Excluded Histories; Why the Gulag Will Not Die

Karl Jirgens (University of Windsor)

In Truth and Power French, post-structural critic Michel Foucault speaks of “exclusion” as part of a socio-political power struggle to engender “truth”, noting that such truths often prove to be subject to change. Vladimir Putin’s recent revisionist histories forwarded through Russia’s educational system seek to omit references to the Gulag and instead feature portrayals of Joseph Stalin as a strong but successful leader (see: Russian high-school teachers’ manual: A Modern History of Russia: 1945–2006: A Manual for History Teachers).   Yet, Foucault contends that Russia’s “great silence” in the face of an estimated 30 million dead in the Gulag constitutes an untenable exclusionism. Survivors of the Gulag and the Holocaust include writers such as Peter Moen (Norwegian prisoner, journalist, resistance fighter),  Alexander Pelēcis (Latvian prisoner, Gopper Literary Prize winner),  and Balys Sruoga (Lithuanian, held prisoner by Nazis and Soviets. His 1957 book, Dievų Miškas, translation,  Forest of the Gods, 1996, was produced as a full-length motion picture, directed by Algimantas Puipa, 2005). Such first-hand written histories are supported by documentations including Dzintra Geka’s 1400 page account Sibirijas Berni (Children of Siberia) and her film, Greetings From Siberia. More recently, rapidly expanding internet documentations ensure that the history of the Gulag will not die. This talk addresses the impact of growing documentations moving from print, to cinema, to internet as they resurrect formerly obscured human atrocities,  making them readily available to international global audiences.

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