GULAGs in Kazakhstan
In the vein of yesterday’s post, here’s at least a hasty link to an article about a new book,
The Gulag’s Foundation In Kazakhstan Death and Redemption: The Gulag and the Shaping of Soviet Society by Steven A. Barnes of George Mason University (where, perhaps coincidentally, it seems like an awfully large number of Bolashak students study).
Interestingly, it sounds as if Barnes is looking at the camps not as death camps but as labor camps, literally realizing the Soviet ideology that labor in service of the motherland makes man free. The idea was never to ostracize, destroy or humiliate “enemies of the state”, but to rehabilitate them:
The most salient feature of the Gulag was an apparent paradox: forced labor, high death rates and an oppressive atmosphere of violence, cold and constant hunger coexisted with camp newspapers and cultural activities, a constant propaganda barrage of correction and reeducation and the steady release of a significant portion of the prisoner population.
The Bolsheviks could not escape their fundamental belief in the malleability of the human soul and they believed that labor was the key to reforging criminals. The very harshness of the Gulag was seen as necessary to break down a prisoner’s resistance in order to rebuild him or her into a proper Soviet citizen. If a prisoner refused correction, the brutality of the Gulag would lead to inevitable death, for the Bolsheviks were no humanitarians. If mistakes were to be made, they believed it was better to kill too many than too few.
It’s an interesting view and I look forward to seeing the research behind it, particularly statistics on how many political prisoners were set free after rehabilitating themselves. I’d also be curious where Kazakhstan in particular comes in. Of course, there were many labor camps in what is now Kazakhstan, but I wasn’t aware that they played a fundamental role.