On 9 February 2020, Olga Zeveleva presented her ongoing research on the Estonian prison system at the Coffee & Sociology seminar, hosted by the Department of Sociology, University of Helsinki. In this first presentation of this part of the Gulag Echoes project, she discussed her preliminary reflections on ethnicity, language, citizenship, and class in the Estonian prison system. You can read more about research conducted in Estonia by project PI Judith Pallot and postdoctoral researcher Olga Zeveleva here.
BY JUDITH PALLOT, PI “GULAGECHOES”
The press has reported on the arrest of opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, after his arrival back in the Russian Federation. He was immediately taken into custody, where an impromptu court chose to detain him on remand for a period of thirty days. We now know that he is being held in FKU SIZO-1 FSIN, one of seven Russian prisons directly subordinated to the central prison administration or FSIN (Federal’naya Slyuzhba Ispolneniya Nakazanii). In this new blog post, GULAGECHOES PI Judith Pallot describes this unusual remand prison, what we know about the conditions in which Alexei Navalny will be held, and whether they constitute a threat to his human rights.
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: https://www.helsinki.fi/en/ineq-helsinki-inequality-initiative/immigration-racism-and-nationalism
BY JUDITH PALLOT, PI “GULAGECHOES”
Judith Pallot analyses the state of prisons in Belarus in a blog post on the project website. A previous, shorter version of this post was published as an article in OpenDemocracy Russia, entitled “Overcrowded and violent: what awaits Belarusian protesters in prison”.
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.
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.
BY DR LARISA KANGASPURO
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.
On 20 October 2020, the GULAGECHOES team hosted a seminar with Ksenia Runova and Leonid Zhizhin of the Institute for the Rule of Law (Saint Petersburg). They presented their recent work on prison geography and social contacts between prisoners and their families. Read more about their findings here (in Russian).
BY JUDITH PALLOT, PI “GULAGECHOES”
In a new article in Riddle, an online journal on Russian affairs, project PI Judith Pallot compares how the current pandemic is unfolding in Russian prisons to past epidemics in recent Russian history. The publication is available in Russian and in English. It is also partly reproduced on the project blog.
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.