Although more than half a century has passed since official suspension of the organization called the Gulag (Gosudarstvennoe upravlenie lagerei, State Administration of Camps), the Soviet system of incarceration and internal exile, it still retains its elusive omnipresence and heavy imprint on various aspects of everyday lives in contemporary Russia.
The aim of this article is to show how the penal estate inherited from the Soviet Union has reproduced specific penal experiences in the Russian Federation. The first part describes the evolution and current geographical structure of the penal estate showing how in the years immediately after Joseph Stalin’s death distinctive carceral regions became embedded in the Russian landscape. The second part discusses how this distinctive geography has become associated with a specific punishment form, “in exile imprisonment,” that merges incarceration with expulsion to the peripheries. In the final section it explores various ways that sending prisoners long distances to serve their sentences may be understood as punitive, adding to the familiar pains of imprisonment discussed by penal sociologists.
This article examines narratives about the Holy Spring of Iskitim gathered from visitors to the spring and from two local priests as well as members of their congregation. The holy spring is located on the site of the former Gulag quarry in the town of Lozhok in the Iskitim region. According to the most common folk belief, the spring is holy as a result of the execution of forty religious martyrs on this site by prison guards. These vernacular beliefs about the spring serve to reframe regional memory about the Gulag as well as local identity in the postsocialist context.
This article explores modern Siberian discursive practices of interethnic divisions among prisoners, which are still based on the Soviet model of a multiethnic prisoner population. The contemporary Russian xenophobic image of the organized and anonymous mass of newcomers from Central Asia and the Caucasus clearly contrasts with the ethnic-difference-sensitive perception of “non-Russians” in Siberian prison camps. The effectiveness of forced nonethnic consensus is based on a well-established hierarchical code according to which all prisoners are expected to subordinate themselves regardless of their ethnicity. It is genealogically linked to the sociality established during the Gulag era and is entangled with a “cosmopolitan” Soviet ethnic policy.
This essay argues that the Gulag was fixed neither in space nor in time. Following recent trends in historiography, it describes the close connections between the Gulag and Soviet society as a whole, using the example of Vorkuta, an Arctic camp complex that was initially constructed in the 1930s. This camp complex would later become one of the largest prison camp complexes in the Soviet Union and later a Soviet company town. Looking at the twin processes of “zonification” and “dezonification,” the essay shows that the spatial relationships between Gulag camps and their surrounding communities were complex and fluid.
In contemporary Russia, nongovernmental organizations are in charge of the museification of the former Gulag camps and of the commemoration of the victims of Soviet-era repressions, while the state’s action in this sphere is barely present. The exhibition The Right of Correspondence is organized by the International Memorial Civil Rights Society in Moscow. It is devoted to the communication of Soviet political prisoners with their relatives and friends in the 1920s–1980s. The uniqueness of the exhibits is attested by the fact that they were kept in family archives during the Soviet period and then were donated by the families to Memorial. The first part of the exhibition is devoted to the camps of the 1920s and to Stalin’s Gulag (1930–1956), the second part to imprisoned dissidents of the post-Stalin period (1956–1986). This essay analyzes the contribution of this exhibition to contemporary historical and sociological discussions about the Gulag.