Rewarding Balkan field trip

Dr Olga Kantokoski has returned to Finland in mid-October after the second phase of her fieldwork in the Balkans. She visited three Balkan countries – Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, and North Macedonia.

The fieldwork consisted of interviews with representatives of the mentioned countries’ ministries of justice and heads of prison administration, representatives of local NGOs involved in protection of prisoners’ rights, representatives of the Ombudsman’s Office and National Prevention Mechanism (NPM), the representatives of the local Council of Europe Field Offices who implement cooperation activities as well as both former and acting prison guards and social workers in prisons.

During her trip she visited several prisons. The research findings are significant and will benefit the further development of the research project.

Submission to the ICC on war crimes committed in Mariupol

On 28 August 2023, Mykhailo Romanov, a participant in the projects Gulagechoes and Yugoslav Prison Nationalism, participated in the presentation and discussion of a submission to the International Criminal Court regarding the crime of genocide that may have been committed in Mariupol, Ukraine.

As is well known, this city was almost completely destroyed at the beginning of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine by the Russian armed forces.

Dr. Romanov is one of the co-authors of the submission. Together with colleagues, they collected information and data on the events that took place during the capture and destruction of the city. Relying on the provisions of the Rome Statute, they substantiated the existence of three criminal acts that were probably committed by the Russian armed forces in Mariupol.

These are the killing of members of a protected group; the deliberate creation for such a group of living conditions calculated to bring about its total or partial physical destruction; and the forcible transfer of children of that group to another group. The submission contains a description of the elements of these acts, as well as the evidence that the authors were able to collect.

As Romanov notes, the possibilities to collect such evidence were limited due to the inaccessibility of the territory of the city of Mariupol and to the direct victims of these acts. For this reason, much of the material included in the presentation is based on open source data.

The authors realized this and therefore adhered to the existing OSINT standards when collecting information. However, some of the information is also based on interviews with direct victims.

Despite the inaccessibility of the site where these acts were committed, indirect data allow us to conclude that the number of victims among the civilian population of Mariupol is in the thousands. It is this number of likely victims, as well as the general context and methods of the captured of the city, which allowed the authors of the submission to raise the issue of the crime of genocide in Mariupol.

A Field Trip to Serbia and Kosovo

In the end of June-early July 2023, Dr. Olga Kantokoski spent two weeks in the Western Balkans doing fieldwork. She interviewed representatives of the selected NGOs in Belgrade, Serbia, and the Ministry of Justice in Pristina, Kosovo (12 interviews in total).

The research team of the “Yugoslavian Penal Nationalism” project wishes to express its gratitude to the representatives of Serbian NGOs as well as officials at the Kosovan Ministry of Justice, who found time to meet and discuss the particularities of penal reform in their countries.

Special thanks go to Mr Arben Lubach who was Olga’s guide in Kosovo and assisted with translation from Albanian to English, in addition to giving an interview based on his extensive knowledge of the prison system of Kosovo. Data collected from the interviews will be utilized in the journal articles that will be published as a result of the research project.

7th Annual Tartu Conference

Members of the GULAGECHOES and Yugoslavian Penal Nationalism teams: Brendan Humphreys, Mikhail Nakonechnyi, Yury Sorochkin and Judith Pallot, attended the annual University of Tartu conference, War and Peace. What’s next for Eastern Europe and Eurasia? They were joined on line by Mykhailo Romanov from Kharkhiv who focused on the illegality of the filtration process in the occupied territories of Eastern Ukraine. Their panel was entitled “The Past, Present, and Future of Prisons and Carcerality in Times of Peace and War in the Communist Successor States in Europe.”

They also chaired other panels and Professor Pallot took part in the keynote roundtable “Putin’s War. What future for Russia”, talking about how the penal-military complex in Russia constitutes an obstacle to progress towards a more democratic and peaceful society in the future. Members of the team also had the opportunity to visit one of the three new “Europrisons”, Tartu Vangla, which have replaced the inherited Soviet correctional colonies.

Field trip to Croatia

Judith Pallot and Brendan Humphreys undertook a field trip to Croatia, as part of the project Politics of Punishment.

Over the course of a week in late February, the managed to visit three important sites, and carry out extensive expert interviews.

The first site was Lepoglava penitentiary in northern Croatia. The prison, the oldest in the former Yugoslavia is both of considerable contemporary and historical significance.

Gaining access took lengthy negotiation, as typically researchers are not allowed on the premises. Pallot and Humphreys were allowed to interview staff, both past and present, and were given an extensive tour of the prison.

Although the prison does not have a museum, the cell of one of its most famous inmates – Archbishop Aloysius Stepinac of Zagreb, held there from 1946-52 – has been preserved intact (see photo). Indeed, notable Yugoslavs had served in the prison over the decades, including Tito, Moša Pijade, and Franjo Tudjman.

Lepogala also has an open, and a semi-open facility. Among the activities of the prisoners in these facilities are staffing a restaurant in the town, and working in a wine-making facility. Some of the wines have won international awards.

The second part of the trip was a set of interviews with prison officials and retirees in the Justice Ministry on Zagreb. Two full days of interviews took place there, as staff –especially retired staff – were very eager to share their views and experiences.

Also in Zagreb, Pallot and Humphreys met Professor Krešimir Petković, a political scientist and expert on Croatia’s prison system. Professor Petković is an invited speaker for the 2023 Aleksanteri Institute conference, Decolonizing Space in the Gobal East: Legal Choices, Political Transformations, and Carceral Practices, to be held in October.

Finally, Pallot and Humphreys visited the memorial site of Jansenovac camp, located some 100 kilometers south of Zagreb, separated from Bosnia by the Sava river. The camp, which operated from 1941-45, was the most notorious concentration camp of the Ustasa regime, and functioned as an extermination site. An estimated 87,000 to 100,000 thousand Serbs, Jews, Roma, and Croatian opposition figures perished at the camp.

20th anniversary seminar of Helsinki’s Center for European Studies

Dr. Olga Kantokoski took part in the 20th anniversary seminar of the Centre for European Studies, which took place at the University of Helsinki on 2.‌2.‌-3.‌2.‌2023.

At the seminar, Olga delivered presentation based on her freshly completed paper “Modernity and the Liberalization of Punishment on Europe’s Periphery: the Longue Durée of Penal Evolution in the Western Balkans”.

The full programme was

Sorsa Foundation seminar on Western Balkans

(Photos by Sorsa Foundation and Topi Lappalainen)

The Sorsa Foundation, in cooperation with the European Network of Political Foundations, organised a special seminar on the Western Balkans in Helsinki on 24 January 2023. The venue was Helsinki’s Musiikkitalo, and the full title of the seminar was What can be learned from crises? – Western Balkans’ EU enlargement in the shadows of the Covid-19 pandemic, the war in Ukraine, and the energy crisis.

Speakers included Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto, Finland’s Ambassador in Serbia, HE Kimmo Lähdevirta, Irfan Cengic, Member of the Parliament, Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Ledjon Shahini, Director of Qemal Stafa Foundation, Albania, and Brendan Humphreys of the Aleksanteri Institute.

Humphreys had been asked to address the impact of the Ukraine War on the Western Balkans. He stressed some positive elements of solidarity with the Ukrainians, notably from Bulgaria, but he largely concentrated on the risks of Russian interference and provocation in the troubled areas, in particular Bosnia’s Republika Srpska and Kosovo.

Unfortunately, Minister Haavisto could not join the panel discussion that followed the individual speeches, but the debate was lively, direct, and very informative. Jelena Simic of the Sorsa Foundation chaired the discussion.

For an fuller account of the seminar in Finnish, see

Paljon puhetta Länsi-Balkanista  

Mykhailo Romanov joins project

In September 2022, the Academy of Finland made funding available to attach Ukrainian scholars to ongoing research projects in Finland. Judith Pallot and Brendan Humphreys secured funding from this call. Under this programme, we have been able to invite Mykhailo Romanov to be attached to GULAGECHOES and the Yugoslavian Prison Nationalism projects in the Aleksanteri Institute. Under current Ukrainian regulations, Mykhailo will be able to join us in person for only one month and otherwise will be contributing to both projects remotely.

Mykhailo is a scholar of penitentiary law and a prisoners’ rights activist. He is an Associate Professor at the Yaroslav Mudryi National Law University and at the Poltava University of Economics and Trade. He has PhD in Penal Law from the Yaroslav Mudryi National Law University and is an author of over forty scientific publications including four monographs and two co-authored books. He is also a penitentiary expert for the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group (KHPG) and a temporary member of the working group on drafting the law on penitentiary system in Ukraine.

Aleksanteri Conference 2022

26th-28th October 2002. The annual Aleksanteri Conference gave members of the Yugoslavian Prison Nationalism had the opportunity to present their findings to the broad section of the academic, civil society and foreign affairs community that attended this year’s conference. The theme of the conference arising out of the war in Ukraine was entitled “The New Age of Insecurity”. The project members gave papers in two panels: “War and Repression. Russia´s War against Ukraine in Discursive, Comparative and Legal Perspective” and “The Role of Penalty in Post-Community State Formation in Former Soviet and Yugoslavian space”. Brendan Humphreys gave the paper, Incarceration and Population Expulsion: Patterns from the Balkan and Ukraine Wars and Olga Kantokoski presented The Western Balkan Model of Carceral Punishment in the Context of the Penal Programme of Modernity. PI Judith Pallot’s presentation was Violence and Repression: the Carceral Fate of the Opponents of the War in Ukraine.

28th October. At the closing ceremony of the Aleksanteri Conference we were able to announce that Gulagechoes and Yugoslavian Prison Nationalism have been chosen to be the co-organisers of the Aleksanteri conference together with the law Faculty’s Development in post-Soviet law group. The conference’s theme will be: “Decolonising space in the global east: Legal choices, Political Transformation, Carceral practices”. The members of the organising committee explained the theme of the conference and expressed the hope that they would see everyone back at the Aleksanteri at the same time next year.

Kosovo Seminar and diplomatic networking

On 4th November, Dr Olga Kantokoski and Dr. Brendan Humphreys were invited to join a panel organised and hosted by the Crisis Management Initiative (CMI), the Helsinki-based conflict resolution institution, founded by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Martti Athisaari. The Kosovo delegation included Kosovo’s Deputy Prime Minister Besnik Bislimi, and Professor Fisnik Korenica of the Kosovo Justice Ministry. Also present were scholars from the Finnish Institute of Foreign Affairs (FIIA). The discussion and networking were valuable for establishing contacts between the Yugoslavian Prison Nationalism project and relevant representatives of the government of Kosovo.

11th August 2022. Visit to the Embassy of the Republic of Croatia. The PI and Dr Brendan Humphreys were received by H.E. the Ambassador to the Republic of Finland, Mr Josip Buljević with whom they had a fruitful and informative discussion on the theme of the Yugoslavian Prison Nationalism project.

31st October 2022. Visit to the Embassy of the Republic of Serbia. The PI and Dr Olga Kantokoski were received by H.E. the Ambassador to the Republic of Finland Mr Saša Obradović with whom they had a fruitful and informative discussion on the theme of the Yugoslavian Prison Nationalism project.