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An Interpreter’s Glimpse Inside Russian Prisons’

25th January 2011

Dear All

Just a quick reminder about the next GB Russia Society talk on Thursday,
27 January 2011 at Pushkin House, Bloomsbury Way, London WC1A 2TA, at 6.30
for 7 pm.

‘An Interpreter’s Glimpse Inside Russian Prisons’
Professor Michael Holman

The Russian Federation finally became a member of the Council of Europe
(CoE) on 28 February 1996. Membership brought with it a host of human
rights obligations. These included the abolition of the death penalty, the
introduction of a new criminal code and the transfer of responsibility for
the prison administration from the Ministry of the Interior to the
Ministry of Justice. Such a radical reform programme could not be
completed overnight, and member states were keen to assist Russia to
become a respected member of the club. One form of assistance was the
prison twinning project set up by the CoE in the autumn of 1997. This
project aimed to promote the reform of the antiquated prison systems in
the former Soviet Union by ‘twinning’ prisons in the Commonwealth of
Independent States (CIS) and CoE member states in Western Europe. Each
participating member state involved with the Russian link ‘twinned’ with
the prison administration of a single Russian oblast’: Germany with
Vladimir, Norway with Murmansk, France with Smolensk and the United
Kingdom with Ivanovo.

Very early on in the life of the project, Michael Holman was engaged by
the Governor of Armley Prison in Leeds to act as interpreter and cultural
advisor to the British team. Over a period of five years, when the
Russian prison population briefly topped one million and the pre-trial
establishments were full to bursting point, together with senior members
of prison staff from a number of British penal institutions, Michael
visited almost all the prisons in the Ivanovo oblast’. He also helped host
a series of delegations – senior prison staff, not inmates! – from penal
institutions in Ivanovo on visits to participating prisons in England.
Michael will talk about his experiences in and out of Ivanovo’s prisons –
pre-trial ‘isolators’ and both female and male koloniya. As part of his
presentation he will show film he shot within both types of establishment
on his final visit to Ivanovo in December 2003.

Michael Holman is of mixed English, Russian and Georgian descent. He is
Emeritus Professor of Russian and Slavonic Studies at the University of
Leeds, where he taught Russian and Bulgarian language and literature
between 1966 and 1999. Hodder and Stoughton will be publishing his jointly
authored Complete Bulgarian in the revamped Teach Yourself series in the
spring 2011.


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