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Virtual Gulag Museum Goes Online

Source: hro.org (author), 01/07/10

· Human Rights Defenders · Human Rights Education · Victims of Repression · St Petersburg and Leningrad Region

A presentation of a Virtual Gulag Museum has taken place in St. Petersburg. The associated electronic database consists of materials relating to the time of the Soviet Terror that are dispersed among numerous museums, and also materials that have never been in museums, such as the ruins of camps and other buildings and thousands of places of burial of prisoners that have been preserved or have been lost.

The Virtual Museum consists of an exposition of materials from 98 museums and six countries all in one way or another linked with political repression in the USSR. In the collection are 2,232 exhibits and information about 425 monuments. In the section Necropolis of the GULAG and the Terror there are 514 items about places of mass burial or mass murder. The website is structured by reference to themes, names, geographical places and objects and has a bibliography.

This is the first national museum of its kind in modern day Russia, writes Fontanka.ru. The museum is in fact an internet portal which hosts a vast database. The database includes historical documents, the locations of places of mass burial of victims of repression and places of execution. The material has been collated as a result of systemising a huge number of factual materials from Russia and other countries.

The internet resource contains more than ten thousand pages of electronic documents and was created on the initiative of the St Petersburg Memorial Research and Information Centre, with the support of a number of foundations and organisations in Russia, Europe and the United States, including the D. S. Likhachev Foundation, the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, the Lviv Poszuk Society, the Research Centre on Genocide and Resistance for Citizens of Lithuania (Vilnius), and the consulates in St. Petersburg of Germany, Poland and the Netherlands.

During the course of the presentation, the site’s developers introduced the audience to the online collection of visual materials about the history of the Gulag and the Terror, gathered by Memorial. The developers talked about the current state of the project and the plans and prospects for the future.

“The site contains a huge number of documents, which have been classified into sections. Each museum exhibit is accompanied by a detailed description. A search system has been created that enables information to be selected by name, alphabetically or through the bibliography. The site has a great number of references to external resources. The database includes the locations of mass burials of victims of repression, execution sites, and information about the history of monuments dedicated to the victims. Irina Flige, director of the Memorial Information and Research Centre, explained how thematic sections have been developed to include, for example, “Infringement of Rights and Freedoms.” “And we shall not stop there,” she said. “We plan to continuously expand our database, in particular with information about museum exhibits and reference materials.”

The most interesting part of the work on the project, Irina Flige said, was collaboration with Polish and Lithuanian colleagues and their joint discussions on how best to work with museum exhibits. She considers the most important section to be Necropolis of the Gulag, which contains information about camp cemeteries.

“We have attempted to gather together all the information about known sites of mass burials in Russia,” Irina Flige said. “This is more than just a virtual museum. It is a collection of museum and archive resources.”

“This work will be continued by others who come after us,” said Aleksandr Margolis, co-chair of the St. Petersburg Branch of the All-Russian Society for the Protection of Historical and Cultural Monuments.

Each exhibit, for instance an exercise book with poems by a prisoner, is accompanied by annotations. In addition, the site provides information about the locations of mass burials of the victims of repression, sites of execution, and documents, all of which tell about the fates of thousands of people.

Aleksandr Daniel, a board member of the International Memorial Society, warned that the portal contains some small mistakes which should be reported to the creators without delay.
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