Saturday, May 29, 2021

Enthusiasm of Senior Officials for Using Prison Labor Raises Serious Questions, Shelin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 27 – Since Penal System head Aleksandr Kalashnikov proposed using 188,000 inmates as workers in the economy, senior officials have lined up almost on a daily basis to express their support for the idea, an enthusiasm that by itself raises some serious questions, Sergey Shelin says.

            Perhaps, these officials “above know something,” the Rosbalt commentator says. “Perhaps, there soon will be many more candidates for such forced worker contingents? The current circumstances by themselves give rise to such suspicions” (

            On the one hand, Kalashnikov has gone out of his way to say that such use of prison labor won’t make the system into a GULAG  and other officials have stressed that prison labor alone won’t solve the country’s labor shortages (

            But on the other, a Novosti commentator has portrayed the GULAG as something positive reflecting not only the further whitewashing of Stalinism but also possible thinking about using such a system in the future (; discussed in

            Shelin recalls that in March 1953, three weeks after the death of Stalin, Lavrenty Beria called for releasing “almost half of the 2.5 million prisoners of the GULAG” and the Soviet government unanimously approved the amnesty. It is worth comparing what Beria said with what the Novosti commentator now says, he suggests.

            Beria in 1953 said that confining so many people in camps and prisons did not serve any state interest and that conditions in many of these places were awful. Novosti today says that “in spite of the myths imposed on us,” the GULAG was quite varied and many parts of it provided a better life than poor peasants and lumpen urban groups had at the time.

            Further, Beria in 1953 said that confining people to camps cut them off from their families and from society and had “an extremely negative” impact on their futures. Novosti now says that “this was a more or less normal life in comparison with the most difficult conditions in which the poor then lived.”

            Everyone can judge for himself “who is right,” Shelin says. “For me, it is obvious that Lavrenty Beria knew incomparably better what he was talking about. And that makes the appearance of the Novosti article and the enthusiasm of senior officials for using prison labor extremely worrisome.

            One can of course console oneself with the notion that this is just a typical example of propaganda and that life itself moves along in a separate “channel.” But, the Rosbalt commentator concludes, “it is becoming more and more difficult to believe” that is the case in Russia today.

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