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Gulag (pronunciation , Russian: ГУЛАГ) is an acronym for Главное Управление Исправительно—Трудовых Лагерей и колоний, "Glavnoye Upravleniye Ispravitelno-trudovykh Lagerey i kolonii", "The Chief Directorate [or Administration] of Corrective Labour Camps and Colonies" of the NKVD. Anne Applebaum, in her book Gulag: A History, explains:

It was the branch of the State Security that operated the penal system of forced labour camps and associated detention and transit camps and prisons. While these camps housed criminals of all types, the Gulag system has become primarily known as a place for political prisoners and as a mechanism for repressing political opposition to the Soviet state. Though it imprisoned millions, the name became familiar in the West only with the publication of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's 1973 The Gulag Archipelago, which likened the scattered camps to a chain of islands.


[edit] Terminology

Literally, the word GULAG is an acronym, meaning Glavnoe Upravlenie Lagerei, or Main Camp Administration. Over time, the word "Gulag" has also come to signify not only the administration of the concentration camps but also the system of Soviet slave labor itself, in all its forms and varieties: labor camps, punishment camps, criminal and political camps, women's camps, children's camps, transit camps. Even more broadly, "Gulag" has come to mean the Soviet repressive system itself, the set of procedures that prisoners once called the "meat-grinder": the arrests, the interrogations, the transport in unheated cattle cars, the forced labor, the destruction of families, the years spent in exile, the early and unnecessary deaths.[1]

Some authors refer to all prisons and camps throughout Soviet history (1917–1991) as the Gulags. Also, the term's modern usage is often notably unrelated to the USSR: for example, in such expressions as "North Korea's gulag". Note that the original Russian acronym (ГУЛАГ, never in plural), described not a single camp, but the government department in charge of the entire camp system. The word was also never used in Russian - officially or colloquially - as the predominant term either for the system of labor camps or for the individual camps, which are usually referred to in Russian as simply "the camps" ("лагеря") or "the zone" ("зона", always singular).

The term "corrective labor camp" was suggested for official use by the politburo of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union session of July 27, 1929, as a replacement of the term concentration camp, commonly used until that time.

A colloquial name for a Soviet Gulag inmate was "zeka", "zek". In Russian, "inmate", "incarcerated" is "заключённый", zakliuchyonnyi, usually abbreviated to 'з/к' in paperwork, pronounced as 'зэка' (zeh-KA), gradually transformed into 'зэк' and to 'зек'. The word is still in colloquial use, irrelevant to labour camps. 'з/к' initially was an acronym standing for "заключённый каналостроитель", "zakliuchyonnyi kanalostroitel'" (incarcerated canal-builder), originating to the Volga-Don Canal slave workforce members. Later the term was backronymed to mean just "zakliuchyonnyi".

[edit] Variety

In addition to the most common category of camps that practiced hard physical labour and prisons of various sorts, other forms also existed.

  • Sharashka (шарашка, the goofing-off place) were in fact secret research laboratories, where the arrested and convicted scientists, some of them prominent, were anonymously developing new technologies, and also conducting basic research.
  • Psikhushka (психушка, the nut house), the forced medical treatment in psychiatric imprisonment was used, in lieu of camps, to isolate and break down political prisoners. This practice became much more common after the official dismantling of the Gulag system. See Vladimir Bukovsky, Pyotr Grigorenko.
  • Special camps or zones for children (Gulag jargon: "малолетки", maloletki, underaged), for disabled (in Spassk), and for mothers ("мамки", mamki) with babies.
  • Camps for "wives of traitors of Motherland" (there was a special category of repression: "Traitor of Motherland Family Member" (ЧСИР, член семьи изменника Родины)).
  • Under the supervision of Lavrenty Beria who headed both NKVD and the Soviet Atom bomb program until his demise in 1953, thousands of zeks were used to mine uranium ore and prepare test facilities on Novaya Zemlya, Vaygach Island, Semipalatinsk, among other sites. Reports even state that Gulag prisoners were used in early nuclear tests (the first was conducted in Semipalatinsk in 1949) in decontaminating radioactive areas and nuclear submarines.

[edit] History

Soviet poster of the 1920s: The GPU strikes the counter-revolutionary saboteur on the head

From 1918 camp-type detention facilities were set up, as a reformed extension of earlier labour camps (katorgas), operated in Siberia as a part of the penal system in Imperial Russia. The two main types were "Vechecka Special-purpose Camps" ("особые лагеря ВЧК") and forced labor camps (лагеря принудительных работ). They were installed for various categories of people deemed dangerous for the state: for common criminals, for prisoners of the Russian Civil War, for officials accused of corruption, sabotage and embezzlement, various political enemies and dissidents, as well as former aristocrats, businessmen and large land owners.

The legal base and the guidance for the creation of the system of "corrective labor camps" (Russian: "исправительно-трудовые лагеря", "Ispravitel'no-trudovye lagerya"), the backbone of what is commonly referred to as the "Gulag," was a secret decree of Sovnarkom of July 11 1929 about the utilization of penal labor (see its wikisource reference), that duplicated the corresponding appendix to the minutes of Politburo meeting of June 27, 1929.

As an all-Union institution and a main administration with the OGPU, the Soviet Secret Police, the GULAG was officially established on April 25, 1930 as the "ULAG" by the OGPU order 130/63 in accordance with the Sovnarkom order 22 p. 248 dated April 7, 1930, and was renamed into GULAG in November.

Creation of the GULAG system is widely attributed (cf. "The GULAG Archipelago", Vol.2, Ch.3) to the ingenuity of Naftaly Frenkel, a Turkish-born merchant with close ties with the OGPU.

In the early 1930s, a drastic tightening of Soviet penal policy caused a significant growth of the prison camp population. During the period of the Great Terror (1937-1938), mostly arbitrary mass arrests caused another upsurge in inmate numbers. During these years, hundreds of thousands of individuals were arrested and sentenced to long prison terms on the grounds of one of the multiple passages of the notorious Article 58 of the Criminal Codes of the Union republics, which defined punishment for various forms of "counterrevolutionary activities."

The hypothesis that economic considerations were responsible for mass arrests during the period of Stalinism has been refuted on the grounds of former Soviet archives that have become accessible since the 1990s, although some archival sources also tend to support an economic hypothesis.<ref name=Jakobson>See, e.g., Jakobson, Michael. Origins of the GULag: The Soviet Prison Camp System 1917-34. (Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 1993), p. 88.</ref><ref name=Ivanova>See, e.g., Ivanova, Galina M. Labor Camp Socialism: The Gulag in the Totalitarian System. (Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 2000), p. 70 (and, in fact, almost all of Chapter 2).</ref> Nevertheless, the development of the camp system followed economic lines. (To "corrective labor colonies" this applies to a much lesser extent, to special settlements almost not at all.) The growth of the camp system coincided with the peak of the Soviet industrialization campaign. Hence, most of the camps established to accommodate the masses of incoming prisoners were assigned distinct economic tasks. These included the exploitation of natural resources and the colonization of remote areas as well as the realization of enormous infrastructural facilities and industrial construction projects.

In 1931–1932, the Gulag had approximately 200,000 prisoners in the camps; in 1935 — approximately 800,000 in camps and 300,000 in colonies (annual averages), and in 1939 — about 1.3 millions in camps and 350,000 in colonies. <ref>Cf, e.g., Istorija stalinskogo Gulaga: konec 1920-kh - pervaia polovina 1950-kh godov; sobranie dokumentov v 7 tomakh, ed. by V. P. Kozlov et al., Moskva: ROSSPEN 2004, vol. 4: Naselenie GULAGa</ref> (all data about the numbers of prisoners here and below are taken from official documents published by NKVD, according to Anne Applebaum)

During World War II, Gulag populations declined sharply, owing to the mass releases of hundreds of thousands of prisoners who were conscripted and sent directly to the front lines (often into penal battalions, who were thrown into the most dangerous battles and experienced high casualty rates) and a steep rise in mortality in 19421943. After WWII the number of inmates in prison camps and colonies again rose sharply, reaching approximately 2.5 million people by the early 1950s (about 1.7 millions of whom were in camps). While some of these were deserters and war criminals, there were also 339,000 Soviet citizens repatriated from DP camps in Germany (including 233,000 former military personnel) charged with treason and aiding the enemy.[citation needed] Tens of thousands of these were eventually convicted and transferred to prison camps. Large numbers of civilians from Russian territories which came under foreign occupation and territories annexed by the Soviet Union after the war were also sent there.[citation needed] It was not uncommon for the survivors of Nazi camps to be transported directly to the Soviet labour camps.[citation needed] Yet the major reason for the post-war increase in the number of prisoners was the tightening of legislation on property offences in summer 1947 (at this time there was a famine in some parts of the USSR, claiming about 1 million lives), which resulted in hundreds of thousands of convictions to lengthy prison terms, not seldom on the basis of cases of petty theft or embezzlement.

For years after WWII, a significant minority of the inmates were Balts and Ukrainians from lands newly incorporated into the USSR, as well as Finns, Poles, Romanians and others. POWs, in contrast, were kept in a separate camp system, which was managed by a separate main administration with the NKVD/MVD.

The state continued to maintain the camp system for a while after Stalin's death in March of 1953, although the period saw the grip of the camp authorities weaken and a number of conflicts and uprisings occur (see Bitch Wars; Kengir uprising). The subsequent amnesty program was limited to those who had to serve at most 5 years, therefore mostly those convicted of common crimes were then freed. The release of political prisoners started in 1954 and became widespread, and also coupled with mass rehabilitations, after Nikita Khrushchev's denunciation of Stalinism in his Secret Speech at the 20th Congress of the CPSU in February, 1956. Altogether, according to recent estimates on the basis of archival documents, about 18-20 million people had been prisoners in camps and colonies throughout the period of Stalinism at one point or another. By the end of the 1950s, virtually all "corrective labor camps" were dissolved. Colonies, however, continued to exist.

Officially the GULAG was liquidated by the MVD order 20 of January 25, 1960.

The total deaths shown by the declassified archives in the GULAG from 1931 to 1953 amount to about 1 million, including political and common prisoners. The majority of these died during World War II when conditions in the USSR deteriorated due to the war started by Germany. After the war, the death rate for prisoners dropped sharply. [2]

[edit] Conditions

Prisoner labour at the construction of Belomorkanal, 1931—1933

The GULAG was generally oriented towards keeping its labour force in humane condition for hard work so that it could fulfil to a full extent the construction and production plans handed down from above. Already in the 1930s, and to an even larger extent during the post-war period, it issued numerous orders to ensure the provision of minimum levels of food, clothing and living conditions, and sought to enforce limits imposed on the exploitation of prison labour by legislation. <ref>Leonid Borodkin and Simon Ertz, Leonid Borodkin, 'Forced Labour and the Need for Motivation: Wages and Bonuses in the Stalinist Camp System', Comparative Economic Studies, New Brunswick, June 2005, Vol.47, Iss. 2</ref>

Starting from the very beginning (in early 1930s) monetary payments were to be paid to all working prisoners in Soviet camps who fulfiled their work norms. Throughout the 1940s, these payments were referred to as 'monetary rewards' or 'bonus remunerations' ( premvoznagrazhdeniia ). Additional monetary payments in form of supplemental bonuses for individual prisoners were also possible, although granted extremely rarely. The above-mentioned 1939 temporary regime instruction for corrective-labour camps required that monetary bonuses be credited to each working prisoner's personal account up to a monthly upper limit. Inmates could also be given cash totaling no more than 100 rubles a month, subject to the approval of the division chief. Bonuses and personal cash were to be issued 'piecemeal at different times, in such a manner that the total amount in an inmate's possession does not exceed 50 rubles' (Order No. 00889 NKVD of August 2, 1939). The 1947 procedures for inmates of all Soviet prison camps and colonies spelled out similar terms, limiting the maximal amount of cash to be in any prisoner's possession to 100 rubles (Order No 0190 MVD of March 29, 1947). According to another source, a speech by GULAG director Nasedkin from the same period, inmates could receive cash amounts of not more than 150 rubles at one time. Any sums above this limit were to be credited to their personal accounts and to be paid out as previously issued cash was spent (GARF 9414.1.77: 28). <ref>ibid</ref>

Prisoners working according to 'Stakhanovite' measures were supposed to enjoy additional privileges such as better living quarters, boots or coats, special rations, a separate dining room or the right to be served first, first access to books or newspapers in the prison library, the best seating in the camp theater (if such existed), or a place in training courses to raise their professional qualifications.<ref>ibid</ref>

[edit] Geography

Part of 'Project 503' to build a railroad from Salekhard to Igarka near Turukhansk on the Yenisey

In the early days of Gulag, the locations for the camps were chosen primarily for the ease of isolation of prisoners. Remote monasteries in particular were frequently reused as sites for new camps. The site on the Solovetsky Islands in the White Sea is one of the earliest and also most noteworthy, taking root soon after the Revolution in 1918. The colloquial name for the islands, "Solovki", entered the vernacular as a synonym for the labour camp in general. It was being presented to the world as an example of the new Soviet way of "re-education of class enemies" and reintegrating them through labour into the Soviet society. Initially the inmates, the significant part being Russian intelligentsia, enjoyed relative freedom (within the natural confinement of the islands). Local newspapers and magazines were edited and even some scientific research was carried out (e.g., a local botanical garden was maintained, but unfortunately later lost completely). Eventually it turned into an ordinary Gulag camp; in fact some historians maintain that Solovki was a pilot camp of this type. See Solovki for more detail. Maxim Gorky visited the camp in 1929 and published an apology of it.

With the new emphasis on Gulag as the means of concentrating cheap labour, new camps were then constructed throughout the Soviet sphere of influence, wherever the economic task at hand dictated their existence (or was designed specifically to avail itself of them, such as Belomorkanal or Baikal Amur Mainline), including facilities in big cities — parts of the famous Moscow Metro and the Moscow State University new campus were built by forced labour. Many more projects during the rapid industrialization of the 1930s, war-time and post-war periods were fulfilled on the backs of convicts, and the activity of Gulag camps spanned a wide cross-section of Soviet industry.

The majority of Gulag camps were positioned in extremely remote areas of north-eastern Siberia (the best known clusters are Sevvostlag (The North-East Camps) along Kolyma river and Norillag near Norilsk) and in the south-eastern parts of the Soviet Union, mainly in the steppes of Kazakhstan (Luglag, Steplag, Peschanlag). These were vast and uninhabited regions with no roads (in fact, the construction of the roads themselves was assigned to the inmates of specialized railroad camps) or sources of food, but rich in minerals and other natural resources (such as timber). However, camps were generally spread throughout the entire Soviet Union, including the European parts of Russia, Byelorussia, and Ukraine. There were also several camps located outside of the Soviet Union, in Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, and Mongolia, which were under the direct control of the Gulag.

Not all camps were fortified; in fact some in Siberia were marked only by posts. Escape was deterred by the harsh elements, as well as tracking dogs that were assigned to each camp. While during the 1920s and 1930s native tribes often aided escapees, many of the tribes were also victimized by escaped thieves. Tantalized by large rewards as well, they began aiding authorities in the capture of Gulag inmates. Camp guards were also given stern incentive to keep their inmates in line at all costs; if a prisoner escaped under a guard's watch, the guard would often be stripped of his uniform and become a Gulag inmate himself. Further, if an escaping prisoner was shot, guards could be fined amounts that were often equivalent to one or two weeks wages.

In some cases, teams of inmates were dropped to a new territory with a limited supply of resources and left to initiate a new camp or die. Sometimes it took several attempts before the next wave of colonists could survive the elements.

The area along the Indigirka river was known as the Gulag inside the Gulag. In 1926, the Oimiakon (Оймякон) village in this region registered the record low temperature of −71.2 °C (−96 °F).

[edit] Influence

[edit] Culture

The Gulag spanned nearly four decades of Soviet and East European history and affected millions of individuals. Its cultural impact was enormous.

The Gulag has become a major influence on contemporary Russian thinking, and an important part of modern Russian folklore. Many songs by the authors-performers known as the bards, most notably Vladimir Vysotsky and Alexander Galich, neither of whom ever served time in the camps, describe life inside the Gulag and glorified the life of "Zeks". Words and phrases which originated in the labor camps became part of the Russian/Soviet vernacular in the 60's and 70's.

The memoirs of Alexander Dolgun, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Varlam Shalamov and Yevgenia Ginzburg, among others, became a symbol of defiance in Soviet society. These writings, particularly those of Solzhenitsyn, harshly chastised the Soviet people for their tolerance and apathy regarding the Gulag, but at the same time provided a testament to the courage and resolve of those who were imprisoned.

Another cultural phenomenon in the USSR linked with the Gulag was the forced migration of many artists and other people of culture to Siberia. This resulted in a Renaissance of sorts in places like Magadan, where, for example, the quality of theatre production was comparable to Moscow's.

[edit] Literature

Many eyewitness accounts of Gulag prisoners were published before WWII.

Julius Margolin's book A Travel to the Land Ze-Ka was finished in 1947, but it was impossible to publish such a book about the Soviet Union at the time, immediately after World War II.

Gustaw Herling-Grudziński wrote A World Apart, which was translated into English by Andrzej Ciolkosz and published with an introduction by Bertrand Russell in 1951. By describing life in the gulag in a harrowing personal account, it provides an in-depth, original analysis of the nature of the Soviet communist system.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn's book The Gulag Archipelago was not the first literary work about labour camps. His previous book on the subject, "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich", about a typical day of the GULAG inmate, was originally published in the most prestigious Soviet monthly, Novij Mir, New World, in November of 1962, but was soon banned and withdrawn from all libraries. It was the first work to demonstrate the Gulag as an instrument of governmental repression against its own citizens on a massive scale.

János Rózsás, Hungarian writer, often called as the Hungarian Solzhenitsyn, wrote a lot of books and articles on the issue of GULAG.

Karlo Štajner, an Austrian communist active in the former Kingdom of Yugoslavia and manager of Comintern Publishing House in Moscow from 1932-39, was arrested one night and taken from his Moscow home under accusation of anti-revolutionary activities. He spent the following 20 years in camps from Solovki to Norilsk. After USSR-Yugoslavian political normalization he was re-tried and quickly found innocent. He left the Soviet Union with his wife, who had been waiting for him for 20 years, in 1956 and spent the rest of his life in Zagreb, Croatia. He wrote an impressive book entitled 7000 days in Siberia.

[edit] Colonization

Soviet state documents show that among the goals of the GULAG was colonization of sparsely populated remote areas. To this end, the notion of "free settlement" was introduced.

When well-behaved persons had served the majority of their terms, they could be released for "free settlement" (вольное поселение, "volnoye poseleniye") outside the confinement of the camp. They were known as "free settlers" (вольнопоселенцы, "volnoposelentsy", not to be confused with the term ссыльнопоселенцы, "ssyl'noposelentsy", "exile settlers"). In addition, for persons who served full term, but who were denied the free choice of place of residence, it was recommended to assign them for "free settlement" and give them land in the general vicinity of the place of confinement.

This implement was also inherited from the katorga system.

[edit] Life after term served

Persons who served a term in a camp or in a prison were restricted from taking a wide range of jobs. Concealment of a previous imprisonment was a triable offense. Persons who served terms as "politicals" were nuisances for "First Departments" (Первый Отдел-"Pervyj Otdel", outlets of the secret police at all enterprises and institutions), because former "politicals" had to be monitored.

Many people released from camps were restricted from settling in larger cities.

After serving long terms, many people had lost their former job skills and social contacts. Therefore upon final release many of them voluntarily decided to become (or stay) "free settlers". This decision was also influenced by the knowledge of the restrictions for them everywhere else. When many of the previously released prisoners were re-seized during the wave of arrests that began in 1947, this happened much more often to those who had chosen to move back to their home town proximity rather than to those who remained near the camps as free settlers.

[edit] Latest developments

Anne Applebaum's monograph described the releases of political prisoners from the camps as late as 1987. In November 1991 the Russian parliament, the Supreme Soviet of RSFSR, passed the "Declaration of Rights and Freedoms of the Individual" which guaranteed theoretically, among other liberties, the right to disagree with the government.

[edit] References


[edit] See also

[edit] Wikisource

[edit] External links

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