The Russian Penitentiary System: Civil Society’s Unintended Incubator | Wilson Center
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The Russian Penitentiary System: Civil Society’s Unintended Incubator

Prison and exile have featured prominently in the biographies of nearly every well-known Russian cultural figure. Importantly, the shared experience of prison or exile has helped to shape each individual’s civic position. This tradition continues in Russia today, where discontent with the widespread miscarriage of justice serves as a social catalyst for tens of thousands of Russians and may ultimately help lay the foundation for democratic change.

Olga Romanova is a renowned journalist and human rights activist, and the executive director of the civil rights movement “Russia Behind Bars” (“Rus’ Sidyaschaya’). She became widely known in 1999-2005 for her analytical show ‘24 with Olga Romanova’ on Ren-TV. In 2005, she became the anchor of several shows on Echo of Moscow radio, followed by positions at Segodnya, Versiya, Vedomosti, Novaya Gazeta newspapers, as well as The New Times, the Russian version of Businessweek, and Slon Magazine. Served as a member of the Russian opposition coordination council from October 2012 to July 2013. Participated in single-person protests to free the jailed Pussy Riot performers. Romanova’s work as a human rights activist field started after her husband was arrested in 2008 on trumped-up charges. In 2011, his sentence was overturned and he was released following the decision of the Russian Supreme Court. His prison diary was first published online as Butyrka Blog and then as a book entitled ‘Butyrka.’


  • Olga Romanova

    Executive Director of the civil rights movement “Russia Behind Bars” (“Rus’ Sidyaschaya"); Renowned journalist and human rights activist