Women’s Experiences of the Great Terror – new publication by Prof Melanie Ilic

I posted on our Facebook page in September that I had a book due to come out very soon, and now it’s actually here! Women’s Experiences of Repression in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe is a co-authored volume focusing on the largely untold story of the ways in which state-sponsored repression in Soviet-dominated Eastern Europe had a particular impact on the lives of women.

Ilic Book

Besides my chapter on the Soviet experience, Prof Dalia Leinarte compares the deportation stories of women from Lithuania and Poland in the 1940s, Dr Kelly Hignett explores the impact on women’s lives of the establishment of the socialist regime in Czechoslovakia after 1948, and Corina Snitar (PhD student at the University of Glasgow) examines women’s roles in the student protest and partisan movements of 1950s Romania.

My own chapter emerges from my on-going interest in victims of the Great Terror in the Soviet Union under Stalin and the ways in which the purges had an impact directly on women. What concerns me in this new writing is the lives of those women who were not themselves arrested, imprisoned or executed, but nonetheless experienced repression as secondary victims of the terror – mostly through their family associations. The arrest of a husband, father or son had a profound impact on family life, the repercussions of which lasted a lifetime and have rebounded across generations. The struggle of living with a ‘tainted biography’ hindered individual access to higher education, career choices and employment opportunities, though there are also some exciting exceptional stories of achievement here, including those of world-renowned ballerina Maya Plisetskaya and opera singer Galina Vishnevskaya. These are testimonies of women’s struggles through the Soviet system and of their survival.

The research for my chapter is based on an extensive reading of a range of Soviet women’s narrative literatures. These include some of my own published interviews with Soviet women, book shelves full of autobiographies, testimonies and memoirs, as well as the unique collection of first-hand accounts documented in the multi-volume Leningradskii martirolog (a collection that provides biographical data on all of the people executed in Leningrad as a result of the purges).

Women’s Experiences of Repression is also the result of the general serendipity of conference attendance and close engagement with research networks. I had originally intended the research that has now appeared in this book to be part of a different project, but when I was on a conference panel with Dalia Leinarte, chaired by Kelly Hignett, we realised the potential to develop our individual studies further and in collaboration. An preliminary approach to my commissioning editor at Routledge gave the proposal further impetus. Corina Snitar joined the team when I saw a notice about her research topic posted in our national association bulletin. I sent her an email and a lengthy phone call later (and with the approval of her supervisory team), she came to join us for the book and thus added an unexpected and vital focus on gender to her own PhD research.


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