Effects of the past: how Stalin’s deportations have affected gender norms
Monday, 27 May, 2019

It may appear as though the subject of gender and gender norms is a fairly recent socio-political phenomenon – particularly in Eastern Europe and Central Asia – but it does, in fact, have a longer history than might initially be thought, even in the former Soviet Union; its effects can still be felt and observed today.

Dr. Ekaterina Zhuravskaya of the Paris School of Economics visited ISET on May 27 to discuss the topic. ‘Diffusion of Gender Norms: Evidence from Stalin’s Ethnic Deportations’ delved into the effects of mass Soviet deportations of populations from their homes in the western parts of the Soviet Union to far-flung areas of Central Asia and Siberia. In excess of two million people were evicted from their homes and relocated, a horrifying process that nevertheless altered the perceptions of gender norms in the new places they were forced to call home.

The majority of the deportees were ethnic Germans and Chechens, mostly comprised of Protestant Christians and Sunni Muslims respectively. Targeted due to their groups’ perceived threat to the Communist ideology, their destinations were selected due to local shortages of manual labor. Yet as grim as their circumstances undoubtedly were, their status was not the same as those sent to endure the misery of the gulags. They were not, either officially or corporally, prisoners, despite the fact that they were not permitted to leave the place they had been dispatched to; providing the deportees checked in with Soviet authorities every three days to confirm that they had not attempted to leave, they were free to do as they liked in the towns and cities they were confined to.

Dr. Zhuravskaya explained that this has had a marked effect on the local societies that the deportees began to mix with. She highlighted the differences in gender perception between areas that witnessed either an influx of Protestant Germans or Chechen Muslims. The populations which were subject to Protestant Christian influence via the ethnic German deportees were found to be more accommodating of gender equality; the people in these areas were found to be generally supportive of the prospect of women at work, or even women running for political office. This stands in contrast to perceptions in areas with more Chechen Muslim influence, whose outlook was observed to be more conservative and less inclined towards gender equality.

Former Soviet countries adapting from (and confronting) their Communist history has dictated regional geopolitics since the USSR collapsed, but gender norms are something that has not been frequently discussed or examined, especially regarding its historical origins. ISET would like to thank Dr. Zhuravskaya for taking the time to visit the institute and treating the audience to a truly unique and fascinating presentation.