Days and Lives :: Propaganda

Prisoner: Susanna Pechuro

“And the worst thing in that life is transportation from one camp to another. When you are in camp you have friends, and they can support you and help you, but when they take you out, they uproot you and your whole world collapses…And also it’s not only because this process of being transported somewhere is very hard, but emotionally that separation with your close ones, your friends, is equal to what you felt when you were separated from your relatives, and you go through that again and again and again, and you really feel complete despair. You feel that you can’t bear it any more. And then you meet the other people, and new people, and you understand that they’re no better off than you are.”

Barrack Ruins with Propaganda Slogans, Salekhard-Igarka.

The Gulag as Educational?

Soviet authorities presented their camps as the world’s most progressive penal institution—at the forefront of a shift away from punishing and to reeducating prisoners. Camp newspapers, propaganda posters, political speeches, theatrical productions, film showings, literacy classes—these were just a few of the ways in which camp authorities sought to convince their prisoners of the educational aspects of Gulag life. They even created an entire administrative structure—the “cultural-educational sections,” or K.V.Ch.—to oversee this Gulag activity. Prisoners viewed it as a cruel joke.

“The ‘K.V.Ch.’ which was supposed to conduct cultural and educational activities among the inmates,” recalled former prisoner Jerzy Gliksman, “ran a Clubhouse in every zone, the so-called ‘Red Corner,’ a special barracks in which prisoners could—and were even expected to—spend their free time. Here the inmates were supposed to read, study, play chess, or engage in other cultural pastimes. For the most part, however, these Clubhouses stood empty, and the vast majority of camp inmates never frequented them. The prisoners were far too tired and far too intensely concerned about satisfying their most primitive wants to find time and energy for filling intellectual needs.”