Originally published at http://www.newrepublic.com/article/118306/kremlin-trying-erase-memories-gulag.
The word gulag sends shivers down the spine of anyone unfortunate enough to have lived under Stalinist terror. Soviet history is ragged with deportations, forced labor, starvation, executions, and political repression. Yet in the whole of Russia, there is only one museum, a converted labor camp located in a remote village in the northern Ural Mountains, that documents these abuses. Today, as a result of President Vladimir Putin’s efforts to revive the grandiose Stalinist narrative of Russian history, it is on the verge of shutdown.
Soviet-era Russia was dotted with hundreds of prison camps. Today, Perm 36 is the only preserved Stalin-era labor camp in the country. It operated as a prison colony for political dissidents until the end of the Soviet period; the last prisoner left in 1988.
Many in the West are aware of the horrors of the gulag, but few may realize that many Soviet camps stayed in business well into the reform era of Mikhail Gorbachev. In Russia, repression is often publicly associated primarily, and sometimes solely, with the Stalinist period. Russian museums, such as Moscow’s State Gulag Museum and Tomsk’s interactive NKVD museum, exclusively memorialize the Stalinist terror and the Great Purges. But Perm 36 is the only former labor camp that immortalizes the lives of political dissidents throughout the entire Soviet era.
The Perm Region, still home to the largest convict population in Russia, was known for what’s called the “Perm Triangle”—the three camps that held legendary dissidents like Vladimir Bukovsky from 1972 to 1988.