How Siberia's dark history could be its financial saviour

For more than two decades it was a living hell for anyone Joseph Stalin deemed to be "an enemy of the people", but a Siberian mayor believes it is now time to cash in on his region's dark history - by reopening part of the Gulag for fee-paying tourists.

To the horror of prison camp survivors and human rights activists, Igor Shpektor, the mayor of Vorkuta, has floated the idea of re-opening one of the many Soviet prison camps whose network spread in the 1930s.

His vision would give the discerning history-conscious tourist, the hardy ones at least, exactly what the original inmates endured - suffering.

Tourists would be housed in re-creations of the camps, complete with watch towers, guards and fierce dogs, rolls of barbed wire, spartan living conditions and forced labour. If they tried to escape they would be shot - with paint balls rather than bullets.

Mr Shpektor told one American newspaper that blueprints for the camp had already been drawn up and an appropriate location, the site of an abandoned camp, identified. All he needed, he added, was to raise the necessary funding. Crucially he did not say how much tourists would have to pay in order to relive an experience that millions would rather forget.

Reaction from local people and a human rights group called Memorial, which tries to document the suffering and death caused by the Gulag system, has been stormy. They have condemned the idea as "sacrilege" and an insult to the Gulag's survivors.

According to Memorial, some 200,000 prisoners, known as zeks, died in the camps surrounding Vorkuta, out of more than two million deported there between 1932 and 1954. Many of them were forced to shovel coal in the region's extreme climatic conditions. In winter, the temperature plunges to minus 40C while in summer the population of mosquitoes explodes.

Mr Shpektor argues that by experiencing the reality of the Gulag, people will understand better that it is something that must never be repeated.

Situated 1,200 miles north-east of Moscow, at the northern tip of the Ural mountains and beyond the Arctic Circle, life for the citizens of Vorkuta is difficult. Many of its coal mines have closed, unemployment is high and much of the population (which includes camp survivors) is ageing.

If Mr Shpektor realises his peculiar dream, it will be the first "reality Gulag camp" for tourists in Russian. That said, the curators of Perm 36, the country's best-preserved camp, in the Urals, already offer rooms to scholars to raise funds. And the Solovetsky islands, in the White Sea off Archangelsk, with another camp and a historic mona-stery, have become a popular tourist attraction in their own right.

The Gulag

* The Gulag was a system of forced-labour camps in the USSR. The word derives from the acronym for 'the chief directorate of corrective labour camps'

* It was set up under Lenin around 1920 but was greatly expanded by Stalin

* At its peak, the system had 476 camps - many in Siberia and the far east

* An estimated 50 million people died in the Gulag between 1930 and 1950

* Prisoners included Alexander Solzhenitsyn, author of The Gulag Archipelago, and Anatoly Shcharansky, who wrote Fear No Evil

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
British author Helen Macdonald, pictured with Costa book of the year, 'H is for Hawk'
booksPanel hail Helen Macdonald's 'brilliantly written, muscular prose' in memoir of a grief-stricken daughter who became obsessed with training a goshawk
Sport
footballLive blog: Follow the action from the Capital One Cup semi-final
Life and Style
food + drink
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: Intervention Teacher Required To Start ASAP.

£125 - £150 per day + Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: A 'wonderful primary ...

Tradewind Recruitment: Maths Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Our client is an 11-16 mixed commun...

Recruitment Genius: PHP / Drupal / SaaS Developer

£32000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A rapidly developing company in...

Ashdown Group: Application Architect/Developer - Peterborough

Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Application Architect/Developer - Peterborough, Cam...

Day In a Page

Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Homeless Veterans appeal: Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story

Homeless Veterans appeal

Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story
Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

Front National family feud?

Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century