at the first BASEES (British Association for Slavonic and East European Studies 8-10 April, Robinson College, Cambridge) to take place in person since 2019. Originally, two panels and one roundtable had been planned to foreground our research, but their failure to secure visas for the UK meant that none of the Russian passport holders working on the project were able to travel to the conference. We decided, therefore, to merge the two panels into one which we re-titled, Negotiating ethnicity and identity in the communist and post-communist prison – from gulag to the present day. We were delighted to welcome Dr Gabriela Groza, who has conducted all the interviews for GULAGECHOES in Romanian prisons, to the panel where she joined Dr Mikhail Nakonechnyi and Dr Costanza Curro, two post-doctoral researchers on the project working respectively on the ethnic history of the gulag and the Georgian prisons system from the late Soviet period to today, and Dr Ira Jänis-Isokangas of the Finnish National Archive who is working on the letters of Finns incarcerated in the gulag. On the final day of the conference GULAGECHOES hosted a round table Gulag Legacies and Penal Reform: The Consequences of War on the Trajectories of Change in Punishment Cultures in Eurasia’. The participants consisted of two lawyers (Professor Jeffrey Kahn, expert in the Council of Europe) and Dr Sergey Golubok (now working with the ICC in The Hague on Russia’s war crimes), a criminologist (Professor Gavin Slade, from Kazakhstan), and from the Aleksanteri, the historian of Yugoslavia Dr Brendan Humphreys, anthropologist Dr Costanza Curro and geographer, and area studies specialist, Professor Judith Pallot.
Two articles have been published in the media by project PI Judith Pallot and Dr Brendan Humphreys predicting the role the Russian prison system in controlling dissent against the War in Ukraine:
“Marina Ovsyannikova risked jail by opposing Putin on TV. Here’s why we fear for her” The Guardian Newspaper 15th March 2022
“Will Russia put Ukraine dissidents into camps?” Riddle 17th March 2022