Δευτέρα, 23 Νοεμβρίου 2015

Corneliu Pintilescu, “The interrogation stages, strategies, and techniques of the SECURITATE


Corneliu Pintilescu, “The interrogation stages, strategies, and techniques of the SECURITATE (1948-1964). Case study: The Cluj regional directorate for the security of the people”, (Remembrance in time, Transilvania University Press of Brasov 2012), pp. 131-136.

 

The topic of the present study has been approached in numerous works and articles on the justice system as an instrument of political repression and manipulation in the communist regimes. One can mention here the already classic works of authors, such as F. Beck, W. Godin, Annie Kriegel, George Hodos and Robert Conquest, who approach the great show trials from the time of the “Great Terror” and the similar trials from Eastern Europe from 1948-1964.2 Apart from focusing on the great “show trials,” another feature of these works is their use of mainly press sources as well as witness and victim accounts. Only after the political changes from 1989 did researchers have access to the archives of the former USSR (less to the judicial archives however). From among the works that were the result of this opening, one can mention those of Michael Ellman, David L. Hoffmann, Roberta T. Manning and Elizabeth A. Wood.3 The opening of the archives of the former USSR was limited however. That is why these important works on the justice system as an instrument of repression in the Communist Bloc did not contain an analysis also from the perspective of the files based on which the respective trials were held. The present study tries to fill this historiographic gap. It will analyze the interrogation stages of the Securitate as well as the strategies and techniques that this oppressive institution widely used based on the source material from the criminal files held in the archives of the National Council for the Study of the Archives of the Securitate (NCSAS), which are related to the activity of the Cluj Military Tribunal between 1948 and 1964, as well as the interviews with victims and witnesses of the studied trials. Through strategies we understand the ways in which the inquiry was organized and developed of the inquiry in order to concoct a political criminal felony according to the existing legislation. The interrogation is the central piece in the criminal inquiry of the Securitate.

The confessions obtained during the interrogation provide the essential data that are manipulated during the course of the trial. The material evidence and witness confessions were many times of secondary importance. The structure of the Securitate contained a special directorate called “Criminal investigations,” whose prerogative was the investigation of political crimes and their prosecution in court.4

The inquest strategy was closely connected to the centralized organization of the Securitate. An order of the General Directorate for the Security of the People (GDSP)5 from Bucharest to the Cluj Regional Directorate of the Security of the People demanded explanations for the arrests made without permission from the GDSP.6 This document is one of the many proving that key-moments in an investigation, such as its initiation or the arrest of suspects, depended on approval from the centre. Moreover, due the nature of its rapports with the lower structures, the GDSP exercised tight control over the evolution of the investigation in general and the interrogation in particular. An order of the GDSP dated August 17, 1951, demanded from the Cluj Regional Securitate the arrest of a suspect, his interrogation according to a questionnaire attached to the order, and the dispatch of a copy of the obtained statement to Bucharest.7 A month before, they had received a similar order demanding what kind of facts the investigation must establish upon completion. In this case, the main fact that the investigators had to establish was “the counterrevolutionary religious activities [of the suspects].”8 The information on local events was successively transmitted from the county to the regional and then central level, by means of regular reports. Based on these reports, the GDSP decided on the initiation of an investigation concerning certain suspects. According to the received information, the Bucharest center decided on the arrest of the suspects or the interruption of the investigation. The importance of the GDSP in the development of criminal investigations was partly determined by the fact that it centralized the data collected from all over the country. That is why the local sections depended on the information provided by the Bucharest center. The GDSP benefited from this position and coordinated interrogations by means of its orders and guidance. In certain cases, the guidance of an investigation touched on details, by the dispatch of elaborated questionnaires for the suspects as well as information on the persons of interest and instructions on how investigators had to carry out their tasks.9

The used questionnaires clearly reveal the stages of the interrogation. They were lists of pre-established questions that later shaped the confessions of suspects. Without these questionnaires, which meant to guide suspects during the process of the establishment of their political guilt, the self-accusing statements given under duress risked being contradictory. Even so, the mixture of truth and fiction revealed contradictions that were later invoked in appeals. The effect of questionnaires was the standardization of statements in case the investigation targeted a group of suspects. If the investigators noticed discrepancies among certain pieces of information, they organized a confrontation in which all the suspects with divergent statements participated. The confrontation report signed by the participants confirmed the final version. The fact that most of the investigations usually targeted a group instead of an individual rendered the interrogation a complex action in need of a strategy. The officer leading the investigation at the local level was entrusted with the application of the strategy through the coordination of the

group of investigators that worked on the case. The strategy determined the stages of the interrogation. In the preliminary phase, having an introductory character, the Securitate investigators asked a set of general questions through which they were investigating some leads on the political activity of the suspects and their possible crimes against the regime. These broad questions usually were: “What kind of subversive activities did you carry out against the regime?” or “What counterrevolutionary activities did you carry out?” This type of questions indicates the investigators’ intention to feel out the situation.10 Investigators requested suspects to submit autobiographic accounts and lists of acquaintances in order to make their general evaluation.

The starting point for any interrogation was the presumption of guilt. Since a person was under investigation by the Securitate meant that his/her guilt was self-evident. The only aspect left to be established was the kind of crime he/she committed, under what circumstances, and in what way. The questions asked as well as the concepts used during the interrogation undoubtedly prove that the Securitate conducted its investigation according to the existing penal legislation as well. Further evidence in this regard is the investigators’ stubborn efforts to give the offenses of suspects a political character – even if it was fictitious – in order to be able to prosecute them according to the legal provisions of the Romanian Penal Code. The aim of the interrogation was not the pursuit of truth, but the construction of a political guilt, which implied the commission of offenses that the regime valorized negatively from a political point of view and artificially connected to criminal offenses stipulated in the Penal Code.

In the second stage of the interrogation, the investigators pursued certain leads according to the existing repressive policy and the information they had. They focused on the thorough investigation of these leads through the selection and accumulation of as many incriminating evidence as possible. The leading investigator issued guidelines concerning the separate investigation of the suspects after careful analysis of the biographic data and psychological profile of each of them. Those considered vulnerable from a biographical point of view or psychologically instable were subjected to intense pressure until they broke. Upon finishing the inquiry on the activity of the suspect, the investigators extended their investigation over the suspect’s acquaintances. Thus, they obtained incriminating statements on other people as well. This strategy assured the contamination of those who abetted or kept in contact with the suspect. In the third stage, the investigators synthesized the obtained confessions. The most important document was the final report of the investigation written by the leading investigating officer. Apart from the synthesis of all the obtained statements, this document gave new meanings to the deeds described in the statements, established the commission or non-commission of certain crimes, and decided for or against sending the case further for prosecution in a court of law. Although the existing legislation clearly stipulated that the establishment of an individual’s guilt or innocence was the prerogative of the courts of law, the aforementioned final reports of the Securitate already reached the verdict. These reports had a standard ending note saying: “In conclusion [...] they are

guilty of …”11

Most of the trials from 1948-1964, whose aim was to legalize terror, involved groups of individuals. The individual trial of politically undesirable was a rare occurrence. This is why the investigation in general and the interrogation in particular targeted groups of individuals. The collective investigation of the repression subjects presented a number of advantages. The first was the efficiency of the investigation and sentencing process of an impressive number of individuals. The second advantage was that guilt was easier constructed through the reciprocal contamination of those involved. Collective guilt had additional seriousness and popular impact. A crime committed by a group of individuals, to whom the investigators added an organized character, became more serious that a crime committed individually.

The need for the collective treatment of subjects had a strong influence on the interrogation techniques. The investigation of a group of individuals meant the involvement of an entire team of investigators. The team was lead by a leading investigation officer, who centralized the results and forwarded them to his superiors by means of reports. The isolation of the suspects from the same group was recommended in order to avoid their fraternization and access to information pertaining to the case.

Suspects were usually held in custody in detention cells in the Securitate buildings. However, due to the limited space, their recommended isolation was difficult to put into practice. It became easier when there was a penitentiary nearby, where the suspects could be held in isolation. In order to prevent suspects from knowing the location of their detention place and communicating among themselves during transport, they were blindfolded with special tin glasses.

In order to break the resistance of suspects and obtain their self-incriminating statements, the Securitate made recourse to physical and psychological pressures. The alternation and dosage of these pressures is a fact that many victims noted in their later testimonies.12 Physical pressures did not involve only torture, which is one of the most frequent elements in the memoirs of former political prisoners, but also food and sleep deprivation, which led to the weakening of the suspects’ organism and obviously his resistance capacity. The use of torture was a two-edged weapon because after the signing of the self-incriminating statements the suspects recanted them. In certain cases, the suspect’s vacillation between admitting and recanting these statements undermined the result of the investigation. Here is an example of a piece of evidence that becameunusable by the prosecution: “I admit that until January 25, 1950, I had not admitted to what Captain Desagă said about me, and on January 25 I said I had admitted only for fear of torture.”13

We will not insist on the torture techniques because this topic has been very well covered both in memoirs and the historical research. In many cases, the use of torture was unnecessary because the psychological methods, such as threats and blackmail, proved their efficiency. The psychological methods for the obtaining of confessions were based on a system of collecting and organizing information on the people who came under the scrutiny of the Securitate. During the investigation, the personal file of the suspect comprised a picture, personal data, the “identification elements,” “prior offenses,” “the result of the house search,” “the information resulting from his [and other peoples’] statements,” “confrontations,” “personal descriptions,” “conclusions,” and “proposals.”14

According to the biographical data and the description, guidelines were issued as to the manner in which the suspects would be approached during the interrogation. Descriptions were short and tried to note the weak points of the suspect. Based on the information gathered from the suspects in custody, the leading investigation officer together with his superiors decided on which suspects the investigation should focus as well as on the manner in which the interrogation would be conducted. A note of the Cluj Regional Directorate for the Security of the People (CRDSP) to the GDSP in Bucharest, dated July 29, 1952 and referring to an investigation, made an evaluation of the interrogation work and put forward proposals.

Those who showed resistance during the course of the investigation were proposed for internment in “work units,”15 because they were considered “dangerous elements,” those who fell into the trap of the blackmail of the Securitate became informants, and those who confessed to their guilt were further investigated in view of their trial in a court of law.16

Manipulation was another method that was successfully used to obtain selfincriminating statements. Those who came into contact with the Securitate for the first time were unaware of its tricks. The investigation could begin in a non-violent and persuasive manner. The suspect was assured that he was brought in only for some routine questions. This way, the investigators obtained from the suspect confessions that in his view were not serious, such as the listening to Western radio stations and the voicing of critical remarks on the policy of the government or the Soviet Union.

By starting from apparently unimportant details, the Securitate managed to construct - by means of additions, exaggerations, and reinterpretations – seriouscounterrevolutionary crimes. Another manipulation method was to make suspects believe that the Securitate knew everything on their life and they could not hide anything away from it. For instance, suspects were surprised by the mentioning of certain details from their personal life, which convinced them that the Securitate knew everything about them and resistance was futile. Furthermore, investigators made full use of the frictions that appeared within a group of suspects. In order to break the solidarity of the group, investigators would show to some suspects the damaging statements that the other suspects made on them or would promise their release or a lighter sentence in exchange of cooperation.

In conclusion, we underline that the interrogation strategies of the Securitate were influenced by its centralized way of functioning. In practice, this meant that the lower echelons of the Securitate gathered the information and sent it further to the higher echelons that centralized it at the regional or national level, took the important decisions concerning ongoing investigations, and offered guidelines on the manner in which these decisions had to be implemented at the local level. Although the evolution of interrogations varied from case to case, we can use three stages as a theoretical model in the analysis of an interrogation: a first stage when the accumulation of information was achieved horizontally (this stage began before the arrest), a second stage when, following certain options, the interrogation focused on certain suspects and issues, and a third stage when the investigating officers synthesized the obtained data and gave them coherence. For the obtaining of self-incriminating statements, physical and psychological pressures were used. Although physical torture is the most recurrent method mentioned in memoirs, there are many cases in which manipulation and blackmail proved sufficient. When comparing the methods of the Securitate with those of other security agencies from the Communist Bloc, we note the similarity among them. The creation of the Securitate according to the Soviet model and with the assistance of Soviet councilors is the explanation for the existence of these similarities.

Παρασκευή, 20 Νοεμβρίου 2015

Orlich Ι.Α.: Communist Totalitarianism in Solzhenitsyn’s Fiction


Ileana Alexandra Orlich, “Communist Totalitarianism in Solzhenitsyn’s Fiction”, Caietele Echinox, vol. 19, 2010, pp. 243-249.

Although Soviet fiction of the Stalinist era demands foremost from the writer a scrupulous and courageous recognition of all the irreconcilable antagonisms that made the lives of the people in communism so burdensome, so desperate, and at the same time so full of hope, the writers in that generation failed to meet such a challenge. According to Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn,

From the thirties on, everything that is called our prose is merely the foam from a lake which has vanished underground. It is foam and not prose because it detached itself from everything that was fundamental in those decades. The best of the writers suppressed the best within themselves and turned their back on truth and only that way did they and their books survive.1

In sharp contrast with his contemporaries, Solzhenitsyn writes as a way of capturing the history of Stalinist Russia before it is obscured by the death of the generations who lived it. From The First Circle and Cancer Ward to A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Solzhenitsyn’s writing offers the most compelling panorama of Soviet life struggling to transcend Stalin’s paranoid stock of autocracy which naturally rejected and systematically punished even the faintest expression of what Joseph Conrad called any “practical form of liberty known to the western world (Under Western Eyes).” He introduced to literary Russian the language of the Gulag and the zek (prisoner) by expanding the circle of official discourse to include the real world of Stalinist terror and the author’s growing challenge to the Marxist orthodoxy. Most importantly, while presenting the protagonists’ personal calamities, devastating traumas, and barren struggles against ideological oppression and an overpowering fear and helplessness, Solzhenitsyn’s works also illustrate the dignity of moral choices inside an endless cycle of repression and imprisonment.

In all his polyphonic2 narratives that reveal a complex relationship between the author’s fictional and autobiographical selves Solzhenitsyn redefines the Russian horizon in a way that was beyond the reach of most historians in the free world.  It is easy to think of Solzhenitsyn as he is now, the “only living classic” of Russian literature, as Yevtushenko wrote. Yet in the darker days before Khrushchev openly denounced Stalin at the Twenty-Second Party Congress (1961), no one in the civilized world seemed to know about men like Ivan Denisovich, or about concentration camps systematically created as a mode of genocide. And although the modem theorist is skeptical about the ability of words to recapture the horizon of another historical age, Solzhenitsyn managed to develop a liveliness and concision that shocked and revivified the Russian world of his contemporaries. His fiction interrogates political possibilities based on ingenious notions, such as the ethical socialism of Shulubin in Cancer Ward, subjects the quotidian to questions and analyses that are nearly always socially-oriented, and aims to make a full and detailed disclosure about Soviet life and to examine its moral essence. Above all, these works are a series of assents or refusals to participate in the lies that support the Soviet system. So thoroughly does Solzhenitsyn believe in the power of truth that he told one BBC interviewer that if all three books of The Gulag Archipelago were available in Russia, “in a very short space of time no Communist ideology would be left. For people who had read and understood all this would simply have no more room in their minds for Communist ideology.”3

For a more comprehensive understanding of Solzhenitsyn’s mind as a conservative thinker with a full appreciation of Western culture and a deep respect for Russia’s spiritual traditions, as well as of his pivotal role in defeating the communist behemoth, the reader needs to relate to what the writer himself has termed “anthropocentric humanism.” Toward the end of the chapter entitled “Dante’s Conception” in The First Circle one of the new arrivals at the sharashka (the Mavrino Institute) has the blissful feeling that he must be in Paradise. The imprisoned philologist Rubin corrects him by pointing out self-mockingly that they are still in Hell, as before, but have ascended to its highest circle, the first circle thought up by Dante, who had to find a place for the sages of antiquity. Since the duty of a Christian was to cast all heathens down into hell, and because the conscience of a Renaissance man could not be reconciled to confining them with the rest of the sinners, Dante devised such a place apart for them. In Canto IV, as Rubin explains, Dante is led by Virgil into the first circle of Hell or Limbo, the uppermost verge of the huge funnel of Hell, where the unbaptized souls of infants and virtuous pagans and especially the poets, philosophers and heroes of antiquity dwell suspended.

Thus the title, The First Circle, dictates the very structure of Solzhenitsyn’s novel: the inmates of the sharashka, a special project camp not unlike Dante’s Limbo, are at the top level of Stalin’s Hell, with Stalin himself as a devilish presence felt through an indirect but constant refrain of adulatory phrases like “Nearest and Dearest,” “Father of Western and Eastern Peoples,” and even a fictional portrait. In the chapter called ”The Birthday Hero” he is “only a little old man with a desiccated double chin which was never shown in his portraits … whose name filled the world’s newspapers, was uttered by thousands of announcers in hundreds of languages… It had been given to a multitude of cities and squares, streets and boulevards… and a group of Moscow journalists had proposed that it be given also to the Volga and to the moon.” This monstrous creation of the propaganda machine featured in The First Circle sits alone at night reading his official biography, convincing himself of the identity which was invented for him: ”From 1918 on he had for all practical purposes become Lenin’s deputy (Yes, yes, that was the way it had been)… He watches the propaganda films of Virta and Vishnevsky and, although bored, is pleased.”

Caught in an information loop, Stalin is receiving back the image he has ordered presented. It moves him, profoundly, sentimentally. But in the midst of the artificial sentiment Stalin grows bored and goes out to seek new victims. The degree to which the portrayal of Stalin and the state organs’ actions in The First Circle anticipates Michel Foucault’s description of state power is remarkable. Speaking of the minute details involved in the creation of a prison system Foucault writes of “Small acts of cunning endowed with a great power of diffusion; the attentive ‘malevolence’ that turns everything to account. Discipline is a political anatomy of detail.”4 The portrait of Stalin in The First Circle depicts a man who is obsessed with bringing everything under his control, no matter how small or apparently insignificant. Yet it is precisely this attitude, Solzhenitsyn argues, which has destroyed Russia. By creating an apparatus of terror and control which could include any thought, any opinion, any deed done or undone, Stalin had destroyed the will of his own nation to act, lest it act incorrectly. Both Solzhenitsyn and Foucault agree that force applied with attention to the minute particulars can make a prison house of the whole society.5

Corrupted and perverted by the political conditions and the panoptical surveillance of a totalitarian society, everyday life in USSR is a quintessential experience on Russia’s bright red communist horizon, kept alive in the camp of the povest’ One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, the Moscow upper-class world and the sharashka in its various forms like the Mavrino Institute, the Lefortovo interrogation office and Lubianka in The First Circle, and the cancer pavilion in The Cancer Ward.

The differences among the camp, the sharashka, and the ward are largely illusory. In fact, when Cancer Ward was published, Pravda’s editor N. Zimyanin accused Solzhenitsyn, among other things, of ”an obsessive preoccupation with a single theme – the camp theme.” Compressed and crowded, these spaces of confinement that embody the spirit of evil produce the effect of a microcosm which replaces the artificial hierarchies of the outside world with a fundamental scale of values and suggests that everyone is essentially in the same trap. The close interaction of characters with diverse social, political, cultural, and even ethnic backgrounds brings ironic contrasts and reveals communism’s all-pervasive lies and the anxiety and terror that covered the whole country. In Cancer Ward, most of the conflicts derive from the clashes of ideas between central characters. Rusanov, the communist bureaucrat and abominable party hack in Cancer Ward, whose chief occupation in the past seems to have been cooperation with the secret police and denunciations, with dire consequences for both his friends and enemies, dismisses the conscience by stating that immoral acts are merely “bourgeois vestiges” and Leninism has taken care of the problem of conscience “once and for all.” Rusanov’s counter, Kostoglotov, Solzhenitsyn’s best developed fictional character and, to a certain extent, the author’s alter ego,7 whose erosion of sexual power is made subtly analogous to his political persecution, insists that the human spirit demands an ideal of individual moral perfection and that the conscience is its touchstone. In The First Circle, the painter Kondrashev-Ivanov pursues in the sharashka this ideal of moral sustenance in his painting of the Holy Grail, the object of ultimate quest derived from religious institutions and ritual, while the Stalin Prize writer Galakhov lives outside prison walls but in fear of watchdog critics whose sole mission is to protect communist ideology and toe the party line. A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich features a world of physical pain, endless surveillance, tormenting pain, hunger and exhaustion that turn man into a beast of burden suffering at the hands of other wild beasts, the guards of the camp. Survival is conditioned by resignation and calculated submission, both of which grant the zeks the modicum of volition that gives life its meaning. Solzhenitsyn’s own experience in the camps gave him too much first-hand evidence not only about the brutality of the guards but also about the peasant personality, enough to allow him not to be content with saintly simple heroes. Such characters as Ivan Denisovich or Spiridon (the sharashka janitor in The First Circle) are mixtures of the sly, the stubborn, the self-interested, and the ruthless as well as of the common-sensical, the enduring, the generous, and the heroic. Of Spiridon, the narrator says: “Not one of the eternal questions about the validity of our sensory perceptions and the inadequacy of our knowledge of our inner lives tormented Spiridon. He knew unshakably what he saw, heard, smelled, and understood.”

Although some critics see in all these works only static collages with characters that seem to blend into an amorphous mass8, the personages are carefully differentiated and personal responsibility takes a variety of shadings. In The First Circle Volodin, a decent Soviet diplomat who has opted for the perks of Stalinism, performs a compassionate deed that sends him to Lubianka and to torturous death; Rubin, a convinced Leninist, has persuaded himself of the good of Marxist ideology expounded in interminable quarrels with the fiery skeptic Sologdin; the prosecutor Makarygin, uneasy with his own daughter’s accounts of social injustice, concludes that the stories are “un-typical.”  In this novel in particular each character that makes a moral or humane choice faces a worsening of his or her situation. This is not an irony of fate; the source of the evil is the Stalinist system, with its poisonous ideology, its perpetration and deification of the lie, and its compulsion to waste and destroy human life.

In Cancer Ward, Rusanov, the servile informer who justifies his actions by such meaningless phrases as “it is my civic obligation” and “in the common interest of the general public,” is also a good husband and a doting father. Kostoglotov, Solzhenitsyn’s occasional mouth-piece, is anything but meek and saintly. The only meek and saintly character is Aunt Stefa, who listens sympathetically to young Demka, teaches him resignation and submission to God’s will and provides the hungry boy with homemade meat pies. There is also character growth. One patient, Efim Podduev, is presented at the outset as an opportunist without any moral convictions. But Solzhenitsyn convincingly shows his gradual spiritual regeneration under the double impact of impending death and the spiritual teachings of Tolstoy.

Ultimately, Stalinism provides the glue that cements all these three works, and fuels their Inferno-like narrative tension.  As Rusanov sees his world crumble before his eyes and feels distressed about the absence of his boss, Beria, he declares in his defense: “I didn’t pass sentences. I didn’t conduct investigations. I only voiced my suspicions. If in a communal toilet I find a scrap of newspaper with a torn picture of the Leader – it is my duty to introduce this scrap in evidence. And the investigating authority is there to check on it.”  But while good men are crushed, battered and hemmed in narratives of cruelty, frustration, and suffering, the courage of despair of Bobynin, another autobiographical self Solzhenitsyn features in The First Circle, seems to guarantee the only modality of survival by preserving one’s moral integrity.

For even though the three works include a meticulous portrait gallery of characters with their central experiences and entangled personal relationships, they invite interpretation from Solzhenitsyn’s contemporaries who must find the courage to probe deeply into the complicated and frequently paradoxical relationship between fiction and one’s own autobiography. In this context, there is an even more ancient tradition of the first circle found in Plato’s Ion. There the mere rhapsode is confronted with the fact that his art is the imitation of the practical man’s imitation of an eternal Form. Plato issues his challenge to the legitimacy of the poet’s role by invoking the famous image of successive rings. The Muse’s power, like a form of magnetism, passes through the first ring to successively lower ones which suspend the poet who takes inspiration from her divinity. If the poet is inspired by this divine contact, others are drawn irresistibly to him through the soul-magnetism which he has received from the Muse. Solzhenitsyn understands perfectly the nature of Plato’s challenge as he centers the search for a man’s soul on his relation to the first circle, which is the act of narration preoccupied with truth and honesty. His works are about the search for that first, magnetic love, the form or essence of a man’s soul through the hermeneutic circle of culture and language. From that perspective too, all these works transform Solzhenitsyn’s experiences in Stalinism and encounters with communism into a universal story of a mental and moral wasteland.

Τετάρτη, 18 Νοεμβρίου 2015

Gazeta Dita: SIGURIMI's secret files


Hapja e dosjeve sekrete, ligji polak dhe vonesat shqiptare

Gazeta Dita, 18/11/2015

Përfaqësuesi i Institutit të Kujtesës Kombëtare të Polonisë, Kristof Persak shpjegon përpjekjet që po bën vendi i tij për t’u shkëputur nga e kaluara komuniste, duke shqyrtuar një pjesë të madhe të dosjeve të shërbimeve sekrete dhe duke bërë hap pas hapi lustrimin e tyre, me pengimin e ish-agjentëve të regjimit të kaluar për t’u bërë pjesë e administratës së tanishme.

“Instituti i Kujtesës Kombëtare të Polonisë u krijua në vtin 2000, pra, 10 vjet pas tranzicionit. Tani po studion mijëra dosje nga e kaluara komuniste të sistemuara në dhjetëra kilometra arkiva, ku ruhen qindramijëra dosje dhe dokumenta. Ligji polak parashikon që dosjet t’u vihen në përdorim studiuesve dhe gazetarëve dhe ndërkohë ky institut i pavarur, – tha zoti Persak, -verifikon mijëra emra nga punonjësit e administratës të të gjitha niveleve nga presidenti deri tek kryebashkiakët nëse kanë qenë të përzierë me krimet e regjimit komunist apo atij nazist”.

Deputetja Mesila Doda është një nga protagonistet kryesore të lëvizjes studentore antikomuniste të viteve 90. Së fundi ajo dhe veprimtarë të tjerë propozoi një projekt-ligj për hapjen dhe lustrimin e dosjeve, i cili u shmang nga ligjvënësit. Ajo është e zhgënjyer se si sot pas 25 vjetësh dosjet nuk janë hapur dhe bashkëpunëtorët e sigurimit famëkeq të shtetit ende ata nuk po ndalohen të përfshihen në administratën shtetërore dhe e gjithë shoqëria ende nuk është ndarë nga e kaluara komuniste, madje ende nuk është krijuar as komisioni për hapjen e dosjeve.

Veprimtarët e të drejtave njerëzore pohojnë se lustracioni është e vetmja mënyrë për tu ndarë nga e kaluara dhe për të krijuar një të ardhme tjetër. Parlamenti shqiptar sapo ka miratuar një ligj për hapjen e dosjeve për arsye studimore, i cili nuk parashikon lustrimin. Diktatura komuniste dhe shërbimi i saj sekret vrau, burgosi dhe përndoqi dhjetëra mijëra kundërshtarë politikë. Sot pas 25 vitesh, ish të burgosurit politikë po marrin vetëm disa dëmshpërblime për burgimin e padrejtë, por asnjë persekutor dhe informator i tyre nuk ka marrë asnjë ndëshkim apo pengim në karrierën administrative. / VOA

Dziga Vertov’s Unsettling Soviet Toys


Watch Dziga Vertov’s Unsettling Soviet Toys: The First Soviet Animated Movie Ever (1924)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=on5Ufl14N7s

Dziga Vertov is best known for his dazzling city symphony A Man with a Movie Camera, which was ranked by Sight and Sound magazine as the 8th best movie ever made. Yet what you might not know is that Vertov also made the Soviet Union’s first ever animated movie, Soviet Toys.

Consisting largely of simple line drawings, the film might lack the verve and visual sophistication that marked A Man with a Movie Camera, but Vertov still displays his knack for making striking, pungent images. Yet those who don’t have an intimate knowledge of Soviet policy of the 1920s might find the movie — which is laden with Marxist allegories — really odd.

Soviet Toys came out in 1924, during Lenin’s New Economic Policy (NEP), which gave some market incentives to small farmers. Not surprisingly, the farmers started producing a lot more food than before, and soon a whole new class of middleman traders formed — the reviled “NEPmen.”

The movie opens with a NEPman — a bloated caricature of a Capitalist (who coincidentally looks vaguely like Nikita Khrushchev) — devouring a massive heap of food. He’s so stuffed that he spends much of the rest of the movie sprawled out on the floor, much in the same way one might imagine Jamie Dimon after Thanksgiving dinner. Then he belches riches at a woman who is can-canning on his distended belly. I said this film is odd.

Later, as a couple of squabbling Russian Orthodox priests look on, a worker tries to extract money from the NEPman by cutting his gut with a huge pair of scissors. When that fails, the worker and a passing peasant fuse bodies to create a two-headed being that stomps on the Capitalist’s belly, which pops open like a piñata filled with cash. Then members of the Red Army pile together and form a sort of human pyramid before turning into a giant tree. They hang the Capitalist along with the priests. The end.

Some of the references in this movie are clear: The worker’s use of scissors points to the “Scissors Crisis” – an attempt by the Central Government to correct the price imbalance between agriculture and industrial goods. And the physical melding of the peasantry and the proletariat is a representation of the never quite realized dream of the Bolsheviks. Other images are as obscure as they are weird — the leering close ups of the Capitalist, the NEPman’s girlfriend who disappears into his stomach, the revolutionary filmmaker who has the eyes of a camera lens and the mouth of a camera shutter. They feel like something out of a Marxist fever dream.

Benjamin M. Sutcliffe, “Documenting Women's Voices in Perestroika GULAG Narratives”,


Benjamin M. Sutcliffe, “Documenting Women's Voices in Perestroika GULAG Narratives”, Toronto Slavic Quarterly (Academic Electronic Journal in Slavic Studies) University of Toronto.

 

A substantial body of fictional and factual literature discusses labor camps, imprisonment, and exile as aspects of Russian culture both before and after 1917. However, while the Thaw opened public discussion of the Gulag, until perestroika women's responses received far less attention than those of their male counterparts. Beginning in the late 1980s glasnost' and the nebulous genre of life writing allowed women a framework for more visibly representing their experiences in the lageri. This framework was inherited from pre-existing writing about imprisonment (Fedor Dostoevskii, Anton Chekhov, and so forth) and a tradition of women's intellectual memoirs dating at least from the eighteenth century1.

Women's life writing published during perestroika represents individual authorial voices through factors both inside and outside the given work. These factors, uniting the variegated corpus of women's writing about the Stalinist Gulag, allow for individual variation. My analysis groups these factors into the following rubrics:

1. The documentary voice of the narrative, shaped by expectations concerning the broad category of non-fiction termed “life writing” and pressures from sanctioned (‘official’) and unsanctioned (‘unofficial’) Soviet literature.

2. Changing patterns in the reception of camp literature. The works I examine were published in 1988-1989, when literature about the Gulag had already formed a canon against which new additions were measured.

3. Commonplaces of camp literature. These set features of almost all Gulag life writing by women influence a work's theme and plot. Commonplaces are greatly influenced by gender, i.e. the role context plays in differentiating the actions and writing of women and men.

My analysis examines how individual authors use aspects of camp literature and social contexts, thus necessitating investigation and qualification of statements made by the authors2. This process implies a belittling neither of the author-survivor's personal tragedy, nor of the Gulag as collective horror. Instead, it is an attempt to better understand how this suffering influences a survivor's individual voice3.

In her seminal work Return from the Archipelago: Narratives of Gulag Survivors, Leona Toker notes that “Opting for a study of atrocities is not a reason for self-congratulation, yet it is an ethically positive act, if only because the victims usually want the world at large to know of their plight” (2). In this respect, it is difficult to understand how a given Gulag work was publicized without examining its author's individual motivations and how these motivations relate to external context.

For reasons of length and simplicity, I have examined only life writing by Soviet women imprisoned between 1925-1953. While there is an enormous amount of Gulag documentary literature by women from Eastern Europe, these works come with a set of cultural and historical complexities placing them beyond the scope of this study.

The unsanctioned nature of these works in pre-perestroika Soviet society means that there is a significant gap between the date of writing and publication. As discussions of the Stalinist Gulag, many of these works were written during the period 1927-1956 (with 1956 often being the author's date of rehabilitation). Literary developments in Thaw and Stagnation camp and general Soviet literature were influential: the publication of Odin den' Ivana Denisovicha (1962) is one obvious example, while changing conceptions in documentary genres are another. In addition, works published during perestroika contended with a new set of expectations oriented toward using literature as rediscovery of a lost or distorted past.

Defining the Documentary Voice in Camp Literature. The idea of the documentary voice results from expectations surrounding the role of the author in life writing. “Life writing” itself is a broad and flexible category, including various genres that appeal to objectivity: avtobiografiia, memuary, dokumental'nye rasskazy and povesti, and dnevniki. Non-fictional camp literature usually falls into one of the above categories, whose boundaries by the onset of perestroika had become constantly blurred3. Life writing unifies all of the above under the expectation that what is presented is ‘truthful’ and depicted in an ‘objective’ manner. The specifics of these expectations, however, vary by time and context.

Iakov Iavchunovskii, discussing “dokumental'nye zhanry” during Stagnation, notes that in Soviet literature these genres proliferated, as did arguments concerning the limits of this category. The result is a clear need for “imenno teoreticheskogo osmysleniia“ of this section of literature (Iavchunovskii 4).

The beginning of perestroika reoriented literature towards a closer relationship with previously distorted history. Rosalind Marsh notes that “one of the most important issues raised by the newly-published fiction and memoirs was the long-term effect of Stalin's prisons and camps on the psychology of the Soviet people” (92-93). This emphasis in turn focused attention on life writing, a branch of literature more connected with ‘honest’ assessment of the past. This topicality was partially inherited from Stagnation-era sanctioned literature. Nina Dikushina argues in 1971 that, “Dokumental'naia proza zaniala vazhnoe mesto v nashei literature. Eto-fakt ochevidnyi. ‘Dokumental'nost’ stala trebovaniem samogo vremeni” (149). Dokumental'naia proza is literature made contemporary via its ‘objective’ relationship with reality. Citing Lidiia Ginzburg, Dikushina sees no contradiction between ‘objectivity’ and literature. Indeed, “interesa chitatel'ia k dokumental'noi literature ob''iasniasetsia ‘vseobshchei tiagoi k ob''ektivnosti, k dostovernosti, k pravdivoi informatsii, ne otiagoshchennoi domyslami i belletrizatsiei” (154). Life writing is thus the literature least likely to be distorted by literary embellishment or lakirovka.

Valorization of life writing as objective disregards the omnipresent role of irony in Stagnation literature. This period is crucial in marking the changed literary environment encountered by camp narratives written in the 1950s and 1960s but only published in the 1980s. As Anatoly Vishevsky notes, irony dominated Soviet culture during the era of gerontocracy: “Irony is a major component of many works of leading writers during the 1970s […] Skepticism, pessimism, lack of belief in humankind, and disillusionment in human potential” found their way into literature, film, humor, and songs (Vishevsky 8). Irony corrodes any sense of a work's right (or ability) to transmit a unified view of reality to the increasingly cynical Soviet reader.

Life writing by women has both the general problems of this group of literature, plus an addition set of difficulties related to entrenched sexism. Irina Savkina, commenting on women's autobiographies, asserts that the genre has suffered from a sense of “ ‘vtorosortnost’ i somnitel'nost', kotorykh ‘ochevidna’ dlia patriarkhal'noi kritiki” and from its status as the ‘poor relation’ of better investigated Western women's autobiographies (178).

Significantly, Dikushina, Ginzburg, and Savkina all associate life writing with ‘obvious’ attributes and usefulness, indicating an underlying assumption that this branch of literature is ‘naturally’ more trustworthy than fiction. My analysis relies on Louis Althusser's theory of ideology to examine how these works themselves help produce this ‘innately’ close relation with described reality (Althusser 172)5.

Marianne Liljestrom, discussing sanctioned women's revolutionary autobiographies published during the 1970s, argues that these are “testimonial narratives” illuminating and enhancing women's involvement as builders of Communism. “[T]he testimonial text becomes a site for construction of identity: the writer is represented as an inseparable part of the whole” (Liljestrom 82). This aim shapes how individuals are described in relation to their community.

In testimonial texts individuality is presented as an identity which is formed as a continuation of the collective. Individual and identity are not necessarily the same, but the identity in question is constructed as that part of the individuality, which is worth writing about. Hence, the testimonial text becomes a site for construction of identity: the writer is represented as an inseparable part of the whole […] a metanarrative of the collective's struggle to win political ground and aims. (Liljestrom 82)

In revolutionary “testimonial” autobiographies, the part of the individual presented depends on that individual's utility to the collective. This same pattern occurs in Gulag writing: the individual serves the collective, albeit one literally and metaphorically isolated from Soviet society. In both cases, however, the individual serves ‘the cause'. Elena Glinka makes this clear in a prefatory note to the editorial staff of Neva, who subsequently published both the note and her dokumental'nyi rasskaz “‘Kolymskii tramvai’ srednei tiazhesti” (1989): ...Мы много и долго, десятилетиями, молчали, мучились и уносили свою боль в могилу. Так дайте же тем, кто дожил, возможность сказать свое слово во благо будущего-теперь, когда, наконец, пришло их время! Пекусь не за себя-за них. (Glinka 111)

Glinka establishes her narrative as a moral act of reclamation, in which she allegedly subsumes her individual identity in order to let others speak. Speaking for the living and the dead is a highly ritualized position, which Liljestrom sees as crucial to sanctioned “testimonial narratives.” These contain both “rituality” (“narrated practices […] constructed as culturally and socially the most significant”) and “performativity” (that “which cannot be reduced to mere rules or rubrics”) (Liljestrom 82). Each work moves between ritual (expectation) and performativity (how each expectation is realized). In effect, each author's voice comes from writing a narrative measuring itself against a collective script (“rituality”), but in an individuated manner (“performativity”).

Beth Holmgren notes that women authors of autobiographies not only responded individually to collective norms, but also changed them. In particular, women's memoirs of the Stalinist Gulag helped trigger the post-1953 shift from public to private life in Soviet literature (Holmgren 132). The documentary voice, whether conveyed through sanctioned or unsanctioned forms of literature, both shapes and reacts to general trends in culture and slovesnost'.

Women and the Changing Reception of Camp Literature. Changes in reception and assessment of Gulag writing also shaped women's camp literature published during perestroika. Toker notes the 1988 flood of Gulag works appearing in the USSR, with camp-related publications occurring in all major journals and most minor ones. The situation had the marks of the massive resurgence of Holocaust testimonials thirty years after the event: a new generation was growing up, for which the major atrocity of Russian history was neither a living presence nor a subdued background. It was therefore necessary to introduce this atrocity into the canon of national education-partly in the hope that if the lessons of history were remembered, they would not repeat. (Toker 67).

Discussion of the lageri was both a warning for future generations and an attack on neo-Stalinists, who were identified as ‘responsible’ for the camp system. It was in this context that the anthology Zapiski vashei sovremennitsy was issued by the newly-established Vozvrashchenie organization as the first volume of the series Dodnes' tiagoteet. This was the first collection of Russian women's camp narratives to be published. Editor Semen Vilenskii notes: Авторы этого сборника-женщины, в разные годы находившиеся в заключении […] и реабилитированные после ХХ съезда партии. Почти все вошедшие в сборнике материалы (в основном это-фрагменты из воспоминаний) ранее не опубликовались. Они переданы издательствуСоветский писательс согласия их авторов или, когда речь шла о посмертной публикации, с согласия тех, кто сохранил эти рукописи. В числе таких душеприказчиков-и сам составитель сборника. (4)

Vilenskii, introducing the anthology, discusses its credentials as life writing: these are not indirect accounts. The materials, previously unpublished, appear out of the authors' own desire that their stories be heard-this was a publication independent of the state and its manufactured enthusiasm. Vilenskii himself, as he notes, is both “dusheprikazchik” and a former zek, bridging the gap between past and present as he document horrors shared by others.

This short introduction contains no history of the Gulag: by 1989, such already common knowledge would have been redundant. Instead, it asserts the authenticity of the individual narratives and locates them within a specific niche: that of women prisoners. The volume's need for a special ‘image’ is the result of the decades-long traditions of camp literature. Toker divides this tradition into several broad periods. From 1918-1945, literature published about the Gulag and its predecessors tended to be sensationalized and confined to the experiences of a single prisoner. This ‘first wave', written by actual (not imagined) state enemies, was not available to Soviet readers (Toker 28-33).

Publications in the 1940s and 1950s were better informed and received greater publicity in the West, where two trials in Paris (1949 and 1950) focused attention on the Gulag and foreign apologists. Several authors compared imprisonment in Stalinist and Nazi camps (Toker 37-46).

From 1953-1956 accounts appeared by repatriated Germans and other Europeans. “[A]uthors are already aware of not being the first to bear witness. Hence, their main emphasis is not so much on the camp regulations and routine as on concrete historical particulars, personal discoveries” and the multiethnic population of post-war camps (Toker 46). This shift towards representing a more individualized camp experience reappears in perestroika-era publications, emphasizing the often maligned literary links between the Thaw and glasnost'.

From 1953-1966 (and in particular from the publication of Odin den' Ivana Denisovicha to 1966), sanctioned works about the camps appeared in the USSR. These accounts conformed to two guidelines: 1. Criticism of the Gulag had to be directed at Stalinism and, 2. The camps needed to be described as survivable and limited in their horrors (Toker 48-49). Beginning in 1966, the camp theme fell out of favor. The next major milestone was the 1973 tamizdat publication of the first part of Arkhipelag GULAG (Toker 60). This work became the standard against which all camp literature would be implicitly measured, a situation some authors resented6.

 

By the late 1980s camp literature was a sanctioned portion of culture. This facilitated a crucial shift in reception: from assessment as ‘documentation’ to discussion of its aesthetic elements. At the same time, there was both a preventative “future-oriented ethical drive” and a “past-oriented drive-the wish to commemorate and honor the victims of the regime and to fill in gaps in historiography” (Toker 68).

 

In an undated manuscript published in Voprosy literatury (1989), Varlam Shalamov outlines a more rigid view: В новой прозе-после Хиросимы, после самообслуживания в Освенциме и Серпантинной на Колыме, после войн и революций-все дидактическое отвергается. Искусство лишено [?] права на проповедь. Никто никого учить не может, не имеет права учить. […] Новая проза-само событие, бой, а не его описание. То есть-документ, прямое участие автора в событиях жизни. Проза, пережитая как документ. (Shalamov 241, commentary in original).

Literature cannot teach, but it can recount moral struggle. Perestroika-era women's Gulag writing, however, often conflates these two functions, instructing through documentation at the level of plot and theme. Women's life writing about the camps, like perestroika-era Gulag literature as a whole, is motivated by both the need to uphold the mission of documentation and to do so in a new and compelling manner. These expectations exist alongside the problems of marginality Savkina notes with respect to women's autobiographies as a genre.

Commonplaces of Women's Camp Literature.The factors previously discussed (expectations of life writing, changing reception of camp literature) originate outside individual women's narratives. There is, however, a set of internal features that Toker terms “topoi”: “which connect the selection of material with recurrent structural features” (82). A narrative usually contains at least seven of nine topoi: the arrest, dignity and the struggle to maintain it, stages (“well-defined periods of the author's stay in different prisons and camps”), escape (whether real or imaginary), moments of reprieve, Room 101 (an Orwellian reference to the worst experience a zek can or cannot describe), chance, the zone and the larger zone, end-of-term fatigue (Toker 82-94). Various camp works emphasize different topoi: one could argue that Ivan Denisovich's infamously ‘mild’ day is nothing but a collection of moments of reprieve, while Glinka's description of gang rape is an extended development of Room 101.

These topoi are a ritualized unification of individual examples of camp literature. However, for Toker they are primarily associated with plot-level activity. My analysis expands on this idea, using the idea of “commonplaces”: structural units that are both plot-oriented and thematic, sometimes combining several of Toker's topoi. I have identified three such commonplaces: community, transformation, and bearing witness, all of which reflect expectations of life writing as a whole and changes in the reception of camp literature.

The commonplace of community refers to the actual or imagined relations between prisoners. Perceptions of community are a function of the author's pre-arrest identity. Since almost all authors of women's (and men's) camp literature are members of the intelligentsia, this community reflects the identity of women intellectuals in the bol'shaia zona. Community between political women prisoners is described in tones sometimes approaching the idealistic. Ol'ga Adamova-Sliozberg, arrested in 1936 for unknown reasons, describes her communal cell in the Solovki prison as a locus for education (Adamova-Sliozberg 8). Мы установили такой порядок: вставали в восемь часов и час делали гимнастику при открытом окне. Потом завтракали и садились за учебу. Два часа в день Женя занималась с нами английским языком, два часа Зина учила нас математике. Час я занималась с Женей французским и час с Лидой-русским. Потом я читала французские книги, которые было двести пятьдесят томов, и все очень хорошие. (Adamova-Sliozberg 37) In addition, Zhenia insists that her cellmates read Pravda cover to cover, an indication of her continuing staunch support for Stalin. (Support of the Soviet state is found throughout women's camp writing produced by the intelligentsia.)

Obviously, the above relatively humane conditions were greatly facilitated by the fact that the women were in a prison, not in a camp, where they would have been expected to work. Likewise, within the zone access to books was almost nonexistent. When conditions were less bearable, the sense of community solidarity sometimes increased and sometimes frayed. Nadedzhda Grankina, arrested in 1936 (probably in connection with having admitted to reading Trotsky), describes annoyance at her fellow women prisoners while being transported by train through Siberia. As others (including Evgeniia Ginzburg) composed or recited songs and poems.

Grankina, refusing to be distracted by ‘untimely’ thoughts, isolates herself from her companions. Occasionally, such isolation is the result of political disagreements, especially between ‘real’ political enemies (Socialist Revolutionaries) and the ‘accidental’ political prisoners still convinced of Stalin's justness.

Relations between political and criminal prisoners (blatnye) vary from supportive to horribly exploitative, often oscillating between these two extremes within the same work. Glinka, imprisoned in 1950 for being in Nazi-occupied Novorossiisk, describes one encounter between political and criminal prisoners after both have been transported across the Sea of Okhotsk (Trofimova 215). Local ‘free’ men and prisoners, having heard that women have arrived, come to greet them: Большинство мужиков загодя запаслись снедью, кто дома, кто в поселковом ларьке; в толпу штрафниц через головы полетели пачки чая и папирос, ломти хлеба, консервы... Бросить изголодавшемуся арестанту корку хлеба-было поступком, наводившим на мысль о неблагонадежности и наказуемым, случись это там, на сострадательной матушке-Руси: там полагалось верноподданно опустить глаза, пройти мимо и навсегда забыть. Но тут-потому ли, что почти здешние мужики имели лагерное прошлое?-тут был иной закон... (Glinka 112).

At this moment the entire poselok of Bugurchan is a community, if only in opposition to the less humane attitudes towards prisoners in European Russia. The distribution of badly needed food is followed by an exchange of songs between the males in the crowd (Glinka terms them all “muzhiki”) and the women blatnye. This is followed by the main event of the rasskaz: an unspecified number of women prisoners are dragged into a nearby building and raped for two days (Glinka 112-113). While the political prisoners are among the victims, it is unclear whether they are the only ones.

Glinka's description shows that the nature of community varies by time, context, and constituent members. Community relations between politicals and non-politicals are much more tenuous than those among politicals. Nevertheless, the initial kindness shown in “Kolymskii tramvai” is apparently not an isolated incident. When Grankina arrives in her lager' in the Far East, her appearance and that of her fellow prisoners arouses pity from the camp's criminals: Наш вид, истощенный и бледный, и отсутствие у нас вещей поразили даже уголовников, и когда мы появились в лагере, то многие плакали, а мужчины бросали нам через зону майки и трусы, и кое-кто из женщин переоделись. (172)

Camp life per se may not have been marked by such compassion, yet Grankina's arrival confirms a basic level of humanity uniting both politicals and criminals. Holmgren identifies discussion of community as a common feature of women's life writing about the camps: [T]hese writers exhibit the other-directedness and sense of community so often noted in women's autobiographies […]. It not only indicates that women chose to assign inherent value to other members of their sex (regardless of their political utility), but it conveys, I think, a more fundamental shift in societal values. (132) Holmgren sees positive visions of community as a triumph in circumstances deliberately created to exacerbate misery and strife. A similar feature of community is listing the names of fellow prisoners, and not only the famous personages encountered in the camps, prisons, and transports. Liljestrom notes a similar tendency in women's sanctioned life writing: “The enumeration of names […] increases the amount of women connected to the otherwise so gender-neutral revolutionary image” (90). While for Liljestrom's authors listing directs attention to women's participation in sanctioned history, Gulag writing creates a parallel but heretical account of the ‘building of socialism'. Here, community is joined with the commonplace of bearing witness. What also results is the solidification of the author's status: she is the center of a group of friends and acquaintances.

 

Holmgren asserts that this depiction of community had far-reaching results, albeit indirectly: “these women both reflect and help facilitate the movement of post-Stalin Soviet society away from public life and specific political commitment to the private sphere, personal attachment, and individual fulfillment” (132). While it would be rash to assume that women's writing about the camps redirected Soviet literature, there is certainly a connection between depictions of byt and chastnaia zhizn' in the camps and in post-1953 literature as a whole.

The commonplace of transformation unifies life writing both within and outside of the camps. Transformation refers to an often spiritual change in the self described as originating within the individual. It may refer to something as slight as political disillusionment, or connote an entire shift in worldview. Transformation is a commonplace of both male and female life writing about the camps. Sometimes one form of transformation foreshadows another. Adamova-Sliozberg recalls a pre-arrest conversation with her husband concerning dekulakization: Он еще много говорил об исторической необходимости перестройки деревни, об огромных масштабах творимого на наших глазах дела, о том, что приходится примириться с жертвами... […] Я потом много раз отмечала, что особенно легко с жертвами примиряются те, кто в число жертв не попал. (Adamova-Sliozberg 10)

The “potom” is the post-arrest ‘re-education’ transforming Adamova-Sliozberg from a reluctant supporter of the “perestroika derevni” to one identifying with its victims. This first moment of transformation is later subsumed by another, which I will shortly discuss. Transformation sometimes occurs as an extension of what Toker identifies as the “escape” topos. However, escape here refers to a mental departure: Before the leveling exhaustion set in, both men and women would also “escape” in the figurative sense of the word-into dreams, imagination, memories, or poetry. Cultivation of friendships would create haven enclaves amidst the filth and vexation of camp life. The ultimate escape consisted in relinquishing the hold on one's sanity. Dementia, however, was most often a lethal symptom of advanced pellagra. (Toker 86) Those who reached the dementia stage of suffering from pellagra were less likely to record their experiences.

Elena Vladimirova, arrested first in 1937 and then almost shot in 1944 for circulating an underground political pamphlet, notes that poetry helped her survive. First memorizing a long narrative poem concerning the camps, she then artfully transcribed it: “Nakonets ia vse zapisala, strok po dvadtsat', na bumazhke, znachit, vse bylo bumazhek dvesti, nosila ikh v marlevom meshochke na shee, beregla, chtoby ne ochen’ smiat', poka ne spriatala v toi zheleznoi korobochke” (Vladimirova 129). Poetry is first an alternate reality, then a precious talisman. Here, unlike in Grankina's account, escapism is positive, removing the individual from a daily reality tedious at best and horrific all too often.

 

The type of transformation depends on individual talent and “chance,” another of Toker's topoi. Tat'iana Leshchenko-Sukhomlina, arrested in 1947, worked in the Vorkuta camp theater thanks to previous acting experience. She was ecstatic: “V teatr otbirali liudei talantlivykh, a my vse ne tol'ko liubili nash teatr, no i byli emu tak blagodarny, ved' on byl ne tol'ko pribezhishchem, no i daval vozmozhnost' soprikosnoveniia s iskusstvom. Ne khlebom edinym...” (Leshchenko-Sukhomlina 456). For Leshchenko-Sukhomlina, this involvement has material consequences: she avoids the life-threatening general labor and is not in her barracks when blatnye rape its occupants on Christmas Eve, 1950 (Leshchenko-Sukhomlina 460). This experience blurs the distinction between the commonplaces of community and transformation. Indeed, transformation of an individual's experience in the camps is often linked to joining or leaving a certain group, especially following the period of arrest or when in transit from European Russia to the Far East.

Not all narratives contain the commonplace of transformation. Its absence signals a camp experience bereft of any redemptive experience or the “moments of reprieve” in which to experience it. Glinka's “Kolymskii tramvai” is one example. By focusing and generalizing from a single incident, the gang rape of the women prisoners, the author traps both reader and victim into a single, horrifically extended moment of narrated time. The rape is not even described as an initiation experience, since the narrator notes that the women know what will happen to them from the minute the crowd of men gathers (Glinka 112).

Khama Volovich, one of the few non-intellectuals to write about her camp experiences, describes the period following her arrest and imprisonment in 1937 without indicating any sort of positive transformation (Volovich 461). There is only a loss of innocence and an all-encompassing feeling of shame. Commenting on prisoner construction projects, she observes: Если бы все было по-доброму, можно было бы и погордиться немного своей работой. Но кто побывал там, не гордится и не очень-то любит вспоминать свое прошлое. Судя по себе, могу сказать, что это не только желание вычеркнуть из памяти годы мук и лишении, но и чувство стыда. Такое чувство должна испытывать девушка, обесчещенная любимым человеком. (Volovich 477) For Volovich, there is no redemptive transformation through suffering. Nothing comes from the camp experience except torment, privation, and a feeling of shame. This unadorned bitterness differentiates her life writing from other women's accounts.

Bearing witness, the most noticeable commonplace, is often the stated justification for writing. This almost always implies describing others' sufferings as well as the narrator's, including both political prisoners and “zhalkie sushchestva,” as Glinka refers to the blatnye (111). This raises an issue of implicit ‘vanguardism', a role all too often assumed by the Russian intelligentsia vis-a-vis the less fortunate. Holmgren ascribes this practice to Russian intellectual women's autobiographies as a whole: “they speak for, not from or with the people” (131, italics in original). In examining the Stalinist Gulag, we must rely on these potentially alienated and elitist viewpoints: the large number of intellectuals in the camps from 1934-1953 makes this era the best-documented but distorts its depiction (Toker 20).

Narrators describe bearing witness as an individual choice. This decision usually is itself a type of transformation, dividing the life writing into ‘before’ and ‘after’ periods. Adamova-Sliozberg makes this explicit in her introduction, noting that writing her narrative is the best decision she has ever made (Adamova-Sliozberg 8). Accordingly, the decision to bear witness is the key moment in her work, occurring after she states that she is unable to comprehend evil (Adamova-Sliozberg 49).

The decision reconfigures how external events and traumas shape her life. Adamova-Sliozberg implicitly reiterates one of the fundamental purposes of any narrative: organizing external realities in a way meaningful to the author.

For Glinka, bearing witness is more topically political, creating a direct link between the Stalinist past and a need to challenge its supporters. “Kolymskii tramvai,” published in 1989, appeared only a year after Leningrad teacher Nina Andreeva's pro-Stalin letter. Throughout the dokumental'nyi rasskaz, the first-person “I” narrator is associated with generalizing comments underscoring the brutality of the Stalinist camps. These moments reinforce the work's anti-Stalinist message while giving it an overbearing didacticism: Этот документальный рассказ я отдаю всем приверженцам Сталина, которые и по сей день не желают верить, что беззаконие и садистские расправы их кумир насаждал сознательно. Пусть они хоть на миг представит своих жен, дочерей и сестер среди той бугурчанской штрафбригады; ведь это только случайно вышло, что там были не они, а мы... (Glinka 112-113)

The pronoun “we” is significant. Glinka's “I, narrator, although explicitly committed to bearing witness, does not explain how she has access to the events surrounding the rape at Burgurchan, which is recounted via a third-person narrator. It is, however, extremely likely that both the “I” and third-person narrator reflect the experiences of Glinka herself. Glinka's works are usually autobiographical (Trofimova 215). Like the young student who is assaulted, Glinka was arrested during the post-war period. Both are from Leningrad. However, the link between Glinka and the student is never made explicit, thus frustrating the reader attempting to determine why a first-person narrator suddenly appears in a work dominated by the third person. Bearing witness for Glinka means speaking for others while preserving a distance between their suffering and her own. “Kolymskii tramvai,” although a crudely written work, unintentionally shows the narrator's options in interpreting the commonplace of bearing witness.

 

These options give the narrative its individual appearance. Women's life writing about the Gulag published during perestroika negotiates between expectations concerning documentary genres, changing receptions of camp literature, and commonplaces that shape the internal makeup of each work. Like their male counterparts, women emphasize the camp as a negative experience that is at times redeemed by feelings of community, personal transformation, and the decision to become a witness. These commonplaces, in turn, are suggested both by immediate demands of the camp environment and the prisoner's pre-arrest identity. The narrative formed by the above factors is both personal and societal, allowing a given author to shape her work within the set of prescriptions governing camp prose.