The Russian Archival
Research in Russian archives often feels like trying to walk blindfolded.
First, in Russia with its all-permeating governmentalization of all public spheres, there is no such thing as a ‘national archive’: all major archives (and as well major libraries) are “gosudarstvennye,” that is belong to the Russian state, which means an exceptionally high level of government discretion in granting access to records. To make matters worse, in October 2004, the rather liberal archival regulation law from 1993 was superseded by a new law, which has tightened the government grip. Russia does not have anything like FOIA or anything like an “open records” notion: any declassification is entirely in the government domain. Despite a huge number of records declassified after 1991, many records from 1920s-1940s, not to say of the Cold War period, remain off-limit. To make matters worse, recent laws have severely limited access to investigative files from the Stalin era and to any kind of personal records (under the pretext of ‘privacy.’) Still, the declassification process continued in 2000s, with many important collections introduced into public domain.
Second, Russian archival structure is rather complicated, with records dispersed among many archival depositories, which too often means the need of simultaneous research at several archival depositories.
The third impediment is that there is no such thing as same day delivery of requested files: at best, the files are delivered on the next work day of the archive.
The fourth factor, which slows the research process, are rather short reading room hours without any ‘late hours’ or Saturday research option; moreover, some of the archives are closed on one or more week days.
Here is a list of the most frequently requested archives, their whereabouts, and their hours of operation:
Most archives (and all of the above listed) prohibit use of any equipment (scanner, photo and video cameras), except a laptop. The Archive of the Foreign Policy of the Russian Federation prohibits even the use of a laptop.
In the Russian archives, there is no such thing as a photocopy machine in the reading room (or anywhere within a researcher’s access): photocopies are made by the archival staff upon filing a request) with the standard waiting time from 10 days to a month (some archives, like RGASPI) provide express copies at higher rates. Some archives have higher rates for Russian researchers; AVP RF has stopped making paid copies, providing, instead, 25 pages per project free of charge (this plus a total ban on laptops means that researchers need to make handwritten notes, sometimes verbatim, which adds to research time.)
Svetlana Chervonnaya firstname.lastname@example.org