Sunday, October 8, 2023

Russian Prisons Won’t Change Until Russia Does, Karetnikova Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Oct. 4 – Anna Karetnikova, who worked as a Memorial human rights defender between 2002 and 2023 with particular attention to conditions in Russian penal institutions before fleeting the country after being threatened with arrest, says that Russian prisons won’t change until Russia as a whole because penal institutions inevitably reflect what society is like does.

            She describes her work in a new interview ( as well as in a book which the Russian authorities are now removing from libraries (The Route. Social Control of Penal Institutions: Eight Years without the Right to Stop (in Russian; Moscow: Memorial, 2018, 268 pp., full text at

            In both, she makes important points about the way in which prisons in Russia today reflect not only the broader society but also a Russian past that the jailors do not feel any need to get rid of and that many others do not understand how it continues to inform what happens in that country behind bars.

            Specifically, Karetnikova points out that Memorial divided its work into two parts, historical and human rights defense. “I underestimated the role of the historical direction,” she says. “For me, it was always a little boring: why should we be talking about what happened in 1937 all the time?”

            “But now I have understood. If those events had been understood, if sentences and punishments of those responsible had been possible, then, a greater part of our society would have developed an immunity to the impact of television. This is very important work, but unfortunately, it was missed.”

            She suggests that rights activists should have known better given how important the Kremlin views such activities and tries to block them.


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