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On Guard at BAMlag: Representations of Guards in the 1930s Gulag Press

THOMAS, Alun (2014) On Guard at BAMlag: Representations of Guards in the 1930s Gulag Press. The Soviet and Post-Soviet Review, 41 (1). pp. 3-32. ISSN 1075-1262

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Abstract or description

The 1930s saw a dramatic escalation in the size and scope of the Soviet Union’s system
of penal labour camps, the Gulag. Through analyses of memoir and other sources, the
experiences of the Gulag’s prisoners at this time have been the subject of a great deal
of scholarly investigation. Yet the guards who watched over these prisoners have
received considerably less attention.
Newspapers printed for the VOKhR guards in the mid-1930s offer some information
on their readers’ every day duties and their status, both inside the Gulag and as citizens
of the USSR. Publications taken from one particularly large camp responsible for the
construction of the Baikal-Amur railway (BAMlag) depict guards as self-disciplined,
industrious soldiers engaged in a war for economic and social development. But the
specific dynamics and changing circumstances of the Soviet penal system at this time
created an unusual contrast between newspapers printed for the guards and those
printed for the prisoners of BAMlag. While the criticism levelled at prisoners by their
own newspaper was often mitigated by a rehabilitative discourse, the guards were
judged as full members of Soviet society, often harshly. However, the precise implications
of this were rendered ambiguous by the indeterminate position of the Gulag
itself at this point in Soviet history.

Item Type: Article
Faculty: School of Creative Arts and Engineering > Humanities and Performing Arts
Depositing User: Library STORE team
Date Deposited: 08 Nov 2017 09:46
Last Modified: 24 Feb 2023 13:49

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