Accepted Paper:

Change and continuity in the Russian Northeast: the reconstruction of the Kolyma Road  


Norman Prell (University of Aberdeen)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores contemporary changes in the understanding of northern mobility following the example of the Kolyma Road in the Russian Northeast.

Paper long abstract:

Since its construction by thousands of Gulag prisoners under the dictatorship of Joseph Stalin, the Kolyma Road had functioned as a main catalyst in the development of the Russian Northeast as a leading gold mining industry. After more than a decade of post-Soviet ruin and abandonment, during which the road had almost stopped operating, Moscow decided to reopen the road as a Federal Highway between Yakutsk and Magadan in 2007. Since then considerable amounts of money have been invested in the reconstruction of the old Kolyma Road, while the region's diminishing settler population has hardly benefited from these changes.

This paper analyses contemporary processes in the region from the perspective of the Kolyma Road. Mainly drawing on historical and ethnographic data (fieldwork period: 2011-2012), I try to understand the ways in which the road combines different aspects of social and physical marginalisation. Here I am particularly interested in how local strategies of settling in and identifying with the land have changed since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Contrasting the new road project with memories of the old Kolyma Road, I propose a local understanding of mobility that still largely depends on but has also grown more critical towards national and global narratives of development and progress.

Panel P020
Polar mobilities: resilience and transformations (ANTHROMOB)