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Posted on Feb 21, 2019

Dissertation grant supports archival research on LGBTQ history in Soviet Baltic

Feruza Aripova is a PhD Candidate in World History at Northeastern University, Center Associate at the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Harvard University and a Visiting Scholar at the Harriman Institute at Columbia University.

My dissertation project, tentatively titled “Silencing of Same-Sex Desire in Post-Soviet Space: Deconstructing the Soviet Legacy,” investigates the legacy of same-sex violence in carceral spaces and its profound impact on public perception of associating homosexuality with crime; as well as the medical establishment that subjected individuals with same-sex attractions to psychiatric treatment in the 1950s through the 1980s. Furthermore, it examines the ways in which legal and medical regulations enabled and constituted “alternative” spaces for same-sex desire in the 1960s through late 1980s. By “queering” the Soviet ideological narrative, it seeks to investigate fragments of same-sex existence, subjectivities, spaces and local and transnational networks.

I am immensely grateful to the Association for the Advancement of Baltic Studies for the financial support which allowed me to complete my archival research in Latvia. I was able to return to Riga in June 2018 to continue searching for any records related to the Soviet criminalization of homosexuality (Article 124 of the 1961 Penal Code of the Latvian Socialist Soviet Republic) at the Latvia State Archive with the help of my archivist, Anita Krastiņa who has been tremendously helpful in locating those records. Careful archival excavation of the fragments of lives and experiences of those arrested and imprisoned for consensual same-sex acts in acts in Soviet Latvia provides a glimpse into an invisible queer existence that flourished despite repressive sexual politics and continuous government surveillance. During my research visit at the Latvia State Archive, I came across multiple stories of men seeking partners in urban public spaces, ranging from the Freedom Monument to the State Opera and Ballet Theater to the public parks and banks of the City Canal in Riga.

What was the impact of the Soviet legacy on the current development of LGBTQ rights in the Baltic region? Why do these stories matter? Those arrested and imprisoned for consensual sodomy still have not been recognized as victims of the regime and, hence, excluded from the official Soviet (and Latvian) memory. Recovering those stories is instrumental for the region’s social and collective memory.

Thanks to the generous support of AABS, I was able to present my archival findings at the “Queer Narratives in European Cultures” conference, hosted by the Institute of Literature, Folklore and Art of the University of Latvia (a special thank you to the organizers Jānis Ozoliņš and Kārlis Vērdiņš). I was also invited to speak at the panel “Queer After Commies: Attitudes to Homosexuals in Post-Communist Societies” as a part of the Baltic Pride in Riga, moderated by a renowned Latvian journalist Rita Ruduša. Furthermore, I presented my findings at the workshop “Postsocialist Revolutions of Intimacy: Sexuality, Rights and Backlash” hosted by the Center for Baltic and East European Studies at Södertörn University in Stockholm in October 2018. I also had an opportunity to present on “The Baltic States: LGBTQ Visibility in the face of Russian Political Homophobia” at the annual ASEEES Conference in Boston in December 2018.