Director of the Visiting Fellows Programme
Anna Korhonen
Head of International Affairs
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Eeva Korteniemi
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Location & Connections


Visiting Fellows 2011-2012



Elena A. Osokina, University of South Carolina

“Rembrandts for Tractors: Soviet Art Export under Stalin”
Fellowship period: May 1 – June 30, 2012

Born and raised in the Soviet Union, Elena Osokina received her Ph.D. from the Department of History at Moscow University just a few years before the collapse of the USSR. Gorbachev’s perestroika drastically changed the course of her professional and personal life. With the opening of the Soviet archives, Elena left behind the studies of Imperial Russia, which was the subject of her first dissertation (defended in Moscow in 1987), and began an exciting scholarly journey into the social and economic history of the Stalinist era. Her research of the Soviet trade and the black market under Stalin resulted in the successful defence of a second dissertation (Moscow, 1998), and the production of several books and numerous articles published in Russia, USA, Canada, Germany, France, and Italy (for titles see her CV). Elena Osokina is a recipient of the fellowships from the Kennan Institute-Woodrow Wilson Center (Washington, D.C.), the National Endowment for the Humanities (USA), Fulbright (USA), the National Gallery of Art (Washington, D.C.), the Hoover Institution (Stanford, CA), la Maison des Sciences de l’Homme (Paris, France), the Davis Center for Russian Studies (Harvard University), and the Aleksanteri Institute (Helsinki, Finland). She has taught internationally at the Donaueschingen Academy, Germany (on the invitation of the Council of Europe), the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, Oberlin College, and Missouri State University.  Elena is currently a professor of Russian history at the University of South Carolina (Columbia, SC).

Abstract of current research
Elena Osokina is currently engaged in a large project that explores the extraordinary financial sources of Soviet industrialisation and their economic, social, and cultural effects. The project has been designed in two parts.

The first part, now complete (Elena Osokina, Gold for Industrialization: Torgsin, Moscow: ROSSPEN, 2009), explored state stores called Torgsin, which sold food and goods to the Soviet people during the lean years of the first five-year plans (1931-1936) in exchange for gold and other valuables. Torgsin became an economically successful means for Stalin to raise an extraordinary amount of revenue. It not only exceeded activity of the political police that confiscated people’s valuables by force, but also outperformed the results of the major Soviet exports of oil, lumber, and grain.

The current stage of the project explores the effects of the mass Soviet art exports under Stalin to finance Soviet industrialisation. The masterpieces sold by the Soviets became important holdings in renowned art collections around the world. Much of the international research to date has been slanted toward sales from the Hermitage. As a result, we now know who bought the masterpieces and for how much, and where they are presently located. However, almost nothing is known about the “kitchen” of the Soviet art sales, about what was going on backstage. Who were the officials involved in the art exports? What were the methods of recruiting clients? How were the negotiations carried out? What was going on within the state trade office of “Antikvariat” that was in charge of the art exports? Why did the resistance of the intelligentsia to the sales fail?  

These and other issues comprise a major focus of the current research. Elena Osokina’s two month fellowship at the Aleksanteri Institute will be dedicated to writing an article on the Hermitage museum community and the museum’s internal atmosphere during the “sale of the century”, as well as an article on the post-Soviet life of the masterpieces, that explores the changes (restoration, attribution, research, etc.) that occurred to them in the West after they were sold by the Soviet Union.

E-mail: osokina [at]
Personal website:

Academic hosts at the Aleksanteri Institute: Sari Autio-Sarasmo and Riikka Nisonen