Russia says Gulag records are ‘kept forever’ amid reports of secretly evaporating archives
A Russian museum studying the history of the infamous Gulag prison camps, which existed in the Soviet Union until 1960, has learned that prisoner data is being evaporated. The story was initially reported by Kommersant on Friday, and immediately picked up by other Russian and Western media outlets.
The records in question are the ‘registration cards’ that contained the personal data of prisoners, including movement between the camps and release date from the forced labor camp. For those who died in the Gulag, the authorities had a special file which was sent for permanent storage to the archive. The survivors’ cards are often the only source of information about their fate for relatives.
One of the Gulag Museum researchers claimed that one such card is missing, according to Russian media reports citing director Roman Romanov. When the authorities of Magadan Region, Russia were asked about the record, a local branch of the internal affairs ministry said the document was destroyed under a confidential 2014 order. The document was reportedly signed by multiple Russian ministries and services, including the interior ministry, justice ministry, and defense ministry, and allowed the destruction of the cards after former convicts turn 80.
The contents of the 2014 document, as well as its exact text, has not been released, so its exact wording is unclear. Romanov has already addressed Mikhail Fedotov, the head of the Presidential Human Rights Council, regarding the matter.
It was also raised at Friday’s Human Rights Council meeting. During the session, Russian Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs Igor Zubov said the registration cards are under strict regulations and are kept forever.
The head of the Gulag Museum believes that the case is just an administrative “casus,” according to Lenta.ru online newspaper, who Romanov spoke with.
“What has happened in Magadan is the first such case in hundreds of similar requests,” he said. In the interview, he said the museum regularly deals with such records and have been provided with all the necessary records before. Political repressions are still a very sensitive topic in Russia. There are no precise figures on how many people were imprisoned in this case. Romanov says that more than 20 million people went through the Gulag.