WiP: Contextualizing the Stalinist Perpetrators

CRRC, ARISC and American Councils are proud to present the opening of the 2020 Spring Series of the Tbilisi Works-in-Progress series, now celebrating its 10th year!

“Contextualizing the Stalinist Perpetrators: The case of NKVD Investigators Khazan, Savitsky and Krimyan”

by Timothy Blauvelt, Ilia State University and American Councils Georgia

& Davit Jishkariani, SOVLAB

Date: March, 2020, at 18:30 pm
Venue: CRRC Georgia, 1 Liziko Kavtaradze st., 0179 Tbilisi, Georgia

The scale of state sanctioned violence during the repressions in the Stalinist USSR in 1937-1938 provoke fundamental questions about human nature and about how and under what circumstances people can be induced to behave in seemingly inhuman ways. As in early studies of the Holocaust and the Nuremburg trials, much of the focus in analyses of the Stalinist “Great Terror” centered on the role of Stalin and the top leadership, and tended to view the middle level officials who actually implemented the violence as either “cogs in the machine,” at best obedient implementers devoid of any agency of their own, or as sadists and psychopaths whose natural criminal proclivities found a favorable context. While orders from above clearly played a central role in the Terror, and without question there were sadists among the Soviet secret police investigators, such approaches sidestep the more interesting question of how “ordinary people” also became perpetrators, and about the ways in which the secret police investigators fit into Stalinist society more generally and themselves reflected that society. This project addresses these questions and attempts to “populate the macro historical” through an examination of the case files of a group of three mid-level investigators in the Georgian NKVD, Khazan, Savitsky and Krimyan, who according to a mass of reports, testimonies and appeals were at the very center of the machinery of the terror in Tbilisi in 1937-1938. Their cases provide an opportunity to seek a “balance between the micro and macro-historical” and an understanding of how individuals working in the institutions of Stalinist society were able to commit acts of oppression on such a large scale against largely innocent victims.

Timothy Blauvelt is Professor of Soviet and Post-Soviet Studies at Ilia State University in Tbilisi, Georgia, where he teaches courses on Soviet, Caucasus, and Russian political history and primary source research methodology. He is also currently regional director for the South Caucasus for American Councils for International Education. He has published many articles on nationality policy, clientalism, language policies and attitudes, and language education in peer reviewed journals His co-edited book Georgia after Stalin: Nationalism and Soviet Power was published by Routledge in 2015. His current project is a book about patron-client networks in Abkhazia in the 1920s and 1930s. He delivered the very first WiP talk that kicked off the series in March 2010.

Davis Jishkariani graduated with a BA from the Faculty of Humanities of Iv. Javakhishvili Tbilisi State University. In 2008-2010 he received an MA in Russian studies. Later on he continued his studies at the University of Warsaw. He is a researcher at the Soviet Past Research Laboratory (SOVLAB), and he teaches courses at various universities on totalitarian regimes in Europe in the 20th century. His research interests are 20th century history, Stalinism, nationality policy and conflicts.

W-i-P is an ongoing academic discussion series based in Tbilisi, Georgia, that takes place at the CRRC office at 5 Chkhikvadze Str. It is co-organized by the Caucasus Research Resource Centers (CRRC), the American Councils for International Education: ACTR/ACCELS, and the American Research Institute of the South Caucasus (ARISC). All of the talks are free and open to the public. The purpose of the W-i-P series is to provide support and productive criticism to those researching and developing academic projects pertaining the Caucasus region.

PRIVACY POLICY: In order to assure the free and open discussion of ideas and sensitive issues, unless otherwise specified the WiP series holds to the Chatham House Rule: participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed, without the explicit permission of said speaker(s) or participant(s) in the press or other public media. Journalists may attend the sessions, but the contents are not for publication or broadcast without the explicit permission of the speaker(s). This is to enable all involved to openly discuss their views in private while allowing the topic and nature of the debate to be made public and contribute to the broader scholarly and academic conversation.