'2,000 foreigners in Gulag'

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The Independent Online
MOSCOW (Reuter) - More than 2,000 foreigners were imprisoned in Siberian labour camps during Josef Stalin's reign of terror, Russia's Security Ministry said yesterday. Maj Gen Anatoly Krayushkin of the ministry's directorate said the archives of Stalin's secret police, then known as the NKVD, listed foreign prisoners from 31 countries in the gulags.

'The number of people who suffered from the purges is significantly higher than has been revealed to the media,' Gen Krayushkin said. Among the foreigners were 501 Bulgarians, 155 Mongolians, 116 Germans, 29 Hungarians and two Britons. The fate of the foreigners on the list was unclear. The figures apparently do not account for large numbers of foreigners who fell into the hands of the NKVD.

Tens of thousands of Poles, including officers, were executed by the NKVD during the Second World War. The lists also seem to omit hundreds or thousands of foreign Communists who were arrested or disappeared at the height of the purges in the 1930s. Many more were forced to assume Soviet citizenship and may not have shown in the statistics.

Many Socialist foreigners settled in the Soviet Union in the years after the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, fired with a mission to build Communism. Others used Moscow as a base for conspiratorial work.

They were viewed with growing suspicion as Moscow's leaders closed their country off from the outside world at the end of the 1920s. After that, foreigners were stranded in a country gripped by growing fear and paranoia.

Stalin's 30-year rule ended in 1953. It saw the virtual annihilation of whole sections of society in purges, deportations, the brutal collectivisation of agriculture and the ruthless suppression of intellectual and nationalist dissent. Millions of people who fell foul of the 'Man of Steel' were sent to labour camps stretching across the sparsely populated Siberian taiga.

Itar-Tass news agency said Gen Krayushkin was speaking after handing over to an Austrian diplomat a list of more than 200 Austrian prisoners which had been compiled from the files of the once-dreaded Soviet KGB security police.

Gen Krayushkin said the Security Ministry, formed to replace one section of the KGB when it was dismantled last year, was working on rehabilitating them as well as 2.5 million ex-Soviet citizens. A ministry spokesman said it would soon set up an open reading room so the public could have access to KGB files.