Days and Lives :: Propaganda

Prisoner: Michael Solomon

At Berlag, part of the Magadan complex there were daily propaganda broadcasts. “From five in the morning until midnight, propaganda…was constantly bored into people’s minds. A free man was in charge of the broadcast operation, relaying the official version of the news to all camp outlets.”

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.”