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.

Presentation “The Grand Duchy of Finland and “other” prison in the Russian Empire” (in Zoom) , October 22, 2020

As part of the 11th Scientific and Practical Conference “Cultural Heritage: Integration of Resources in the Digital Environment” the Presidential Library in cooperation with the Federal Archival Agency, the Union of Russian Museums and the Russian Library Association held the round table discussion “Russia-Finland: pages of our shared history”. The round table discussion spotlighted the issues of history of relations between the Russian Empire and the Grand Duchy of Finland. Dr Larisa Kangaspuro gave the presentation “The Grand Duchy of Finland and “other” prison in the Russian Empire”.
The paper discusses how penal reforms conducted in the Grand Duchy of Finland were perceived from an imperial point of view in the transnational context. Comparison of socio-cultural differences in the perception of the law and the imprisonment of the empire and the autonomy will create new perspectives of understanding the contemporary context of the problem.


GULAGECHOES Project Team Away Day: Thursday 8th October, 2020, Radisson Blu, Turku


The purpose of the Away Day was for the team to share the results of the fieldwork that they had undertaken during the summer and to discuss the pre-circulated draft articles under preparation for publication.

The reports by the team took place against the backdrop of the corona virus pandemic which has wreaked havoc with the project’s field work schedule.  Access to Russia to continue archival work on the gulag and for interviews in Russia and Georgia which had been planned had had to be cancelled because of travel restrictions and alternatives found.   It was what had been achieved by the alternatives pursued that was the focus of the first session. It was kicked off by a report by the PI on some interviews that had been conducted by a sub-contracted researcher in September in rural Leningrad oblast. The interviews had been taken with people who had served sentences in the late Soviet era and promise to provide intriguing insights into the experiences and treatment of members of a small rural community of hunters and foresters.

The temporary lifting of travel restrictions between Finland and Estonia provided the team with the opportunity of developing research in Estonia: Dr Mikhail Nakonechnyi was able to spend a few weeks in the Estonian State archive in Tartu where he found some rich materials about the establishment of the gulag after WWII right up to the end of the Soviet period.  He gave an outline of his main findings which provoked much questioning and discussion. Then Dr Olga Zeveleva gave a very full account of the interviews she and the PI had conducted with Russian speaking Estonians who had  recently been released from the Viru-Vanga prison in NE Estonia.  Both the archival materials and interviews in Estonia prove to be very important in filling in the gap in our knowledge of the Soviet prison in the last two decades of Soviet rule.

The first session which continued on after a lunch break that gave the team the opportunity  to have a look round Turku, was rounded off by Dr Costanza Curro who remains unable to get into the field on Georgia but has taken responsibility for supervising the field work of an on-shore researcher contracted to do the interviews for the project. She reported on these and was also able to report on work that she has initiated on the Roma as a group of transnational prisoners, outlining her ideas of how this can be taken forward once the travel restrictions are lifted. The second session was kicked off by Dr Larisa Kangaspuro who presented the draft of her article/book chapter of the ethnic dimension of Imperial Russia’s use of exile and katorga.  This took us to the end of the day, and the decision was made to continue the discussion of the draft articles at the following Tuesday  team meeting in the Aleksanteri, when we would also have a zoom discussion with Dr Rustam Urinboyev about his recent field trip to interview former Uzbek national incarcerated who had served sentences in Russian colonies. These duly took place bringing the Away Day and its extension to a successful conclusion.

Workshop 28.06-01.07.2020 for the project GULAGECHOES: Ethnicity in the Russian Prison System

The third workshop for the researchers involved in the GULAGECHOES project took place 29thJune-1st July 2020.  It took place off-site at a venue in Finnish Karelia, which allowed the team to give its concentrated attention to reflect on the progress already made towards the project’s goals and to plan strategically for the year ahead. The meeting took place against the backdrop of the COVID-19 crisis that had brought a halt to fieldwork and data collection in early spring.  The closure of international borders meant that some team members had to join by ZOOM, but the core researchers were able to attend in person.  The first working day was devoted to the critical analysis of a series of key articles and books on ethnicity, race, and nationalism that had been circulated in advance. This gave us the framework for considering the interview and archival materials that the project has collected to date.  The second day was devoted to methodological issues and we were fortunate to be joined by Dr Sofya Gavrilova, who gave a presentation on the ways in which Geographical Information System technologies can be used by the project to visualise our data.  On the final morning we discussed the principal findings of the interviews that have been conducted in Russia, Uzbekistan and Georgia.

Preliminary fieldwork trip to Tbilisi, Georgia

At the beginning of March, Costanza Curro, a post-doctoral researcher on the team, spent a week in Tbilisi to do some preliminary research on the prison system in Georgia. Costanza has established useful contacts among academics, social workers and other experts working on topics related to prisons – notably reforms of the penal system occurred since the end of the Soviet Union, and the transformation of prison subculture and its relevance within and outside Georgian prisons. This preliminary strand of fieldwork has laid the foundations for further research in Tbilisi and some of the Georgian regions, which will focus mainly on interviews with former prisoners and will keep into account differences in ethnic background, but also socio-economic position, age, length and type of sentence as well as regional and/or neighbourhood belonging. This research will take two main directions: 1) it will analyse narratives and practices of hospitality in the prison, and detect the role and relevance of ethnicity in them; 2) it will investigate the ethnic dimension of the prison subculture.

Workshop “Identity politics in post-global Nordic societies”, Copenhagen, Denmark

A workshop supported by the ReNEW Excellence Hub and titled “Re-Imagining Norden in an Evolving World” was held on March 3-4, 2020  at the Copenhagen Business School. Dr Larisa Kangaspuro was invited. She gave the presentation “Multi-cultural prison in Nordic countries and Russia”.

The workshop used a historical lens to paint a comprehensive picture of the complex identity-making process of postglobal societies with the purpose of disclosing further theoretical, methodological, and empirical guidelines for further research. Presenters tried to analyse how (re)productions of identity are being mediated in post-globalisation narratives through discourses, memories, and places.
Participants discussed the following themes:
– multiculturalism and globalization
– democracy, governance and law


Sociological fieldwork underway

Dr Olga Zeveleva, a postdoctoral researcher on the team, has started her first stage of fieldwork. She is conducting a series of qualitative interviews with people who have worked for Moscow-based and St. Petersburg-based NGOs. The data Olga gathers during this stage of the project will allow us to analyse discourses produced by civil society organisations and NGOs, in order to understand how these groups of people create categories of vision and division of those drawn into Russia’s penal nexus.



Exciting Prospect of Prison Interviews in Estonia

The project Director, Judith Pallot, and Dr Olga Zeveleva, one of GULAGECHOES post-doctoral researchers, spent the day in Tallinn in discussion with representatives of the Ministry of Justice and Prison Department of Estonia. The purpose of the meeting was to explore the possibilities of conducting interviews in the country’s three prisons in Tallin, Tartu Varga and Viru. The talks were extremely productive. A lot of useful and new  information was conveyed about the prison reforms in Estonia and the mentoring and accommodation services that are being developed by the Ministry of Justice to help prisoner re-entry.  The  prospects for developing the Estonian case study for the  GULAGECHOES project look extremely promising. Dr Anna Markina of the Law Department University of Tartu, set up the meeting and we are looking forward to future collaboration with her and with Mr Stanislav Solodov an analyst at the Ministry of Justice who heads up re-entry services.

Workshop “The international co-operation at the Nordic Council of Ministers”, Stockholm, Sweden

The Research Coordinator of the project Dr Larisa Kangaspuro was invited to attend a workshop in Stockholm. “The international co-operation at the Nordic Council of Ministers” was the information’s meeting and workshop on 7 February 2020 regarding Open call programme for Nordic-Russian co-operation and NGO´s in The Baltic Sea Region.

The aim of the meeting was provide all the relevant information for applying for funding, help to build strong partnerships and help to find the right partner.