Russia celebrates gulag camp’s anniversary

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MILLIONS of people died in Stalin’s gulag prison system, but the 75th anniversary of the founding of one of the notorious forced labour camps was cause for a celebration in Russia.

Russian news agencies reported yesterday that local officials and prison wardens threw a party last week honouring the Usolsky camp in the Urals, with music and dancing and speeches by former camp guards.

The NKVD – the KGB predecessor which ran the gulag system – “instilled traditions in the camp that still hold value today,” the Solikamsky regional department of Russia’s prison service said in a statement.

These traditions included allegiance to the motherland, mutual assistance and respect for war veterans, the statement said.

Hundreds of thousands of Soviet soldiers who had been captured by Nazi forces during the Second World War were sent to the gulag after the war.

They were joined by thousands more sentenced for political crimes including “counter-revolutionary activity”.

In a statement, Sergei Yerofeyev, deputy chairman of a committee for retired prison wardens, said of the camp: “What bravery its directors displayed over that time, so that the institution could stand tall and successfully complete its production and social tasks.”

Usolsky camp held from 10,000 to 30,000 prisoners at any given time. More than 16 per cent of prisoners there died of malnutrition and overwork, one of the highest rates in the gulag.

The camp was eventually closed in 1960.