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“A Very Important Yet Complicated Matter”

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Informant Networks in the Estonian Gulag, 1952–1964

image of Russian History

Informant networks were an integral feature of the Soviet Gulag. This article sheds light on their size, structure, recruitment methods, aims, and results using archival documentation primarily from the Estonian SSR. Focusing on the Khrushchev era, it demonstrates that although the regime placed high value on the networks as a way of fighting crime and managing inmate behavior, various factors mitigated against the realization of these goals. In the end, the networks were used by local administrators not to create institutions of strict disciplinary order as instructions from central authorities dictated, but rather to help cultivate the “customary order” that penal officials globally strive for: a modus vivendi between inmates and administrators that tolerates some infractions of penal regulations by the former and an acceptable level of corruption by the latter.

Affiliations: 1: Brigham Young University,


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