Gulag narratives: a bibliography and metadata project (version 1)

Some years ago, when this blog was a new venture, I started an annotated reading list of Russian and Soviet labour camp narratives. My aim initially was to expand it over time, but as one so often finds, there never is time, and it has lain neglected for several years now, despite fairly regular comments and emails from readers suggesting some very worthwhile additions – many of which I had read, but some of which were new to me. My work has moved on too much to go back to that now, so rather than pretending I’m going to make any further additions to the list, I’m repurposing it as recommendations for readings in translation on the subject.

Instead I’m using the sources I have been collecting for my book to start a new project, which ultimately aims to compile a comprehensive bibliography of published Russian/Soviet carceral narratives. I have begun with texts about Soviet-era imprisonment, and the first version has gone live today. My aim is to continue expanding this bibliography, and eventually add bibliographies of tsarist-era and post-soviet narratives, plus secondary sources.

Wherever possible, I will link to full texts (for the Soviet-era works in this bibliography, the main source will be the Sakharov Archive; for pre-revolutionary texts, it will be the Internet Archive). Where no full text is available, I will give a link to a catalogue entry, generally WorldCat. I have grouped translations together with the original texts, except in the case of Solzhenitsyn, where I have for the time being just given a reference to his Collected Works in Russian and separate entries for translations. Most of the translations I give are in English, for obvious reasons, though I do also include quite a few in French. I have more references to original texts in Polish than German due to my own language competencies.

I have mainly stuck to works about the Soviet labour camps, but have added a couple of works on camps in other Soviet-bloc countries, and would be interested in other recommendations in this category, where my knowledge is very limited. As well as memoirs and other works by survivors, I have included some fictional works by writers who did not experience the camps themselves. A couple of these were in their time controversial, but I think it’s right to list both prominent works that made false claims when the Gulag existed and recent fictional works, because the former played their part in shaping public perception of the Gulag and its texts, and the latter indicate that the continuing legacy of the subject.

The plan is ultimately to release the bibliographies as data, but that will not happen for quite some time as this is obviously a large-scale project, and I am currently working on my own. The first version of the bibliography of Gulag narratives contains around 750 entries, and it’s no exaggeration to say that it barely scratches the surface. The Sakharov archive of Gulag memoirs alone contains around 3700 bibliographic references, and nearly 1600 complete texts. But I think this bibliography as it stands is large enough to be useful, which is why I am publishing it now. And if anybody wishes to suggest a collaboration, I will be very willing to discuss it (German speakers especially welcome!).

With thanks as ever to John Levin for his invaluable technical assistance.

Raskolnikov on Twitter

For the last few days on Twitter @RodionTweets has been tweeting Crime and Punishment in real time from Raskolnikov’s perspective. A collaborative project developed by a group of North-American and British colleagues, we have each been responsible for turning one part of the novel into tweets. As my contribution for Part II begins, I repost here the piece I wrote for The Bloggers Karamazov, the blog of the North American Dostoevsky Society, reflecting on the project. You can also catch up with Sarah Hudspith’s blog about Part I, and Katia Bowers’ introduction. Blogs by other participants will be posted to coincide with the beginning of the parts of the novel they rewrote.

One thing that interests me is how digital technologies broaden the possibilities of what we can do as humanities scholars. My first foray into the digital, Mapping St Petersburg, used Google Maps to start exploring the interaction of text and city, and the ways in which the city’s spaces are incorporated into and transformed by its literary tradition. The results of that project, a set of interactive maps that enable us to interrogate the geographical dimensions of the ‘Petersburg text’, offer new perspectives that I have found very useful in rethinking the texts, and has become a very useful teaching tool that enables students to engage with the text in new ways.

It’s no coincidence that we began Mapping St Petersburg with the same novel that we are now tweeting. The spatial and temporal specificity that enabled us to map Crime and Punishment so precisely – the extent to which it participates in and represents the real world of St Petersburg in 1865 – is one thing that make it amenable to tweeting. But more than that, the novel’s very complexity and multi-layered nature invites us to break it down in different ways and construct new readings out of that process of granularization. This is in essence what we have always done as literary scholars, as interpretation inevitably involves selection (and therefore also exclusion) of material from the text.

Perhaps the main difference with projects like @RodionTweets and Mapping St Petersburg (in part because of their public nature) is that they force us towards completeness and to following our reading to its logical limit. While we may be concentrating only on one aspect of the text, we cannot lay aside any of the difficulties or contradictions that aspect may entail. I think we seldom have to be so consistent or thorough when it comes to traditional forms of interpretation (the advantage of the machine reading of Dostoevsky I’ve also recently embarked upon is similarly the complete overview it offers). The result of that process, for me, has been closer readings than I have ever done before, and these have revealed all sorts of details that I have never previously noticed. So it is perhaps not so much that these digital projects have allowed us to do something we couldn’t do before, rather that they have given us access to an augmented version of what we have previously done.

Writing this a few days before the tweeting of the present time of Crime and Punishment begins, I’m interested in the results as much as a reader of the novel as in my role as one of the participants in the project. As a reader, I wonder what impression the tweets will give of the text as a whole, and what new insights they will offer. Already from the tweets we have seen from the novel’s pre-history, I’m struck by how easily they fit into my timeline and become part of the echo-chamber (which gives me a certain insight into the accounts I follow), and the identification we (mainly the participants in the project) have been experiencing with Raskolnikov, as his problems seem not so very remote to our own:

As a participant, I wonder how my interpretation of Raskolnikov’s perception of events will differ from my colleagues’ when we see the tweets in situ. One thing I’ll be particularly interested in – which I really struggled with, and to which I’m only now, in retrospect, beginning to find an answer – is how the tweets deal with the other characters. We tend to think of Crime and Punishment as focusing solely on Raskolnikov, and to a great extent so it does. But for all his introspection, for large parts of the novel he interacts with others and in the first couple of parts at least he is very alive to the world around him on the streets of Petersburg. These elements of necessity appear in a more passive role than they play in the novel itself – still present, and perhaps with even more intensity, within Raskolnikov’s internal dialogue, to be sure, but their external part in that dialogue is removed, or at least refracted through Raskolnikov’s lens (I’m particularly looking forward to Marmeladov’s funeral from that point of view – and to what Jennifer Wilson has to say about writing the tweets for that part of the novel). That refraction undoubtedly provides a concentrated view of Raskolnikov’s perspective and thoughts about how he experiences the events of the novel, which in itself has the potential to reveal new and unexpected questions. But at the same time, twitter is an interactive platform, and while we can reply to @RodionTweets or incorporate his tweets into our own, Raskolnikov himself cannot interact in the same way either with other characters in the novel, or with the reading audience. I wonder in retrospect what it would look like if he could.

One of the questions we asked ourselves was: how would Raskolnikov use Twitter? The general consensus – with which I agreed – was that he probably wouldn’t tweet during conversations, but would give his thoughts on them after the event. Yet now (and I emphasize that this is several weeks after I completed the tweets for Part II and have had time to reflect on them), I can’t help thinking that some of those interactions could (would?) have been configured quite differently. For example, I can envisage Raskolnikov’s conversation with Zametov in the Crystal Palace tavern – one of the oddest scenes in the novel in terms of Raskolnikov’s behaviour towards another character and in the language he uses – being turned into an epic trolling session. I can see Porfiry doing the same later on. And if @RodionTweets’ followers replied to him, how would he respond? Perhaps that’s going too far in rewriting the novel (and indeed, would have turned this whole project into something quite different, on perhaps an unmanageably large scale), but such thought experiments can be helpful in our endless interrogation and reinterrogation of Dostoevsky’s characters, their relationships to each other, and our relationship to them. As with so many of readings of literature, I find that looking at what is not included is often as revealing as what is there.

My thanks to Katia Bowers and Brian Armstrong for initiating the project, Kristina McGuirk for her excellent and efficient editorial work, and Kate Holland, Sarah Hudspith and Jennifer Wilson for making this such a worthwhile collaboration. If you don’t know me on Twitter, I’m @russianist.

@RodionTweets continues until the end of the novel.

Reading Gulag propaganda

Title page, English version of The History of the Construction of the White Sea Canal

Title page, English version of The History of the Construction of the White Sea Canal

As regular readers will know, I am currently working on a book manuscript on the Russian tradition of prison and exile writing, from the tsarist era to the present day. This is a subject that generally focuses, with good reason, on the victims’ perspective, and many people will disagree with the idea of including Stalinist propaganda in such a study. I was myself reluctant to address works like The History of the Construction of the White Sea Canal (1934), the collectively written volume edited by Maxim Gorky and others, that celebrate the first large-scale Soviet forced labour projects and publicize the theory of reforging (perekovka) through re-education, hard labour and differential rationing depending on the amount of work achieved. I initially began work on this topic because of my interest in Dostoevsky’s Notes from the House of the Dead, Varlam Shalamov’s Kolyma Tales, Sergei Dovlatov’s The Zone, and the many other fascinating, and frequently harrowing, memoirs and fictional works that make up this tradition. I did not anticipate spending much time reading about the salutary effects of hard labour in works that ignore most of the salient facts, including the arrests of large numbers of people on trumped-up political charges, the shocking mortality rates, the violence and extremely harsh conditions convicts endured, and so on – in other words, almost everything we would normally associate with the Gulag.

Cartoon from the camp newspaper 'Perekovka', Ida Averbakh, Ot prestupleniia k trudu

Cartoon from the camp newspaper ‘Perekovka’, Ida Averbakh, Ot prestupleniia k trudu (From Crime to Labour, 1936)

But I became increasing convinced that such works do in fact belong in my project. My subject is precisely the tradition of labour camp writing, and while the majority of texts may take the form of critiques and/or be written by former convicts, books like The History of the Construction of the White Sea Canal make a significant intervention in part because of the counter-perspective they represent. That counter-perspective is also important for the light it sheds on vital questions about the Gulag that underlie its ambivalent legacy and contested memory in Russia today. This is in part because its brutal reality notwithstanding, the Gulag was conceived, theoretically at least, with the aim of transformation of criminals, and it enjoyed popular support for that reason. Moreover, the Gulag as umbrella term encompassed many different types of institution, and incarceration was not a homogenous experience – one only has to read Solzhenitsyn’s In the First Circle to understand that, or recall the many depictions in memoirs of ‘loyalists’ in the camps, who endorsed their own incarceration as contributing to the building of socialism.

Convict Beregovaia reforged, Averbakh, Ot prestupleniia k trudu

Convict Beregovaia reforged, Ida Averbakh, Ot prestupleniia k trudu

So, in addition to The White Sea Canal book, I embarked on studying Nikolai Pogodin’s 1934 ‘comedy’ play about the reforging of criminals on the White Sea Canal project, The Aristocrats, and the 1936 film version directed by Evgeny Chervyakov, The Convicts, documentaries about the White Sea and Moscow-Volga canal projects, pamphlets by an OGPU (secret police) operative about a youth offender commune, and scholarly texts from the 1930s on reform through labour, including Ida Averbakh’s From Crime to Labour. The latter work, which I initially expected to use only as a secondary source, particularly caught my attention. Part turgid Stalinist tract, part coffee-table book, full of pictures of smiling, reformed prisoners and their artworks – there are over 50 pages of illustrations – it represents the most consistent attempt both to place the idea of reform through labour in a Marxist-Leninist framework, and to persuade and attract the reader. All these works had similar aims: there was a huge effort in the first half of the 1930s to present a positive image of corrective labour camps and popularize the idea of reform through physical work. I don’t think this effort should be viewed simply as a cynical attempt to obscure the horrific aspects of the Gulag. While conditions were already very harsh, this was relatively benign phase in the Gulag’s history, and indeed I think it is wrong to suggest that the authorities at this stage felt they had very much to hide. The change in policy from celebration of hard labour to silence that took place at the start of the Great Terror – when conditions deteriorated markedly and the most lethal branches of the Gulag, such as the camps of Kolyma in Russia’s Far East, were established – shows that the Stalinist regime had a far more reliable way of concealing the reality when that became expedient. Rather, these texts and films should be seen as a genuine attempt to communicate a new approach to penal justice, however partial and idealized the picture they paint.

The convict Sonia reforged, film still from Zakliuchennye (1936)

Vera Yanukova as the reforged convict Sonia. Still from the film Zakliuchennye (The Convicts, 1936)

Such important ideological work could only be put in the safest of hands, so it’s no surprise to see Gorky, chief architect of Socialist Realism, at the helm of the White Sea Canal book, alongside Leopold Averbakh, formerly head of the Proletarian Writers’ Union, and a high-profile member of the security services, Semyon Firin, director of the White Sea-Baltic corrective labour camp. Ida Averbakh also had impeccable credentials: a prominent jurist in her own right, she was also the niece of the late Bolshevik Yakov Sverdlov, sister of Leopold and wife of the head of OGPU, Genrikh Yagoda (it seems likely in fact that she was responsible for her husband’s rise to power). These backgrounds, as well as the aims of the texts and films, lead one to expect a clear articulation of the socialist basis of the theory of reforging. But beyond the Stalinist jargon and repeated assertions that reforging is socialist, there is little in these works to support that claim. Instead, they use similar strategies to avoid not only depicting the crucial turning points in the transformation of the reforged prisoners, but even reference to the motivating factors, so that the process is divested of both psychological and ideological content. Where a socialist element is apparent, such as the role of the collective, the authors reverse both causality and accepted definitions, so that reforging is distanced from socialism, instead of representing its apex. In my paper for the SSEES Centenary conference, Socialism, Capitalism and the Alternatives: Lessons from Russia and Eastern Europe, I shall explore some of the strategies these works use that undermine the relationship between reforging and socialism. I will examine some alternative – and seemimgly contradictory – sources for the theory of reforging in pre-revolutionary discourses of prison and exile, and discuss the implications of these for our understanding of the Gulag as the essence of Stalinism, and as a necessary part of the Soviet building of socialism.

Historical memory of the Gulag (3): Contested memory

The failure to establish a central memorial to the victims of the Gulag mentioned in my previous post is part of a problem of contested memory that has been apparent since the demise of the Soviet Union but has escalated in the last decade or so. As Arseny Roginsky’s eloquent essay The Embrace of Stalinism shows, various aspects of the contestation of historical memory had taken hold by 2008. In this post I want to think about how things have developed since then, and bring together a few articles on some of the most critical events of recent years.

The increasing harassment of the Memorial Society, from the raid and confiscation of their archives in December 2008 to the imposition of the status of ‘foreign agent’ last year (read the official line on this from TASS and in English from Russia Today), now threaten its very existence (see also this BBC article, featuring interview with activists and family members at last year’s Return of the Names ceremony). The Sakharov Center faces similar problems. Most prominently over the last year or so, the Perm-36 Gulag museum has lost funding, closed and reopened under new management; see also Aleksandr Kalikh’s article ‘Perm’-36: unichtozhenie pamiati. The NTV documentary about Perm-36, ‘The Fifth Column’, is an example of the disturbing tone of the accusations being levelled and of attempts to shift the focus away from the Gulag’s victims. Ola Cichowlas’ article in New Republic gives some useful context and detail on the programme for non-Russian speakers, and for Russian readers the website has a list of stories related to the situation.

Perm-36 Gulag museum, by Gerald Praschl (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Perm-36 Gulag museum, by Gerald Praschl (CC BY-SA 3.0)

There are a number of reasons behind this movement against these organizations, such as the involvement of some of them in other human rights work (the closure of the Committee Against Torture as a ‘foreign agent’ shows that it is not only organizations campaigning about historical memory that are under threat). But the rehabilitation of Stalin is a major factor. In Georgia, Stalin remains a cause for celebration in some quarters, the home boy made good. In Russia, the rhetoric of the strong leader, focusing first of all on Stalin’s victory in the Great Patriotic War but also now more generally on his rebuilding and industrialization of the country both before and after the war, is very much directed towards bolstering Putin’s legitimacy at home, reclaiming pride in the nation, and re-establishing Russia’s claim to a place at the top of the international pecking order. One might suggest therefore that the memory of the Stalinist repressions and its victims are merely, yet again, the casualties of that process. But it’s more complex than that. While the new exhibition at Perm-36 emphasizes not the victims but the Gulag’s ‘Contribution To Victory’, the Museum of history of the Gulag in Moscow is, by contrast, thriving; the opening of its new building is scheduled for 30 October 2015. In Roland Oliphant’s excellent piece The growing struggle in Russia about historical memory and Stalin, Irina Shcherbakova of Memorial characterizes this as part of a hybrid approach to memory. That identifies what’s going on, but again, I’m not sure that really helps us understand why it’s happening. I’d like instead to examine two aspects which I think may get us closer to understanding it. The first is a question about commemoration: who (and what) is being remembered? The second is a question about the nature the Gulag itself.

Leaving aside Western memorials to the victims of communism, which arguably are more interested in lauding the victory of capitalism (and hasn’t that turned out well?) than in remembering those who perished, the first question, about commemoration in Russia itself, may appear to have an obvious answer: the victims of the Stalinist (or, more broadly, Soviet) repressions. Certainly, NGOs such as Memorial, the compilers of the many memory books and those involved in the various memorial projects I discussed in my previous post, are working to identify and commemorate all the victims, and their efforts are in no way devalued by what follows. But there are a couple of problems with commemoration that Alexander Etkind has identified in his article ‘Hard and Soft in Cultural Memory: Political Mourning in Russia and Germany’, Grey Room, 16 (2004), 36–59. The first is the extent to which the Orthodox church has appropriated commemoration of Gulag victims, for example at the memorial complex at the Butovo firing range. Many Orthodox believers, both lay and ordained, were victims, and they certainly deserve to be remembered – Orthodoxy does have an important role to play here. But if the commemorations as a whole have an Orthodox colouring, where does that leave victims of other faiths, or none? I can’t help comparing this to Khrushchev’s secret speech and the subsequent de-Stalinization programme that focused solely on the repression of party members and remained silent about all other victims, who were the majority. Beyond that question, the involvement of the Orthodox church is particularly problematic given the level of collaboration between the church and the security services after religious revival Stalin encouraged during the Great Patriotic War. The present-day church’s accommodation with power raises similar questions: can or should an institution that participated in the prosecution and imprisonment of Pussy Riot control memory of the Gulag? And when an Orthodox priest is pictured placing a flower at the bust of Stalin on the opening of the new museum devoted to him in Tver oblast, one might well ask about the church’s suitability for the task.

The second aspect Etkind discusses is the form commemoration takes, as it focuses squarely on paying tribute to the suffering of the victims, and presenting them as martyrs. In the latter respect again one may see the influence of the church, but more importantly here, Etkind’s concern is the failure to use commemoration to question the system that created so many victims, or to address questions of responsibility. One could ask whether the sort of ‘hard’ memorials Etkind has in mind here ever really can address such issues, but his approach made me think more broadly about the mindset of survivors as narrators – a major concern for my research – and how they present their own experience. Many survivors have a clear idea about who (or what) is responsible for their arrest and for the horrific conditions they endured (think Evgeniia Ginzburg). But equally, many frame their arrest and camp experiences as a matter of fate – a perusal of titles in the Sakharov Center’s database of Gulag memoirs reveals very frequent recourse to words such as sud’ba and dolia and to statements that ‘this is just how it was’ that bypass the question of responsibility altogether.

Some might suggest this is the result of a particularly Russian mentality, an emphasis on suffering and/or a view the individual as being at the mercy of the state. That undoubtedly is part of it, but I think there’s something else at work here. A significant problem Gulag memory is the identification of perpetrators and victims, because of the ease with which people could move from one category to the other – and back again. This raises a genuine dilemma about whom to commemorate. One of the people I’ve been working on recently, Ida Averbakh, was arrested in 1937 and executed in 1938 at Butovo. She was undoubtedly innocent of the crimes of which she was accused (unlike Shalamov, for instance, however innocuous those ‘crimes’ seem to us now). But does the fact that she was a prominent legal scholar who wrote a book celebrating the use of hard labour in reforming criminals, and was married to NKVD chief Genrikh Yagoda to boot (she was in fact probably responsible for her husband’s ascendency), mean that she should not be subject to commemoration? Personally I find it hard to feel much sympathy for the likes of her, even if I am prepared to accept (and it’s sometimes a stretch) that such people were sincere in their attempts to institute proper reforms in the criminal justice system. But one doesn’t have to go as far as someone like Averbakh to encounter ambivalence; as Vasily Grossman shows in Everything Flows, degrees of participation in, acquiescence in, and often personal profit from, a society built on terror, left many people compromised. One could go further, and suggest that as non-participation in the Soviet state was not an option, almost everyone was involved to some degree (as expressed Nadezhda Mandelshtam’s memoirs, if one bought bread at a Soviet bakery – and what else could one do? – one participated in the system). The recourse to fate therefore becomes a means of sidestepping the problem of complicity, by which I do not mean that those authors who use such terms were themselves in some way more complicit than others; rather, they are evidence more generally of a desire to avoid a question that in reality is far more thorny than, for example, Ginzburg’s rather simplistic identification of Stalin as the evil genius in her life.

My reference to Ida Averbakh in the previous paragraph also relates to the other question: the nature of the Gulag. This is not a simple issue either, despite the person on Twitter who helpfully told me that ‘The Gulag was death’. I do not mean that to be flippant. I am well aware of the numbers of victims and of the suffering of those who endured truly horrific conditions. But one has to remember that the Gulag was a very varied institution, encompassing the sharashka of Solzhenitsyn’s In the First Circle as well as the ‘Auschwitz without ovens’ of Kolyma. It was not only or primarily about extermination, even if this was often the outcome in some places and for large numbers of those unfortunate enough to be caught up in it. As Steven Barnes’ book Death and Redemption: The Gulag and the Shaping of Soviet Society (Princeton University Press, 2011) has shown most effectively, cultural work with prisoners was not just a sham, and re-education and restoration of some convicts to Soviet society remained an aspiration, although corruption, incompetence, indifference and plain brutality frequently undermined this in actuality. At the end of the 1920s and in the first half of the 1930s in particular, the idea of reforming criminals through hard labour was much discussed in the Soviet Union and had a good deal of popular support – witness the success of films like Evgenii Cherviakov’s Convicts [Zakliuchennye], based on Nikolai Pogodin’s comedy about ‘reforging’ criminals, The Aristocrats, and Nikolai Ekk’s Road to Life [Putevka v zhizn’], a fictionalized version of work at an OGPU youth offenders’ commune. These works are easy to dismiss because they obviously distort or overlook the experience of many of the incarcerated – in particular, people convicted of trumped-up political charges – but they nevertheless represent a perspective on the Gulag that should not be ignored just because it differs from what we read in most survivor narratives. Loyal Stalinists among the convicts – depicted in so many texts and the subject of Nanci Adler’s book Keeping Faith with the Party – would have little reason to write their own memoirs because they neither viewed themselves as wronged nor had the sort of individualist perspective that would provide the impulse to witnessing. And the fact that such people existed, who endorsed the system and even their own incarceration, renders the notion of universal victimhood somewhat problematic in this context. The different facets of the Gulag, and the disparate ways it was experienced by different types of convicts, meant there was no single response to it at the time. That must have a bearing on how it is perceived today.

I will return to the question of positive reflections of the Gulag in the films I mention above and other propaganda from the 1930s in my next post.

Update (24 Sept 2015): The question of a central monument to the victims of Stalinism is back on the table with the results of a new design competition due to be announced in the next few days. Good news, apparently, although we’ve been at this stage before and nothing has come of it. Perhaps it will happen this time, because the impetus for it comes from Putin himself. But as this Moscow Times article by Vladimir Ryzhkov notes, Putin’s involvement is ambiguous to say the least, given the glorification of Stalin that has been encouraged in recent years, and the attacks on Memorial, Perm-36 and other commemorative/human rights organizations I discuss above. Although Ryzhkov is correct to point to the conflicting values present in Russian society, I’m not sure this is sufficient explanation. So is it more about centralizing control of memory, and removing an important function from groups like Memorial? They can hardly object to his involvement, but I wonder what effect it will have on their fortunes in the long run.

Update (29 October 2015): The design for the monument to the victims of Stalinism has now been chosen. I will watch how this progresses with interest. Meanwhile, Perm-36 Gulag museum has lost its appeal against classification as a foreign agent. And the recalibration of Gulag memory gets ever more murky, as is apparent in this fine article by Shaun Walker reporting from Yagodnoe in Kolyma (where Shalamov spent some of his sentence).

Historical memory of the Gulag (2): Memorials, maps and other memory projects

Mikhail Chemiakin's controversial memorial to the victims of political repression in Petersburg. Author's photograph

Mikhail Chemiakin’s controversial memorial to the victims of political repression in Petersburg. Author’s photograph

Since the final years of the Soviet Union, memorializing the victims of the political repressions – in itself a curious formulation that indicates some of the problems associated with this subject – has remained a significant and, to a large extent, unresolved question. Historical memory projects can obviously have all sorts of different aims: the educational and the ritual; establishing the narrative of historical events; finding and marking locations associated with those events; gathering or recovering individual and collective memories; and shaping collective identity, to name but a few. It is not surprising, therefore, that these various dimensions have been expressed in many different types of project, from the memory books I listed in my previous post to museums and monuments across the former soviet states.

Alexander Etkind’s article ‘Hard and Soft in Cultural Memory: Political Mourning in Russia and Germany’, Grey Room, No. 16 (2004), 36-59, divides memorialization, as his title suggests, into the ‘hard’ (primarily monuments) and the ‘soft’ (texts). He argues that in Russia the latter has succeeded – with projects such as memory books as well as individual memoirs becoming important sites of memory – whereas the former remains problematic. Although there are multiple monuments to the victims of the Gulag and the terror throughout the former USSR, the absence of a single central memorial points to a lack of unity, and with the failure of earlier attempts to reach agreement on the form or location of a monument, it seems unlikely now that such a thing will ever be built.

As I have been researching memory projects of different types for these posts, a couple of features of the form memorialization has taken have stood out. The first is the rejection of top-down approaches. The absence of consultation is one of the main reasons why Chemiakhin’s memorial in Petersburg pictured above and Neizvestnyi’s ‘Mask of Sorrow’ in Magadan with which I illustrated my previous post have not been universally embraced, to say the least (see Kathleen Smith’s article ‘Conflict over Designing a Monument to Stalin’s Victims’, in J. Cracraft and D. Rowland, eds, Architectures of Russian Identity, Cornell University Press, 2003, pp. 193-203). In a more positive sense, initiatives such as the ‘Last Address’ project I mention below celebrate their collaborative basis through crowd-funding and stress the absence of government support or (so far) interference.

Solovetsky_Stone_-_Moscow (1)

Solovetsky Stone, Moscow (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The other aspect that seems important is the way that the temporary has become permanent. The most striking example of this is the Solovetsky stone in Lubyanka Square in Moscow, which was installed by Memorial in 1990 as a temporary monument but, in the absence of agreement about a more permanent (and larger scale) memorial, has come to represent a focal point for memory; it is the location, for example, for the annual ‘Return of the Names’ ceremony detailed below. But this also seems to be what is happening on a wider scale as the supposedly soft products of memory solidify to stand in the place of the missing hard memory. Classic works such as The Gulag Archipelago already have that monumentalizing aim, but this is now magnified by the sheer size of the Sakharov Center’s digital archive of Gulag memoirs, and the access it enables to so many otherwise elusive texts.

In a sense many of the projects I list here are exist on the intersection of soft and hard memory, as their digital presence often transforms one into the other. The online cataloguing of memorials by the Virtual Gulag Museum and the Sakharov Center, and the use of interactive maps by the Last Address project and others, create soft versions of the hard products of memory, while perhaps the most ephemeral form of witnessing – oral testimony – acquires more solidity through its digital form.

My aim here is to create an overview of the different types of memory project relating to the Gulag, including both the primarily digital and those that have some digital dimension. As with my previous post, it has no pretension to completeness; I will update it whenever I have new information, and will be grateful for details of any other projects. In my next post I will discuss the question of contested memory.

Archives, memoirs and virtual museums

Memorial St Petersburg’s Archive is quite well organized with good selection of complete documents.

The most recent version of Memorial’s main website has all sorts of information, but some of the material seems to have got rather lost amidst the reorganization. See the old version of the history page for more usable links to the virtual museum, archives and writing on the repressions.

The Sakharov Center’s archive Vospominaniia o GULAGe [Memoirs of the Gulag] remains one of my most important resources – though how I wish my Zotero button functioned with these, it would make my bibliography compiling so much easier…

I have discussed Gulag: Many days many lives and Virtual’nyi muzei Gulaga [Virtual Museum of the Gulag] in a previous post, so won’t dwell on those now. Other virtual exhibitions worth visiting (and still live) include Tvorchestvo i byt Gulaga on the Memorial website, and the Open Society Archive’s Forced Labor Camps online exhibit.

Vladimir Bukovsky’s Soviet archives are not directly concerned with the Gulag, but contain a significant number of documents about the persecution of dissidents from the 1960s onwards, and the use of psychiatry as a punitive political tool.

Memory and oral history projects

Poslednie svideteli [Last witnesses], developed by Memorial Moscow and Berlin, consists of 26 videos, including individual testimonies and thematic videos covering questions such as women in the camps and transport to Magadan. The testimonies are very moving but at the same time the interviewees are incredibly matter of fact about their experiences.

St Petersburg Memorial’s Gulag: Liudi i sud’by [People and Fates] project has five short videos about the lives of its subjects, including interviews with former prisoners and their children. The videos can also be accessed directly through YouTube.

Sound archives: European memories of the Gulag focuses on citizens from European territories deported to the Gulag from 1939 to 1953 and has some fascinating interviews and other material, organized thematically as well as by individual testimony.

Amnesia Gulag in Europe could have a better title, but this is a solid research and educational project, with a particular focus on visual memory, based at the University of Macerata. The ebook Remembering the Gulag: Images and Imagination, ed. by Natascia Mattucci, has some interesting ideas and articles, but feels a bit like a work in progress.

For oral testimony I would also still recommend Vlast’ Solovetskaia [Solovki Power] as a remarkable piece of film-making with some some extraordinary interviewees, including Dmitry Likhachev – I don’t think it’s been bettered by any other film about the Gulag, documentary or otherwise.

Memorials and memory events

The Virtual Gulag museum’s list of Pamiatniki (587 memorials) and Nekropoli (592 burial grounds) gives copious details for a good many of its entries. I confess I’m slightly mystified by the criteria for inclusion – the Pamiatniki list includes some individual graves, but there are some odd (and obvious) omissions.

The Sakharov Center’s list and map of memorials has 1224 items, but does not include individual graves: Pamiatki zhertvam politicheskikh represii na territorii byvshego SSSR [Memorials to the victims of political repressions in the territory of the former USSR].

Perm Memorial’s list of 101 monuments, memorials and plaques in the Perm region gives an indication of quite how many such memorials there are to victims of the repressions.

Poslednii adres [Last Address], which began in 2014, aims to mark the final addresses where victims of the Soviet repressions lived before their arrest. A crowd-funded project inspired by Gunter Demnig’s Stolpersteine project to commemorate the victims of Nazism, so far 50 of the small metal plaques have been installed on buildings in Moscow and St Petersburg, and a map on the main page of the website shows how many more are currently in preparation. Read more about the Last Address project in the Calvert Journal.

Vozvrashchenie imen [Return of the Names] is an annual event, on 29 October in which people gather around the Solovetski stone in Lubyanka Square in Moscow to read out the names of victims of the repressions. Read Tanya Zaharchenko’s moving account of the ceremony in 2014.

Last address plaque to Ekaterina Mihkailovna Zhelvatykh, Moscow, ul. Mashkova 16. Photograph by Mlarisa CC-BY-SA-4.0

Last address plaque to Ekaterina Mihkailovna Zhelvatykh, Moscow, ul. Mashkova 16. Photograph by Mlarisa CC-BY-SA-4.0

Interactive maps of memory

Topografiia terrora [Topography of Terror] on the Vozvrashchenie imen [Return of the names] website is very good map of area around Lubyanka, where Return of the names ceremony is held every year, showing the number of people from different buildings that died, and with clear outlines of those buildings. It uses data from Moscow Memorial’s Rastreliannye v Moskve [Executed in Moscow] database, and would be very good to see this version expanded.

A larger-scale map of Moscow using the same data can be found at Mapping the Great Terror in Moscow, with links to the Google Fusion Tables used for both this map and an earlier version, Rivers of Blood in Moscow.

Karta pamiati: Nekropol’ terrora i gulaga [Map of memory: Place of burial of terror and the Gulag] is St Petersburg Memorial’s project to map places of executions and secret & mass burials, camp and prison cemeteries, graves of exiles, which has 407 entries at present. It’s well presented, easier to use & more searchable than the original source of much of the information it contains, the Virtual Gulag museum’s list of Nekropoli.

Karta GULAGa [Gulag Map]: special settlements and camps of the Gulag in the Perm region (former Molotov oblast) 1930s-1950s. Related to Perm Memorial’s recently published Memory book, Gody terrora [The Years of Terror].

Mapping the Gulag is an ESRC-funded research project led by Judith Pallot, Laura Piacentini and Dominque Moran as part of a wider project on Russia’s penal geography. See my previous post.

NEW: Topografiia terror [Topogarphy of Terror] by Memorial Moscow, with information on Sharashkas (Gulag research institutes) as well as prisons, and mass execution and burial sites.

NEW: Mapping the Gulag over Time, by Abstractualized. Does what it says on the tin, and more, with links to the data used and an excellent account of the historical questions.

Other historical memory sites

The Sakharov Center’s Programma Pamiat’ o bespravii [Memory of lawlessness] is basically an online part of the museum, and has 4 sections: Mythology and ideology of the Soviet regime; political repressions in the USSR; through the Gulag; opposition to unfreedom in the USSR.

Istoricheskaia pamiat’: XX vek: Gosudarstvennyi terror i politicheskie repressii v SSSR [Historical memory of the 20th Century: State Terror and political repression in the USSR] The State Museum of history of the Gulag and the Sakharov Center are among the partners. The website has sections on repressions, memorial places, resources, discussion, people and their fates, including some memoirs.
There is also a reasonable list of museums devoted to the Gulag and the repressions.

There are some interesting materials on Uroki istorii XX vek [Lessons of 20th century history], which is supported by Moscow Memorial and the German foundation Remembrance, Responsibility and Future (Erinnerung. Verantwortung. Zukunft).

The website Rossiiskie sotsialiisty i anarkhisty posle Oktiabria 1917 goda [Russian socialists and anarchists after October 1917] has a section on Socialists and anarchists in Soviet prisons, labour camps and exile with some interesting resources.

Historical memory of the Gulag (1): Memory books

Mask of Sorrow. Monument to the victims of the Gulag, Magadan

Mask of Sorrow. Monument to the victims of the Gulag, Magadan, by Alglus (CC BY-SA 3.0)

I’ve been thinking about historical memory of the Gulag and the Stalinist repressions recently whilst working on my book, and have decided to put together a few posts of links relating to the subject. This is partly from my own need to organize the material coherently, and partly because an up-to-date list would, I hope, be useful to other people as well.

I’ll say a bit more about the question of historical memory itself in a subsequent post, because there is already quite enough material for this one, on memory books. Memory books (knigi pamiati), listing the names of victims of the political repressions in the Soviet Union, began to appear in the mid 1990s. The bibliography A. Ia. Razumov et al, eds, Knigi pamiati zhertv politicheskikh repressii v SSSR: Annotirovannyi ukazatel’ (St Petersburg: RNB, Mezhdunarodnyi proekt “Vozvrashchennye imena”, 2004)  (pdf version also here) shows just how many of these books there are – and this includes material only up to 2003. They are still appearing, albeit at a much slower rate – some recent ones are listed on the Vozvrashchennye imena (Recovered names) website. A significant number of memory books and databases have also been put on line, primarily, although not solely, through the auspices of Memorial and the Vozvrashchennye imena project, which ultimately aims (I hope it is not too optimistic to continue to use the present tense) to build a single database of all the victims of the Soviet repressions. That is clearly no small task, and the long gestation of the project should perhaps come as no surprise. In the mean time it is part of the nature of the internet that sites get moved and links decay, and even the links sections on the Memorial and Vozvrashchennye imena websites are full of broken links, making it difficult to find some of those memory books that are currently available.

My starting point for compiling this list was the following sites:

Возвращенные имена [ebooks by the Recovered Names project] and other links.

Мемориал: СПИСОК КНИГ ПАМЯТИ: Книги, составленные по региональному признаку [Memorial’s List of memory books compiled by region] and СПИСКИ ЖЕРТВ ПОЛИТИЧЕСКИХ РЕПРЕССИЙ [lists of victims of political repressions].

Возвращенные имена-списки ссылок [A further list of references based on the Vozvrashchennye imena materials].

I have updated numerous links from these lists, removed those that are broken when I haven’t been able to find replacements (those that were part of the Okrytaia russkaia elektronnaia biblioteka – OREL – seem to have disappeared altogether with the demise of that project), and added a couple of extra ones I found whilst compiling the list. I make no claims to completeness – the list is very much a work in progress, and any information about other memory book sites that can be added will be gratefully received. The material is ordered thus:

1) General lists and databases
2) Lists of victims by location:
a) Moscow
b) Leningrad
c) other cities and regions of the Russian Federation
d) other former Soviet republics
e) other countries and peoples
3) Lists devoted to specific groups of victims

I have translated titles and essential details about contents. In places I have included notes about sources, usage, limitations, etc, based on my own observations, but overall I have tried to keep details to a minimum, given the number of links.

1) General lists and databases

ЭЛЕКТРОННАЯ КНИГА ПАМЯТИ “ВОЗВРАЩЕННЫЕ ИМЕНА”: “Жертвы политического террора в СССР”: списки [Electronic memory book Recovered Names: Victims of political terror in the USSR]. Includes the names of victims who do not appear in other memory books, based on materials received from relatives and taken from archival sources in the ‘Vozvrashchennye imena’ Centre at the Russian National Library (RNB). Contains around 2,700,000 names. Browsable lists by surname.

Общероссийская общественная благотворительная организация инвалидов — жертв политрепрессий: РОССИЙСКАЯ АССОЦИАЦИЯ ЖЕРТВ НЕЗАКОННЫХ ПОЛИТИЧЕСКИХ РЕПРЕССИЙ [All-Russian social charitable organization for invalids and victims of political repression: Russian Association for the victims of the illegal political repressions]. Database.

Сталинские расстрельные списки [Stalin’s execution lists] Lists of citizens sentenced by Stalin and his closest circle. From the CD “Stalinskie rassstrelnye spiski” (Moscow: Zven’ia, 2002). Browsable lists by name and place.

Объединенная база данных по Москве, Твери, Туле и Карелии [Combined database for Moscow, Tver, Tula and Karelia] C. 48,000 names.

2) Lists of victims by location


МОСКОВСКИЙ МАРТИРОЛОГ: Списки расстрелянных по политическим обвинениям в годы советской власти [Moscow Martyrology: Lists of people executed on political charges in the years of Soviet power] Compiled by Memorial. Also has information on Sentencing organs; sources of information and preparation of the list; places of mass burial of the victims of political repressions; principles of publication. Organized by place of burial and year of execution:
Яузская больница (Yauzskaya hospital)
Ваганьковское кладбище (Vaganskoe cemetery)
Донское кладбище (Donskoe cemetery)
Бутово (Butovo firing range) From the publication: Мартиролог расстрелянных и захороненных на полигоне НКВД “Объект Бутово”. 08.08.1937–19.10.1938. М.; Бутово, 1997 [Martyrology of people shot and buried in the NKVD Butovo firing range]
Коммунарка (Kommunarka).

Мартиролог жертв политических репрессий, расстрелянных и захороненных в Москве и Московской области в 1918-1953 гг. [Martyrology of victims of the political repressions, shot and buried in Moscow and the Moscow oblast, 1918-1953]. The Sakharov Center’s Martyrology, browsable by surname.

Расстрелы в Москве [Shot in Moscow]. Memorial’s list, organized street by street. A map of the victims by address can be found here.


Ленинградский мартиролог: Списки граждан, расстрелянных в Ленинграде, вне Ленинграда и впоследствии реабилитированных [Leningrad martyrology: lists of citizen shot in and around Leningrad and subsequently rehabilitated, 1937-1938]. Some interesting statistics related to this list can be found here, which give the lie, among other things, to the persistent notion that it was mainly party members who were arrested during the Great Terror.

c) RUSSIAN FEDERATION (alphabetical order by city/region)

ALTAI: Memorial Алтайский край
From the publication: Жертвы политических репрессий в Алтайском крае. Т. 1: 1919–1930. (Барнаул, 1998) [Victims of political repression in the Altai krai, vol. 1, 1919-1930].

AMUR: site of the Amur oblast’s administration:
Книга памяти жертв политических репрессий Амурской области. Т. 1–2.— Благовещенск, 2001–2003. [Book of memory of the victims of political repressions in Amur oblast, Vols. 1-2].

ARKHANGELSK: Мартиролог Соловецких узников [Martyrology of Solovki prisoners, on the Solovki Encyclopedia website].

See also Репрессии в Архангельске: 1937–1938. Документы и материалы.— Архангельск, 1999. [Repressions in Arkhangelsk: 1937-1938. Documents and materials] Downloadable pdf, also available here.

ASTRAKHAN: site of the Astrakhan oblast’s administration:
Из тьмы забвения: Книга памяти жертв политических репрессий: Российская Федерация. Астраханская область. Комис. по восстановлению прав реабилитир. жертв полит. репрессий Астрах. обл.; Рабочая группа: Ю. С. Смирнов (отв. ред.), В. В. Волков и др.— Астрахань: Волга. [From the darkness of oblivion: Book of memory of the victims of political repression: Russian Federation. Astrakhan oblast/Commission for the restoration of rights of the rehabilitated victims of political repression in the Astrakhan oblast].
Т. 1: 1918–1954: А-Я.— 2000.
Т. 2: 1918–1986: А-Я.— 2003.
10,955 names.
NB: The original page containing this memory book seems to have disappeared but it is available on the internet archive.

BASHKORTOSTAN: Книга памяти жертв политических репрессий Республики Башкортостан. Т. 1, 2. (Уфа, 1997–1999). [Memory book of the victims of political repressions in the Republic of Bashkortostan].

VLADIMIR: site of the Vladimir oblast’s administration: Боль и память: Книга памяти жертв политических репрессий Владимирской области. [Pain and Memory: Memory Book of the victims of political repressions from the Vladimir oblast]
Т. 1 [г. Владимир; р-ны Александровский—Кольчугинский].— 2001. [Vol. 1: Vladimir city; Aleksansdrovskii-Kol’chuginskii regions]
Т. 2 [р-ны Меленковский—Юрьев-Польский и дополнительные списки по Александровскому—Кольчугинскому р-нам].— 2003 [Melekovskii-Iur’ev-Pol’skii and additional lists for the Aleksansdrovskii-Kol’chuginskii regions]
11,205 biographical notes in all. Searchable by surname, name and patronymic]. Downloadable documents – also available here.

VOLOGDA: Official portal of the Government of Vologda oblast: Книга памяти [Memory book].

VORONEZH: Воронежская область
From information provided to Voronezh Memorial by the directorate of the Voronezh FSB.

IRKUTSK: Site of the Irkutsk Association for the victims of political repressions: Памяти жертв политических репрессий [Memory book of victims of political repressions] The database corresponds to part of the first volume of the Memory book Zhertvy politicheskikh repressii Irkutskoi oblasti: Pamiat’ i preduprezhdenie budushchemu. More than 1500 biographical entries (from Abagaev Aleksandr Toktoevich to Bashkuev Lazar’ Sharaevich). Search by alphabet.

KEMEROVO: Книга памяти жертв политических репрессий Кемеровской области. Т. 2.– Кемерово, 1996. [Memory book of the victims of political repressions in Kemerovo oblast].
NB: this is a downloadable .rar file.

KOMI REPUBLIC: Memorial Республика Коми
From the publication: Покаяние: Коми республиканский мартиролог жертв массовых политических репрессий. Т. 1. (Сыктывкар, 1998) [Redemption: the Komi Republic’s martyrology of the victims of mass political repressions]

KRASNODARSK: on Krasnodarsk Memorial Society’s site: интернет-проект “Трагические судьбы — возвращенные имена” Книга памяти Кубани [Internet project ‘Tragic Fates: Recovered names’: A Book of memory of the Kuban]. More than 26,000 names.

KRASNOYARSK: Krasnoyarsk Memorial Society’s site Сайт Красноярского общества “Мемориал”. Мартиролог (биографические справки, фото). Доступ по алфавиту имен. Книга памяти жертв политических репрессий Красноярского края [Martyrology (biographical entries, photos). Access via alphabetized names. Memory book of political repressions in Krasnoyarsk krai]. Covers letters А – К.
Кн. 1: [А – Б]
Кн. 2: [В – Г]
Кн. 3: [Д – И]
Кн. 4: [К].

KURGAN: Memorial Курганская область
From the publication: Осуждены по 58-й: Книга памяти жертв политических репрессий Курганской области. Т. 1. (Курган, 2002) [Sentenced under article 58: Memory book of political repressions in Kurgan oblast]

KURSK: Книга памяти жертв политических репрессий Курской области. Т. 3.— Курск, 2000. [Memory book of political repressions in Kursk oblast].

LIPETSK: Memorial Липецкая область
From the publication: Помнить поименно: Книга памяти жертв политических репрессий Липецкого края с ноября 1917 года. Т. 1.— (Липецк, 1997). [To remember by name: Memory book of political repressions in Lipetsk krai from November 1917. Volume 1-].

MAGADAN: Memorial Магаданская область
From the publication За нами придут корабли: Список реабилитированных лиц, смертные приговоры в отношении которых приведены в исполнение на территории Магаданской области. (Магадан, 1999) [Ships came for us. Lists of rehabilitated people whose death sentences were carried out in the territory of Magadan oblast] Biographical details of 7,546 repressed people.

MARI EL REPUBLIC: Memorial Республика Марий Эл
From the publication Трагедия народа: Книга памяти жертв политических репрессий Республики Марий Эл. В 2 томах. (Йошкар-Ола, 1996–1997) [The Tragedy of a People: Memory book of the victims of political repression in the Mari El Republic].

NIZHNY TAGIL: Memorial Нижний Тагил
From the publication: Жертвы репрессий. Нижний Тагил. 1920–1980-е годы. (Екатеринбург, 1999) [Victims of Repression: Nizhny Tagil, 1920s-1980s].

OMSK: Забвению не подлежит: Книга памяти жертв политических репрессий Омской области. Т. 1: А—Б.— (Омск, 2000). [Not to be forgotten: Memory book of victims of political repression in Omsk oblast]
NB: The downloadable pdf on this page is corrupted, but it is just about readable online, albeit not in the most convenient form.

ORENBURG: Книга памяти жертв политических репрессий в Оренбургской области.— Калуга, 1998. [Memory book of victims of political repressions in Orenburg oblast].

ORLOV: Реквием: Книга памяти жертв политических репрессий на Орловщине. Т. 1–4. Орел, 1994–1998. [Requiem: Memory book of victims of political repressions in the Orlovshchina]
NB: the encoding of this page needs to be set to Cyrillic-1251.

PENZA: Site of the Penza “Memorial” Society: Список реабилитированных жертв репрессий в разделе Книга памяти. [List of rehabilitated victims of repressions from the Memory book].

new: PERM: Пермский край / Пермская область: Годы террора: электронная Книга памяти жертв политических репрессий [Years of Terror: electronic memory book of victims of the political repressions] on Perm Memorial’s website. This is a very impressive recently published site with a great deal of information about the terror and its victims, as well as a martyology with biographical details of victims, searchable indexes by name and geographical area and much more besides.
See also: Картотека репрессированных на сайте Пермского Государственного архива. [Card index of the repressed on website of the Perm State archive].

RYAZAN: На сайте Рязанского общества защиты прав человека. [Site of the Ryazan Society for the Defence of Human Rights]. Searchable by place as well as name; useful site with information also on cemeteries, memorials, etc.

SAMARA: Memorial Самарская область
From the publication: Белая книга о жертвах политических репрессий. Самарская область. Т. 1–7. (Самара, 1997–1998) [The White book of victims of political repressions: Samara oblast]
See also the Index of Samara families, which covers letters А-Л.

SARATOV: Memorial Саратовская область
From information made available by the Saratov FSB directorate.

SVERDLOVSK: Memorial Свердловская область
From the publication: Книга памяти жертв политических репрессий. Свердловская область. Т. 1. (Екатеринбург, 1999) [Memory book of the victims of political repressions.] Covers letters А-Б only; vols 2-3, covering В-Д and Е-И not yet online.

SMOLENSK: website of the Administration of Smolensk oblast: Электронная картотека жертв политических репрессий Смоленской области, 1917–1953 гг. [Electronic card index of the victims of political repression in Smolensk oblast]
29,508 entries. Search via database only, no browsing of lists. A significant number of duplicates. Part of the database is based on the publication: По праву памяти: Книга памяти жертв незаконных политических репрессий: А — Я. (Смоленский мартиролог; Т. 1); Книга памяти жертв политических репрессий: А — С. (Смоленский мартиролог; Т. 2–5). [By right of memory: Memory book of the victims of illegal political repressions: А—Я (Smolensk martyrology vol. 1); Memory book of the victims of political repressions, А—С (Smolensk martyrology vols 2-5)].

TATARSTAN: Memorial Республика Татарстан
Electronic version of the publication: Книга памяти жертв политических репрессий. Республика Татарстан. Т. 1–5.— Казань, 2000–2002) [Memory book of victims of political repressions]. Vols 1-5 of the print edition cover letters А-З; the electronic version so far covers letters А-Е only.

TOMSK: Memorial museum “NKVD Investigative prison”: Томский мартиролог 
Книга Памяти (Банк данных жертв политических репрессий Томской области). [Tomsk martyrology: Memory book (data base of victims of political repression in the Tomsk oblast)].
List of 31,989 people deprived of electoral rights and dekulakized in the 1920s-1930s, from materials in the Tomsk oblast state archives. References to archive file numbers. List of 34,000 families (around 190,000 individuals) of special settlers [spetspereselentsev] – dekulakized peasants and members of deported ethnic groups sent to Tomsk oblast in the 1930s-1950s, and rehabilitated in the 1990s. From data of the Information Centre of the Tomsk oblast Directorate of Internal Affairs. List of 20,806 rehabilitated inhabitants of Tomsk oblast (repressed under article 58 of criminal code of the RSFSR). From data of the administration of the Tomsk oblast KBG-FSK-FSB. This list, but with less information on each of the repressed, was first set down in the publication Боль людская: Книга памяти томичей, репрессированных в 30–40-е и нач. 50-х гг. Т. 1–5.— Томск, 1991–1999 [Human Pain: Memory book of Tomsk residents repressed in the 1930s-1940s and beginning of the 1850s].

See also: На сайте Института экономики и организации промышленного производства СО РАН: Список репрессированных жителей рабочего поселка Могочино Томской области (по книге Боль людская) Site of the Institute of Economics and Industrial Engineering, Siberian branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences: List of repressed inhabitants of Mogochino workers’ settlement in Tomsk oblast (from Bol’ liudskaia).

TVER: Memorial Тверская область
From the database, an earlier version of which was set down in the publication: Книга памяти жертв политических репрессий Калининской области. Т. 1: Мартиролог. 1937–1938. (Тверь, 2000) [Memory book of victims of political repression in Kalinin oblast].

TULA: Memorial Тульская область
From the database, an earlier version of which was set down in the publication: Книга памяти жертв политических репрессий в Тульской области. 1917–1987 гг. Т. 1.— (Тула, 1999) [Memory book of victims of political repression in Tula oblast].

TYUMEN: Memorial Тюменская область. Ханты-Мансийский округ [Khanti-Mansiikii district]. Ямало-Ненецкий (б. Остяко-Вогульский) округ [Iamalo-Nenetskii (Bolshoi Ostriako-Vogul’skii) district].
From the publication: Книга расстрелянных: Мартиролог погибших от руки НКВД в годы большого террора (Тюменская область): В 2 томах. (Тюмень, 1999) [Book of the executed: Martyrology of those who died at the hands of the NKVD in the years of the Great Terror (Tyumen oblast)] [Tyumen, Ishimskii, Iamalo-Nenetskii, Ostriako-Vogul’skii, Tolbolsk operational sectors of the NKVD].

UDMURT REPUBLIC: Книга памяти жертв политических репрессий: Удмуртская республика. Ижевск, 2001. [Memory book of the victims of political repressions: Udmurt Republic].

ULYANOVSK: Ульяновская область
From the publication: Книга памяти жертв политических репрессий. Ульяновская область. Т. 1. (Ульяновск, 1996) [Memory book of victims of political repression].

New: VOLGOGRAD (Stalingrad): Волгоград (Сталинград)
Петля 2: воспоминания, очерки, документы (Noose-2: memoirs, sketches, documents), ed. Iu. Beledin (Volgograd, 2000), pp. 367-398. A list of more than 700 names of those repressed from the Stalingrad oblast. A scanned copy, so not the most usable format, but at least it’s available.

YAROSLAVL: Ярославская область
Не предать забвению [Not to be consigned to oblivion: website of the Yaroslavl Memorial Society and regional Commission for the restitution of right of the victims of political repressions]. List of more than 1800 victims executed during the political repressions.


BELARUS: Индекс уроженцев Беларуси, репрессированных в 1920-1950-е гг. в Западной-Сибири [Index of natives of Belarus repressed 1920s-1950s in western Siberia].

KAZAKHSTAN: Memorial Казахстан. Алма-Ата
From the publication: Книга скорби = Азалы кiтап. Расстрельные списки. Вып. 1: Алма-Ата, Алма-Атинская область (Алматы, 1996) [Book of Sorrow. Execution lists. Issue 1: Alma-Ata & Alma-Ata oblast].

See also: Музейно-мемориальный комплекс жертв политических репрессий и тоталитаризма “АЛЖИР”: Список узниц АЛЖИРа в порядке алфавита по национальностям [ALZHIR Museum-Memorial Complex of the victims of political repressions and totalitarianism: list of ALZHIR prisoners in alphabetical order by nationality], and список женщин-узниц лагеря «алжир» [list of female prisoners at the ALZHIR camp].

UKRAINE: Національний банк даних жертв політичних репресій радянської доби в Україні [National database of victims of political repressions of the Soviet era in Ukraine]
Реабілітовані історією [Rehabilitated History. Database. Alphabetical search. More than 41,000 names].

Memory books by region (not updated since recent geopolitical upheavals):
Автономна Республіка Крим Autonomous Republic of Crimea
Вінницька область Vinnytsia oblast
Дніпропетровська область Dnipropetrovsk oblast
Донецька область Donetsk oblast
Житомирська область Zhytomyr oblast
Закарпатська область Zakarpattia oblast
Київська область Kyiv oblast
Львівська область Lviv oblast
Миколаївська область Mykolaiv oblast
Рівненська область Rivne oblast
Тернопільська область Ternopil oblast
Харківська область Kharkiv oblast
Херсонська область Kherson oblast
Хмельницька область Khmelnytskyi oblast
Чернівецька область Chernivtsi oblast
Чернігівська область Chernihiv oblast

Lviv society “Poshuk”: Список расстрелянных в 1940–1941 гг. [Lists of the executed, 1940-41] Жертвы львовской тюрьмы №3 (г. Золочев) [Victims of Lviv prison no. 3 (Zolochev)] From the publication: Романів О. М., Федущак І. В. Західноукраїнська трагедія, 1941. Наукове товариство ім. Шевченка, Фундація Українського вільного ун-ту в США.— Львiв; Нью Йорк, 2002. [Romaniv O., Fedushchak I., A Western Ukrainian tragedy, 1941. Shevchenko scientific society, Foundation of the Ukrainian Free University in the USA].

ESTONIAСайт Фонда Кистлер-Ритсо ЭЭСТИ (КРЭС). [Site of the Kistler-Ritso EESTI (KRES) Society] In Estonian and Russian. Virtual version of the Museum of Occupation in the period between 1940 and 1991. Lists of the repressed in Estonia. 35,165 names, from the publication: Politilised arreteerimised Eestis, 1940–1988. Koide 1–2. Tallinn, 1996, 1998. [Political arrests in Estonia, 1940–1988], with links to further editions.


GERMANY: На сайте российских эмигрантов в Нюрнберге: “Советские немцы — узники Тагиллага”. [Website of Russian emigrants in Nuremberg: Soviet Germans – prisoners of Tagillag] Electronic database (6500 names) by the laboratory of historical information technology of the Nizhny Tagil state social pedagogical academy. Created from a card index of labour army workers at Tagillag.

POLAND: Центр “Карта” | Ośrodek KARTA: Information on Polish citizens repressed in the USSR, including executed prisoners of war. Search by database. Information on the multi-volume publication “Indeks Represjonowanych”. In Polish.

Списки репрессированных поляков Lists of Poles incarcerated in the camps at Borovich and Stalinogorsk, plus some statistics and analytical articles.

Katyn massacre: Мемориальный комплекс “Катынь” [Katyn Memorial Complex].

список граждан китайской национальности, репрессированных по политическим мотивам в Пермской области в 1930-1950 гг. (по документам Государственного общественно-политического архива Пермской области, переданным из РУ ФСБ РФ по Пермской области) [List of citizens of Chinese nationality repressed for political reasons in Perm oblast in 1930-1950].



Православный Свято-Тихоновский гуманитарный Университет: Канонизированные новомученики и исповедники Русской Православной Церкви. Orthodox Humanities University of St Tikhon: Canonized new martyrs and confessors of the Russian Orthodox Church. More than 28,000 entries. Biographies, photos, information about repressions, links to sources. Search by name, place of service etc. Also statistics of repression by city/region and date.
NB: Both pages need the encoding set to Cyrillic (Windows-1251).

Книги игумена Дамаскина (Орловского) “Мученики, исповедники и подвижники благочестия Русской Православной Церкви ХХ столетия: Жизнеописания и материалы к ним”; (Тверь: Булат): [The book of Igumen Damaskin (Orlovskii) Martyrs, confessors and persons of faith and devotion of the Russian Orthodox Church of the 20th Century: Biographies and Materials] Details of over 900 martyrs and repressed religious figures from all over Russia.

Lipetsk: Алфавитный список репрессированных в годы Советской власти священно- и церковнослужителей [Alphabetical list of religious figures and clerics repressed in the years of Soviet power].

Moscow – Butovo: Список священно- и церковнослужителей, пострадавших за веру и Церковь Христову в Бутово [List of religious figures and clerics who suffered for the faith and the Church of Christ at Butovo firing range].

Primorskii krai: Пострадавшие за Христа в Приморье. Вып. 1 / Владивосток. и Примор. епархия; Сост. Г. В. Прозорова.— Владивосток: Изд-во ДВГТУ, 2000. [Those who suffered for Christ in Primor’e. Issue 1] 53 names of repressed clerics, cloistered and lay people.

St Petersburg and Leningrad oblast: Санкт-Петербургский мартиролог (2002) [The St Petersburg Martyrology] – 3062 people who suffered for their faith, by denomination, with references to sources.


Scientists and academicians: Социальная история отечественной науки [The social history of Russian science] Including repressed honorary, actual and corresponding members of the Academy of Sciences, including scholars elected to the Academy after their repression. Repressed geologists (968 individual biographies). Directors, deputy directors and learned secretaries of institutes executed in Moscow (71 individual biographies). Professors and doctors of science executed in Moscow (104 individual biographies). Academics shot in Moscow (458 individual biographies). Repression of members of the Leningrad Institute of Physics and Engineering (43 individual biographies).

Vostokovedy (Far-Eastern specialists): Люди и судьбы: Биобиблиографический словарь востоковедов — жертв политического террора в советский период (1917–1991) [People and Fates: Bio-bibliographical dictionary of Far-Eastern specialists who fell victim to the political terror in the Soviet period (1917-1991). 750 names.

Artists and art historians: On the Sakharov Center’s site.


Персональный состав и репрессии командного состава РККА и КФ в 1930-е гг. (с указанием званий и должностей в 1935–36 гг.) [Personnel and repression of commanding officers of the Red Army and Red Navy in the 1930s, with indications of ranks and duties in 1935-36].

Next time: Memorials and other memory projects

The Russian Museum in Málaga

Last week I visited the new Spanish outpost of the State Russian Museum, Collección del Museo Ruso in Málaga. I’d read about the plans for it last year, so was delighted that its opening coincided with my stay in Granada, where I’ve been hiding away on research leave and writing my book since early January (yes – lucky me! my thanks to my wonderful colleagues in the Departamento de Filología Griega y Filología Eslava at the Universidad de Granada for hosting me as a visiting researcher).

The Tobacco Factory, Málaga

The Tobacco Factory, Málaga

Málaga was already home to some excellent art museums, notably the Museo Picasso and the Museo Carmen Thyssen, and the Collección del Museo Ruso is a great addition to these. Located a little way from the old town centre in an industrial suburb, it’s worth walking there to see some interesting workers’ housing and a normal, non-touristy part of the Costa del Sol. The former tobacco factory that houses the museum, alongside the Museo Automovilístico, is beautiful, and has been carefully converted to create a stunning – and very large – exhibition space.

Russian Art from Icons to the 20th Century

Russian Art from Icons to the 20th Century

There are currently two exhibitions being shown, Russian Art from Icons to the 20th Century, and The Age of Diaghilev. I was impressed by both. The Russian Art exhibit, as the name suggests, is a sweep through 500 years of painting, and the works are very well chosen to convey the development of Russian art. The icons were perhaps a little disappointing, but realistically they were never going to send their best works by Rublev and Dionysius, and the six or seven that are there serve as solid illustrations of different styles and types of icon painting. As for the rest, pretty much every well known Russian artist from the 18th to the 20th centuries is represented, along with works by lesser known figures. Portraits of the great and good and Petersburg vistas give way to Romanticism, genre paintings, the Peredvizhniki, modern art and, finally, socialist realism. There are some absolute gems, including a beautiful little Levitan landscape, Perov’s ‘Head of a Kirghiz Convict‘, and couple of surprisingly good factory scenes from the 1920s. There’s also some real trash – Aleksandr Deineka’s ‘Tractor Driver‘ with absurdly short legs particularly sticks in the mind – but good on them for not glossing over the socialist realist period completely. Overall it works very well as an introduction for visitors who don’t know a great deal about Russian art (my travelling companion confirmed it was very effective in this regard), but also had plenty to interest more seasoned observers.

The Age of Diaghilev

The Age of Diaghilev

I was initially slightly disappointed to learn that the temporary exhibition was devoted to Diaghilev, not because I’m not interested in him – rather the opposite, my interest means I’ve seen more Diaghilev/Ballets Russes/ Silver Age exhibitions than you can shake a stick at. But in fact it was a pleasant surprise, as it concentrated much more on the artists involved with Mir iskusstva, whilst avoiding the tweeness that could occasionally assail that movement (yes, Somov, I’m looking at you). Some of the paintings were very familiar and much loved, such as Bakst’s ‘Supper‘, and Malyavin’s ‘Peasant Women‘. Others, like Natan Altman’s ‘Self Portrait‘ were a real revelation. Again, the exhibition was very effectively curated to tell the story of the art that led to the Ballets Russes, a selection of costumes and designs for which also appear in the final room.

Occasionally in both exhibitions I felt that, despite the explanatory texts accompanying different sections, there was a slight lack of context about specific works, and would have liked more details than the titles and dates given in the captions. The audio guides (available in Spanish, Russian and English) doubtless provide additional information, but I really can’t bear them (am I the only one?). Fortunately the very thorough catalogues (in the same three languages) are also much more expansive, so (oh no!) I had to buy both.

The Age of Diaghilev exhibition is on until July, and Russian Art from Icons to the 20th Century until at least October, although different parts of the website and the museum’s leaflets give different dates for the latter. This was one of a few minor organizational glitches (the cafe wasn’t yet open, the bookshop gave the impression of being half-ready, with no prices on anything, and the reading room and virtual museum space were visible but locked), which I’m sure will soon be ironed out. Great culture may not be most people’s first association with the Costa del Sol, but the Collección del Museo Ruso makes a significant contribution to Málaga’s increasingly good reputation for art and museums, and is well worth a visit. And while you’re there, go to Atarazanas market for lunch – the seafood is just fabulous.

Modern Languages Open

This week has seen the launch of Modern Languages Open, an open access publishing platform for scholarly research in all modern languages and their cultures – one of the most exciting aspects of the project is that it brings a more global perspective to a field that has traditionally defined itself in relation to Europe and its diasporas. As Gerda Wielander’s commentary argues, modern languages as a discipline has been under threat for some years, and in the face of this we need to articulate more clearly the significant contribution we make to the global understanding of peoples and cultures. MLO enables us to do this by offering an innovative forum in which to bring researchers together in new ways and advance knowledge. The range of articles published for the launch is an indication of the scope MLO will achieve.

I’m proud to be involved with MLO as section editor for Russian and East European languages and very pleased to present three articles showcasing new research in nineteenth-century Russian literature as part of the launch material. My thanks to authors Benjamin Morgan, Muireann Maguire and Elizabeth Harrison for their hard (and speedy!) work on the articles; to Katherine Bowers for organizing the symposium at Darwin College in February 2014, Cambridge, at which earlier versions of the papers were given, for her help with the editing and for writing the introduction to the cluster; and to Clare Whitehead for her careful reviews of the articles.

I would like to encourage readers to register as reviewers – the more people who contribute their expertise to MLO the better it will be – and, of course, to submit articles. All languages and cultures of the Russian and East European area are covered, and we are still looking to add a few new members to the section’s editorial board, particularly to cover the Baltics and parts of Central and Southern Europe, so if you are interested, or know someone who might be suitable, please get in touch.


Katorga and exile illustrated

Whilst planning a section of my chapter on pre-revolutionary works on Siberian prison and exile, I’ve been considering the role of images as well as the words, as many of the books I’ve been reading – at least most of those published after around 1880 in the UK and the States, and after around 1900 in Russia – are extensively illustrated. Partly to make my own examination of these images easier, and partly as a general resource, I’ve created a flickr album of the ones I’ve collected so far. A list of the books from which they’re taken is given at the bottom of this post, and I will continue to add to it. The one notable absence at the moment is Vlas Doroshevich’s Sakhalin: Katorga (1903), which I’m still downloading (most – although not all – of the images are on the wikisource version, and can be viewed on wikimedia: part 1 | part 1 mugshots | part 2), but in any case Doroshevich’s book is the subject of a different chapter, so it’s not so relevant to my work at the moment.

Convict branded 'SKA', Simpson, Side-Lights, p. 222

Convict branded ‘SKA’, Simpson, Side-Lights on Siberia, p. 222

The images are of varying quality – in both senses – and for practical reasons I’ve so far only included ones that are directly related to the question of the penal and exile system, even though this means omitting some stunning illustrations, particularly from George Kennan’s Siberia and the Exile System (1891; his encounter with Buriat buddhists is an especially rich source of pictures). In some cases the mixture of images included is significant in itself. It’s notable, for example, that of the 36 illustrations in Henry Lansdell’s Through Siberia (1882), only six are of the penal system, supposedly the special subject of his visit, and one of these is of a place he didn’t visit. A transition from illustrations to photographs takes place around the mid-1890s. Some of the photos are very interesting, but there are a lot of repetitions of the same images in different books, probably because many (most? all?) of them are official government photographs (Harry de Windt, The New Siberia, p. 24), which were undoubtedly the most readily available. There were evidently two sets, one relating to Sakhalin, including the mugshots Doroshevich uses (it was apparently obligatory to include at least one of two pictures of the infamous convict Sophia Bliuvshtein in all books on Sakhalin), and another of more general views of convicts, prison and mine complexes – mostly taken at a distance. But even amidst the standard and recurring images, one still occasionally comes as a surprise, as did the above picture of a branded convict from James Young Simpson’s Side-Lights on Siberia (1898). It made me realize how rare it is to see evidence of that practice, which was largely eradicated before the era of official photographs.

But it’s the earlier illustrations that interest me most – perhaps because they were more tendentious. I’ll just highlight a few that have particularly caught my attention. I’ve mentioned Harry de Windt’s absurd illustrations of convicts – who look like anything but – in his Siberia As It Is (1892) in a previous post. I view those as part of the author’s strategy to obscure the question of who the real inhabitants of the penal system actually were (i.e., the criminal convicts, overwhelmingly from the peasantry). One other illustration – used as the frontispiece to the book – relates to the same device:

'Political Prisoners in Siberia', de Windt, Siberia As It Is

‘Political Prisoners in Siberia’, de Windt, Siberia As It Is, Frontispiece

Clearly the figures in the cart are not political prisoners at all, they are exiles, which was quite a different matter (moreover the effete chap in the centre is probably much better dressed than the average political exile). It’s part of De Windt’s tendency to blur the categories and treat prison and exile as if they were the same thing, which has an insidious effect. He constantly represents such ‘prisoners’ as leading the life of riley, free to do what they want and live where they want, apparently giving the lie to Kennan’s depiction of hard labour convicts and filthy, overcrowded prisons. The prominent positioning of this picture initiates that process, which is a pity, as if it were in a different context, with a more honest caption, I think I’d rather like it. I can’t say the same of the next picture, but it does interest me:

'Criminal Kamera', De Windt, Siberia As It Is, p. 409

‘Criminal Kamera’, De Windt, Siberia As It Is, p. 409

This scene of a criminal kamera (communal cell) at Tiumen forwarding prison from the same book is quite a curiosity. At a glance it looks more like a market square or tavern than a cell (and yes, one could go on about the prison as a carnivalized space, blah blah), but more noticeable to me is the treatment of everything that marks out these figures as prisoners. The chains look more like fashionable accoutrements than any sort of encumbrance, the diamonds on the backs of coats appear to be design details, and the two figures with half their head shaved more closely resemble Ukrainian cossacks than convicts. It’s as though there’s something else going on altogether – what Prince Myshkin might have described as ‘ne to’ (‘not that’; talking about the wrong thing). But what then to make of the hunched, bearded figure in the foreground? Strangely, the more I look at it, the more I think of Dostoevsky’s eternal Russian peasant – the Muzhik Marei himself, perhaps. And I begin to wonder if the figure with the hooked nose sat in the centre is Isai Fomich. This is nonsense, of course – de Windt does mention House of the Dead (or Buried Alive, as the first English translation was known), but I don’t think it’s doing him too much of a disservice to suggest that neither he nor his anonymous illustrator was sufficiently tuned into it to incorporate such references.

De Windt (or rather, his illustrator) does at least in these two images depict scenes and characters that look vaguely as though they might belong somewhere in the expanses of the Russian empire. The same cannot be said for James Buel’s Russian Nihilism and Exile Life in Siberia (1883), whose title page promises an exposé of ‘Exile Life in Its True and Horrifying Phases’ illustrated with ‘over 200 splendid engravings’. ‘True’ it most certainly isn’t, and ‘splendid’ is stretching it a bit. Rather, it’s a concoction of hearsay and the lurid workings of the author’s imagination, with illustrations to match. Here is the remarkable engraving that accompanies the description of flogging with the knout, a method of punishment, Buel says, which ‘though ostensibly abolished, is inflicted on some poor convict at the Tobolsk prisons every day, as several citizens assured me’ (pp. 280-1):

'Administering the Knout', Buel, Russian Nihilism and Exile Life in Siberia, p. 281

‘Administering the Knout’, Buel, Russian Nihilism and Exile Life in Siberia, p. 281

This picture in fact quite faithfully illustrates the use of the knout as reported by Buel, described to him by ‘a gentleman who had witnessed several such floggings’ (p. 281). But it bears no resemblance to the actual punishment, in which the victim was strapped to a horizontal ‘mare’ (kobyla – there’s a picture of one in Charles Hawes’ In the Uttermost East, p. 341) – and the reality of the punishment was terrible enough that one wonders why anyone would find it necessary to resort to such medieval fantasies. But in many ways it’s the style of the picture that is most startling – it resembles a religious scene (but Catholic rather than Orthodox), while the contrast of the victim’s whiteness and the dark-skinned executioners imparts a racial dimension for no apparent reason.

The religious element returns at the end of Buel’s examination of Siberian exile life, when he tells us matters have recently improved, and that ‘Formerly, and not many years ago either, there were ecclesiastical courts in Siberia; self-constituted though they were, their decrees contained all the poisonous germs of that church policy which taught, during the middle ages, that it was proper to torture heretics to the end that their souls might be saved. These courts sat in judgment upon those accused of sacrilege, heresy, and witchcraft, which latter offence was, strange enough, more common than the others.’ (p. 341) And this is the illustration:

'Branding a woman convicted of witchcraft', Buel, Russian Nihilism and Exile Life in Siberia, p. 432

‘Branding a woman convicted of witchcraft’, Buel, Russian Nihilism and Exile Life in Siberia, p. 432

… which looks like a scene from a Gothic novel set in the Spanish Inquisition, complete with titillation in the form of the virginal whiteness of the victim. It might all mean something if Buel was trying to advance some sort of argument, and when he then turns his attention to the pogroms, it looks for a moment as though he is going to say something that – however bizarrely – might justify this stuff. But nothing is forthcoming. It’s just a collection of outrages embellished at will to cause maximum outrage, and his text makes it clear (as do many of the other pictures) that he was actually far more interesting in bear hunting anyway.

But this does raise the question of whom such works were written for, and whether they gained a substantial readership. There was a good deal of interest in the ‘Siberian question’, and certainly Kennan’s Siberia and the Exile System was widely read. A book like Buel’s, I suspect, had the potential to discredit the campaign against Russian prison conditions far more than those that simply denied any faults in the penal system, but was there really a market for this sort of trash? I’d never seen a reference to it until it came up in a search on, whereas Lansdell’s and de Windt’s books, whatever their shortcomings, are mentioned regularly – not least because these authors all refer to each others books – so perhaps it really did sink without trace. In which case, has digitizing it given it a status it never had, or deserved? And am I now now giving it more attention than it’s ever had? Probably, but it won’t get more than a few lines in my chapter.

Returning to the question of illustrations, it is also worth mentioning Kennan’s books, illustrated by his travelling companion, the artist George Frost, mainly, it seems, from photographs the latter took during the trip. There’s nothing extreme or horrific about the pictures – throughout they seem to be balanced and in fact quite muted in comparison with the often harsh descriptions. There are some rather good portraits of political exiles – including both those they met and others they did not – and very evocative group scenes that look far more natural than the one from de Windt I discuss above.

'Family kamera in Tomsk forwarding prison', Kennan, Siberia and the Exile System, vol. 1, p. 313

‘Family kamera in Tomsk forwarding prison’, Kennan, Siberia and the Exile System, vol. 1, p. 313

I think this is also a good example of one way in which illustrations can work better than photographs, as the few photos extant of convicts in cells (e.g. this one in Deutsch’s Sixteen Years in Siberia)  look very posed and empty compared to all descriptions. Frost was also extremely skilled at depicting the weather – there are a number of excellent pictures of convicts and guards struggling in snowstorms, such as this one, which again is something photographs at the time were unable to capture. Finally I must include quite a simple portrait, because it seems to me to have the most extraordinary humanity:

'Old hard-labor convict', Kennan, Siberia and the Exile System, vol. 2, p. 155

‘Old hard-labor convict’, Kennan, Siberia and the Exile System, vol. 2, p. 155

In the original article (open access) that forms the basis of my chapter, I argue that in Siberia and the Exile System, the peasant convicts are hidden from view. I still stand by that in relation to Kennan’s words, but Frost’s pictures, as these two examples show, tell quite a different story.


James W. BuelRussian Nihilism and Exile Life in Siberia (Philadelphia: West Philadelphia Publishing Co., 1883)

Lev DeutschSixteen Years in Siberia, trans. Helen Chisholm (New York: Dutton, 1905)

Vlas DoroshevichSakhalin (katorga) (Moscow: Tip. Tovarishchestvo I.D. Sytina, 1903)

Charles Henry HawesIn the Uttermost East: Being an account of investigations among the natives and Russian convicts of the island of Sakhalin, with notes of travel in Korea, Siberia, and Manchuria (London and New York: Harper & Brothers, 1904)

Benjamin Douglas HowardPrisoners of Russia: a personal study of convict life in Sakhalin and Siberia (New York: Appleton and Co., 1902)

George KennanSiberia and the Exile System (New York: The Century Company, 1891), vol. 1 and vol. 2.

Henry LansdellThrough Siberia (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Co., 1882)

James Young SimpsonSidelights on Siberia: some account of the Great Siberian Railroad, the Prisons and Exile System (Edinburgh and London: William Blackwood and Sons, 1898)

Harry de WindtSiberia as it is (London: Chapman & Hall, 1892)

Harry de WindtThe New Siberia: Being an account of a visit to the penal island of Sakhalin, and political prison and mines of the Trans-Baikal district, Eastern Siberia (London: Chapman & Hall, 1896)

Note: All the pictures on the flickr album are in the public domain. However, flickr does not offer a public domain license to individual users, so I have attached all the images to the public domain group and tagged them “public domain.”

Convicts and serfs: two books on Russian penal reform

I’m currently reading and re-reading material for a chapter of my book on narratives of prison, exile and hard labour, and have a few thoughts to put in order in relation to two books on Russian penal reform:

Bruce F. AdamsThe Politics of Punishment: Prison Reform in Russia 1863-1917 (DeKalb: North Illinois University Press, 1996)

Abby M. SchraderLanguages of the Lash: Corporal Punishment and Identity in Imperial Russia (DeKalb: North Illinois University Press, 2002)

Adams coverI’ve been putting off reading Bruce Adams’ The Politics of Punishment for quite a long time, having flicked through it at some point and gained the impression that it looked incredibly dry. I was right: the work of various commissions and government departments in imperial Russia, while undoubtedly important, is perhaps not the most exciting topic in its own right, but the treatment it receives here really does not help. The book is so acronym-heavy it becomes painful to follow at times, whilst reference to the people involved only by initials and surnames and occasionally departmental affiliations (more acronyms!) with no additional information (the book as a whole suffers from being largely divorced from a wider historical context) means that even recurring characters such as the marvellously named Konstantin Karlovich Grot never remotely come to life, and we gain absolutely no impression of what motivates them.

This becomes important for another reason, to which I shall return below, but that ultimately relates to a more serious problem. The Politics of Punishment is worthwhile as a study of how the imperial bureaucracy functioned – or failed to – but regarding its central claim that there was substantial reform to the Russian penal system in the half-century before the revolution, it falls down in several respects. Most significantly, it downplays the large-scale failure to implement reform and, as Schrader notes, ‘mistake[s] the rhetoric of reform for its reality’ (Languages of the Lash, p. 188). As a result, the picture of the penal system that emerges is so different to that we read about in memoirs and eye-witness accounts that, as UEA PhD student Mark Vincent commented in a recent Twitter conversation, one wonders if Adams is actually talking about the same system. Having one’s usual perspective challenged in this way is normally a good thing, but Adams makes no attempt to account for this difference (the tendency to examine the reforms in a vacuum is particularly apparent here). He simply dismisses books such as Kennan’s Siberia and the Exile System (vol. 1 | vol. 2) as only being interested in political prisoners (Politics of Punishment, p. 5), and makes no further reference to any counter-evidence. In my recent article in Europe-Asia Studies, ‘Knowing Russia’s Convicts‘ (now open access), which forms the basis of the chapter I’m writing, I argue that the peasant convicts were in fact central to katorga and exile narratives, and it’s through thinking about why (and how) they become so important that I have come to question various of Adams’ premises.

The gap between policy and implementation seems to be the result mainly of the chronic shortage of money which appears to have afflicted the Russian government – or was it simply that the finance ministry was unwilling to release funds to pay for reforms? Either way, if the financial question had such an impact at one end of the reform process, would it not make sense to consider its role elsewhere in that process? But Adams rejects any such possibility:

Historians seeking economic motivations for human behavior may prefer to believe that fiscal considerations provided the basic motivation for organizing convict labor, but they would find no evidence to support such a claim in this case. Economic considerations may well have given rise to and/or reinforced other justifications for prison labor. It may well be that it was less acceptable to talk about making prisoners work for their keep than about the hope that work rehabilitated them. All such conclusions, however, would be entirely speculative. (Politics of Punishment, p. 138)

Let’s leave aside the fact that Adams is perfectly happy to draw speculative conclusions in other areas, for example in his willingness to ascribe humane motives to the reformers (although one might well question how humane reforms that envisaged building 75 prisons on the model of Pentonville –  a byword for the inhumanity of prison regimes at the time – would be), or in the idea that this originated in the need to keep up with the European neighbours (pp. 140-1). Beyond this, one might suggest that the frequency and vigour with which both Adams and his champions of prison reform deny the primacy of economic motives may well in fact be an indication of their significance. This pertains particularly to the question of penal labour – touted primarily as a means of reform (thereby creating a link between katorga labour and the Stalinist concept of perekovka or reforging, a question I shall explore elsewhere in my book), and with the financial benefits hidden in the small print, so to speak.

But in the context of the Great Reforms and the recent emancipation of the serfs, how significant is it that prisoners and exiles were considered a source of free labour, and to what extent was the Russian economy – accustomed to serfdom – reliant on the existence of sources of free labour? These questions are increasingly important to my work, so various books on the peasant question and on Russian economic history beckon. Any recommendations for good readings on these topics will be very gratefully received.

Schrader coverSo The Politics of Punishment, because of what its deficiencies reveal rather than despite them, has raised an important question for me. Abby Schrader’s Languages of the Lash has proved extremely valuable in my thinking about the answer to that question as well as raising others, but for much more positive reasons. I first read this not long after it was published, but it’s only on this reading that I have realized quite how impressive it is, and that is partly because of the contrast of Schrader’s approach to Adams’. While The Politics of Punishment focuses solely on the question of penal reform, and as a result suffers greatly from the absence of a wider context, Schrader does not address corporal punishment as an isolated question. Rather, she uses it as a prism through which to explore wider questions about social structures and identities in imperial Russia, and to show how contradictions in legislation and rhetorical inconsistencies reveal the limits of the reforming agenda more generally. There is a great deal worth discussing about this book, but I shall just address a couple of key points that are particularly illuminating for my own work.

Above all, I was struck by Schrader’s examination of the ways in which social identity and the relative privileges (or burdens) of membership of particular estates (sosloviia) were, at least after 1785, related to exemption from – or liability to – flogging. Clearly the application of varying degrees of punishment to offenders of different social status was not unique to Russia, but the fact that this was enshrined in law (once there was a proper legal code rather than a jumble of contradictory ukazy) and in itself was used as a means of social engineering, must have been much more unusual. This is significant for me because of the correlation that arises following the Great Reforms between (male) peasants – no longer enserfed but being kept determinedly at the bottom of the social heap – and convicts (of both sexes), as they remained the only two groups that were still subjected to corporal punishment. In essence, the system treated peasants, both during and after serfdom, as if they were already criminals, regardless of whether any crime or misdemeanour had been committed, and convicts as if they were serfs. This is important not only from the point of view of writers’ inscription of the identity of convicts in nineteenth-century narratives – the central focus of my chapter – but also in relation to the question I raise above about the use of prison labour and the economy’s reliance on free labour.

A second significant parallel that emerges, which Schrader explores in some detail in her final chapter, is that of punishment to crime, as reformers posited a connection between flogging and domestic violence: one Privy Councillor ‘correlated the prevalence of corporal punishment with wife beating, implying that the brutality of both state and home reinforced Russian society’s moral depravity.’ (Languages of the Lash, p. 164) Schrader shows that this becomes a serious issue that threatens to ‘infect’ all those involved in the flogging, and by extension, all of Russian society (p. 77) – again this is something my article addresses.

The concern expressed by various commentators and interested parties – including former prison doctor V. Ia. Kokosov and Lev Tolstoy in his 1903 story ‘After the Ball‘ – that the violence of flogging came uncomfortably close to sexual sadism (Languages of the Lash, pp. 180-3) is already apparent – which Schrader doesn’t mention – in the meditation on the ‘executioner within’ in Dostoevsky’s Notes from the House of the Dead (part 2, chapter 3). Obviously this was a work Tolstoy knew well, but one wonders whether other reformers were influenced by it as well. What hadn’t occurred to me (or, as far as I recall, to other critics) previously is that the correlation between corporal punishment and domestic violence is also made explicit in Dostoevsky’s novel through the positioning of the harrowing chapter ‘Akulka’s Husband’ straight after the chapter where the ‘executioner within’ is discussed. Moreover, this chapter, in which a prisoner regales his companion with the extremely graphic story of how he beat his wife to death, takes place in the prison hospital, after three chapters in which corporal punishment has been the major theme, as Dostoevsky’s narrator Gorianchikov talks to convicts who have been flogged and witnesses the effects of flogging for himself. Violence is never far from the surface in House of the Dead, but this adds a different dimension, I think. And it also considerably complicates the question of infection by state violence in my chapter. Time to put my thinking cap back on…