Beyond the Gulags: What Came After

Damn, your stories about people like us bore the hell out of me,” chimes in a prisoner as your fellow ‘storyteller’ inmate finishes talking about another gulag prisoner. “Depressing too, considering how the only way we can get water in this carriage is through licking ice off metal bars…”.

Screeching to a halt, the train stops suddenly and you nearly upchuck your stomach at the sudden change in movement. After eating gulag “food” for a year now, you wouldn’t be surprised if you actually did vomit a chunk of your esophagus out. Huddled on all floors, you look around the room like a wild animal that literally hasn’t eaten in days, searching for something, ANYTHING that could pass as food. Eyes darting about wildly, you see a dead person crumpled in the corner, his features glossy due to the layer of frost that has settled on his body. Food…food…\

“You have survived your entire sentence so far without going feral,” says the storyteller as he grabs you and stuffs a few crumbs of bread in your mouth, savoring the taste as you and feel the lice crawling around on your ragged scalp. “Take my crumbs, you’ll certainly need them more than me.”

“What,” you cough as you try to speak, unused vocal chords reaping their revenge. “What do you think people will think of us after…all this?”

“The people? What the hell do they care for us, they’re the ones that practically put us in this horrendous carriage…”.


Once the USSR was dissolved and the few final gulag prisoners were released, the citizens of Russia behaved very indifferent to the plight of the “Enemies of the People” and continued on with their lives without giving a second thought. Now the behavior is widely the same, with many Russian human rights activists urging for a public procession in which former members of the secret police and gulag guards would come forward and apologize for their actions. However, it may take time for people to “come out of their shells” and speak up due to fear of prosecution. Remember, the citizens of the USSR were encouraged and forced to denounce their friends and family to the state, with many “informants” still alive today.

Another possible reason for this indifference is that many of Russia’s politicians used to be high-ranking members in the Soviet Politburo and have generally profited over the years despite their heinous actions. In the minds of the youth, this shows that “goodness doesn’t always reward” and “triumph doesn’t have to be gained via karma”. This is highlighted in Russia’s modern prison system, which is like a gulag but without hard labor (abuse, no access to outside world, etc.), and censorship of the media. Whereas statues of prominent Confederate leaders are highly controversial and some believe that they should be downright destroyed (in the U.S.A.), Russia’s government proposes to the architecture sector that they should construct monuments to Stalin and other criminal Soviet politicians in the past. The final nail in the coffin is that Vladimir Putin, president of Russia, was once a KGB agent and has been criticized for assassinating his political opponents.

In modern times, it is unlikely that Russia will have a “Truth and Reconciliation” program about the gulags anytime soon, but other independent humanitarian groups are already starting. An organization called “Memorial Society” has been bringing light to the dark corners of the USSR and even reconstructed one of the gulags to show the public what it was like. As Alexander Yakovlev, chairman of the Rehabilitation Committee in Russia stated, “A monument will be built when we—the older generation—are all dead.”

Do Svidaniya, Comrades

Sources Used:


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