The Impermanence of Perm-36

By Maryna Polataiko for

Пять заборов охраны.

When hearing ‘gulag,’ many will associate the labor camps with the U.S.S.R.’s Stalinist era. Thus, some may be surprised to hear that the last camp holding political dissidents only closed in 1988. Located in the Urals, Perm-36 is the last intact camp standing in Russia. The site, since then, was converted to a museum on Soviet repression.

But in the wake of Russia’s historical revisionism, Perm-36 is in trouble. After 20 years of operation, the historians managing the museum were supplanted by a state organization looking to change the historical narrative offered by the site. In light of the recent surge of approval ratings for Stalin, this shift comes as no surprise.

Lately, Perm-36 has been the target of various investigations—the most recent focusing on accusations of the museum being a “foreign agent.” A recent Russian law stipulates that any domestic NGO accepting foreign funds must be documented as a “foreign agent”—a label evoking Cold War tensions and suspicion.

Original plans to commemorate the victims of Soviet repression have been replaced by projects such as an anti-fascist World War II memorial, and an event celebrating Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn—a gulag prisoner upholding ‘appropriate’ nationalist ideals. It is noteworthy that the first exhibition under the new state leadership will be devoted to the guarding system and technical aspects of incarceration. The focus will radically change, shifting from political prisoners, repressions, and Stalin’s crimes to the camp system in general.


“Gulag: Soviet Forced Labor Camps and the Struggle for Freedom.” Gulag Museum. Accessed April 25, 2015.

Roland Oliphant. “The Only Russian Gulag Preserved as a Museum is Under Investigation for Accepting Foreign Donations.” The Telegraph, March 20, 2015. Accessed March 17, 2015.

Tom Balmforth. “Perm’s Big Chill.” Radio Free Europe, March 20, 2015. Accessed March 20, 2015.

“Whitewashing Russia’s Gulag History.” Radio Free Europe, March 24, 2015. Accessed March 30, 2015.

«'Пермь-36' станет музеем паботников ГУЛАГА, все упоминания о репрессиях и Сталине уберут.», March 5, 2015. Accessed March 10, 2015.