During Stalin’s ruling, the Soviet Union has established prisons called Gulag – camps for forced labour punishment. Everyone was exposed to the danger to be sent to a labor camp – from petty criminals to intellectuals, often considered socially dangerous, deemed to hard labor and death for the most ridiculous reasons including jokes or foreign correspondence.
This ludicrous yet dreadful idea about submissive society and oppression persuaded anyone who was not faithfully contributing to the Communist Party. Prisoners were sent to the most remote regions of the Soviet Union, including Siberia, where they were exposed to the most extreme and harsh working conditions.
It is estimated that over a million inmates have died in the Gulag, some experts suggest even a higher number as far as ten million.
Kolyma is located in north-east Siberia and is known to be the most notorious region for the Gulag forced-labour camps. Government efforts to increase the industry in the region established compulsory hardship for prisoners, demanding working in subzero climate conditions, often intolerable with scarce or in times no food supply.
Varlam Shalamov was one of the detainees whose ‘anti-government actions’ have sent him to serve a sentence in Kolyma. In his book ‘Kolyma Tales’ he writes short stories dedicated on the surviving of the harsh conditions prisoners have to bear in the labour camp. Shalamov resurrects all those forgotten people whose life was brutally deprived and buried under the heavy snow. He depicts in details day-to-day routines, prisoners’ personalities and the diverse ways of managing how to stay alive. His stories, although brutal, are full of life and struggle, revealing page after page the unimaginable endurance a human being is capable of. Varlam Shalamov is talented narrator, his writing and depiction of savage events is fluent. His profound insights on the prevailing moral decline amongst prisoners manifests as a legacy from the destitution and punishment of ordinary people imposed by the Stalinist regime.
The Gulag considered as the most merciless instrument of governmental repression against its own citizens ceased in size and function after Stalin’s death in 1952, however the world will long remember the incurable wounds it left behind.