Days and Lives :: Propaganda

Prisoner: Alla Tumanova

“Of the entire five years of my incarceration, the most terrible months were the fifteen I spent in solitary. Time passes most slowly and oppressively in the evening. The window begins to darken and turn into a black square. The dim electric light and the brown-green walls give the small space an oppressive atmosphere. That familiar sensation of fear creeps back: if they don’t call me to the interrogator during the day, then for sure it will be at night. I attempt to read, but the book cannot distract me from my heavy thoughts. Now and then I catch my eyes roaming in vain across the lines on the page, even turning the pages, but I recall nothing of what I have just read. That feeling of absurdity returns: how could I have possibly ended up here? This is an impossible accident, a delusion.”

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.”