How Siberia's dark history could be its financial saviour - Europe - World - The Independent

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
News
Paper trail: the wedding photograph found in the rubble after 9/11 – it took Elizabeth Keefe 13 years to find the people in it
newsWho are the people in this photo? It took Elizabeth Stringer Keefe 13 years to find out
Arts and Entertainment
Evil eye: Douglas Adams in 'mad genius' pose
booksNew biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Sport
FootballFull debuts don't come much more stylish than those on show here
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Kim Kardashian drawn backlash over her sexy swimsuit selfie, called 'disgusting' and 'nasty'
fashionCritics say magazine only pays attention to fashion trends among rich, white women
Arts and Entertainment
TVShows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Arts and Entertainment
Hit the roof: hot-tub cinema east London
architectureFrom pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
Travel
travel
News
The ecological reconstruction of Ikrandraco avatar is shown in this illustration courtesy of Chuang Zhao. Scientists on September 11, 2014 announced the discovery of fossils in China of a type of flying reptile called a pterosaur that lived 120 millions years ago and so closely resembled those creatures from the 2009 film, Avatar that they named it after them.
SCIENCE
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Matisse: The Cut-Outs exhibition attracted 562,000 visitors to the Tate Modern from April to September
art
Life and Style
Models walk the runway at the Tom Ford show during London Fashion Week Spring Summer 2015
fashionLondon Fashion Week 2014
News
Kenny G
news
News
peopleThe black actress has claimed police mistook her for a prostitute when she kissed her white husband
Life and Style
techIndian model comes with cricket scores baked in
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

Energy Markets Analyst

£400000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Energy Markets An...

Junior Web Analyst – West Sussex – Up to £35k DOE

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Plus excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions...

Nursery Manager

£22000 - £23000 per annum: Randstad Education Bristol: We are currently recrui...

Web Analyst – Permanent – Up to £40k - London

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: We are currently r...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week