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.
BY PROFESSOR JUDITH PALLOT
In a new article in Riddle, an online journal on Russian affairs, project PI Judith Pallot discusses how to interpret the recent announcement that the Russian Prison Service to contract out = penal labour to work on the BAM railroad. The publication is available in Russian and in English. A longer version is available here on the project blog.
Last month FSIN (the Russian Federal Corrections Service) made the startling announcement that it was negotiating a contract with the Russian Railway Authority to use penal labour to work on the Baykal-Amur railway project. FSIN’s right to sub-contract out penal labour to private companies and other state agencies is an extension of the punishment of ‘force labour as an alternative to deprivation of freedom’ (принудительные работы применяются как альтернатива лишению свободы) which was added to the criminal correction code in 2011.
Continue reading “What lies behind FSIN’s promoting of “forced labour used as an alternative to deprivation of liberty”?”
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 https://sites.events.concordia.ca/sites/iccees/en/iccees2020
Discussant Professor Alan Barenberg delivers his verdict on our papers in session 14.5.
BY DR. SOFIA GAVRILOVA
In a new blog post, geographer Dr. Sofia Gavrilova explains the importance of studying the geography of Stalin’s Terror, and presents her innovative approach to the topic. Sofia Gavrilova has been collaborating with GULAGECHOES PI Judith Pallot for the past decade, mapping the GULAG and developing the on the gulagmaps.org website. Now her expertise in Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping is advancing the GULAGECHOES project. This blog post shows how she has mapped the ethnic deportations that began in the 1920s and culminated in the war-time deportations.
Continue reading “Why does the geography of Stalin’s Terror matter, and how do we study it?”
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
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.
BY DR. MIKHAIL NAKONECHNYI
At the beginning of March 2021, Mikhail Mishustin, Russian Prime Minister, declared that the government intends to invest 780 billion rubles into the development of transport infrastructure, including the audacious modernization of the Baikal-Amur Railway, popularly known by its acronym BAM (Baikalo-Amurskaia Magistral’). In a new blog post, Dr. Mikhail Nakonechnyi analyses the implications of this news from a historical perspective.
Continue reading “Bamlag’s lingering shadow”
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.
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
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