Between revelation and concealment: Crafting Gulag truths in Tbilisi, Georgia

  • Laura Mafizzoli

Student thesis: Phd


This dissertation is concerned with the ways in which a small group of memory activists in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, craft and strive towards creating a commemorative language of the Gulag. It deals with memory activists’ attempts of establishing Gulag truths in the context of political, economic, and social change generated by the fall of state socialism and the latest war with Russia (2008). Upon the seemingly authoritarian political turn of the current Georgian government, I explore how the memory activists emerge as particular social actors that suture fragments of Gulag history to make them legible to a society that is ambivalent about how to handle a thorny past. Russian looming presence in the region has fostered a discourse of Soviet and Russian occupation which I argue has become the authoritative discourse in Tbilisi, inducing and informing the public understanding of the Gulag and the repressions that occurred in the years 1921-1953. Viewing such representation of the Gulag and the Soviet repressions as historically inaccurate, the memory activists are imbued in a series of activities aiming at changing it. By focussing on the memory activists’ praxis in the public space of Tbilisi, I argue that the vernacular of Gulag truths oscillates between revelation and concealment, unfolding contradictions, and ambivalent dispositions with regard to the Gulag past. Critically examining the role of memory activists in crafting Gulag truths, this project contributes to the postsocialist literature on the socialist and Gulag legacies. This thesis also offers an alternative approach to the Gulag memory studies by distancing from notions of trauma and collective suffering. This project brings together anthropological and sociological theories on activism, memory, and memory activism with approaches that focus on cultural intimacy, power, and materiality. In order to explore the social and political implications of memory activists’ crafting in the context of Tbilisi, inspired by Sharon Macdonald, I employ the notion of ‘Gulag past presencing’ which sheds light on the ways in which the Gulag past is made present.
Date of Award31 Dec 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorStefaan Jansen (Supervisor)


  • Russian occupation
  • cultural intimacy
  • memory activism
  • Gulag
  • Georgia
  • memory
  • Soviet repressions
  • secrecy

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