Yana Skorobogatov

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Department:
History
Term:
AY 17-18

Violence Tamed: The Death Penalty in the Soviet Union, 1945-1991  charts the history of the Soviet death penalty after World War II. It argues that in post-Stalinist Russia, state killing did not disappear but transformed. It did so by embedding itself within the country’s criminal justice system in the form of the death penalty. In order to retain state killing as a weapon of rule, the Soviet state forfeited its monopoly on violence and ceded the authority to take human life to a set of actors far removed from the seat of political power: legal, medical, and technical experts. But this decentralized model produced unanticipated consequences. By assuming control over the power to kill, newly empowered local experts subjected themselves to critiques leveled by private Soviet citizens. Beginning in the late 70s and lasting until the final days of Soviet rule, ordinary Russians began to take ownership of the death penalty process. They alerted the authorities to administrative incompetence and mismanagement, and unleashed a crisis of authority that reflected a larger distrust in both the death penalty as an institution and the Soviet state’s ability to carry it out properly. Ultimately, Violence Tamed reveals how the death penalty refracted Soviet citizens’ visions of the Soviet system by highlighting its systemic flaws.