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Russian Historians Uncover ‘Secret’ Government Plan to Destroy Gulag Prisoner Archives

News Brief

The Russian government has been accused of a covert attempt to cover up the history of the Soviet-era “Gulag” prison camps by destroying the records of former inmates, according to a report in Kommersant newspaper.

Under a secret 2014 order, government bureaucrats have reportedly been culling even “archival” back-up copies of former prisoners’ files, according to Roman Romanov, the Director of the Museum of History of the Gulag.

At least 14 million people were detained in the forced labour camps, and hundreds of thousands died, most of them sent there during the so-called “purges” ordered by Stalin.

The Museum director said the order came to light when people tried to find out the fate of their relatives and were told by Russia’s Ministry of Internal Affairs that relevant files had already been destroyed.

The Russian authorities have faced previous charges of trying to smother the memory of the Gulag camps, and of preventing specialists from investigating the period.

It was a researcher looking into information about individual detainees who initially stumbled on the 2014 directive.

While investigating a former detainee called Fedor Chazov, he found that his personal prison camp file had been thrown out as early as 1955. But a remaining archival copy had been kept until 2014 when it was destroyed under the terms of the secret order, on the grounds that the former detainee would have reached 80 years of age.

Russia’s Human Rights Council is investigating the issue, according to Kommersant, on the grounds that the destruction of archival materials permits the falsification of history.