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MORDOVIAN POLITICAL LABOUR CAMPS (DUBRAVLAG)

23.11.2006

The Mordovian political labour camps, Dubravlag (sometimes written Dubrovlag) was a complex of camp units and sections of the camp ZhZh-385  in the Zubovo-Polyansk and Tengushevsk districts of the Mordovian Autonomous SSR, in which political prisoners were held. In the second half of the 1950s, as well as the Mordovian political labour camps, there were also what were basically political labour camps at Vorkuta in the Komi Autonomous SSR, in the Taishetsk camp, or Ozerlag, in the Irkutsk region and a women’s camp in the settlement Suslovo in the Kemerovsk region. At the beginning of 1961 all political prisoners from Ozerlag were moved to Mordovia ( the other camps had already been closed).

From 1961 – 1972 this was the only camp in the USSR which held those from all republics declared “particularly dangerous State criminals”, that is, those sentenced under Articles 64-72 of the Criminal Code of the RSFSR  (Articles 54 – 62 of the Criminal Code of the UkrSSR), - “treason against the homeland”, “anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda” and “participation in an anti-Soviet organization”. The camp was divided into units (around 20) which were isolated from each other and dispersed along the long railway line (around 60 km.) or close to it.  Among them were several camp zones (at various times up to 7 or 8) where those convicted of “particularly dangerous state crimes” were kept separate from other prisoners.

According to figures from the prosecutor’s office of the RSFSR, as of 14.07.1965 of approximately 10 thousand prisoners of the Dubravlag camps, there were 3,816 “particularly dangerous”, and in the middle of the 1970s there were around 500. Ukrainians usually made up about half of this contingent.

Among the political prisoners of Dubravlag sentenced under Article 70 of the RSFSR Criminal Code (Article 62 of the UkrSSR CC), the absolute majority were dissidents sentenced for samizdat, participants in underground political groups and circles, activists of the national movements, leaders of prohibited religious communities, and also people who were not linked with any opposition civic or political movements, but who actively demonstrated their “dissident thinking”. In the first half of the 1960s there were also a fairly large number of prisoners originally convicted of actual crimes, but then sentenced in other camps for “anti-Soviet statements” and transferred to serve a new sentence to Dubravlag. Later their numbers dropped significantly.

Most of the political prisoners in the usual understanding of the word, sentenced for “treason against the homeland”, were Ukrainian insurgents and “forest brothers”, participants in the post-War armed resistance to Soviet rule in Western Ukraine and the Baltic Republics. Almost all of them had been arrested in 1944 – 1955 and were serving out 25- and 15-year sentences. A significant number of political prisoners sentenced for “treason against the homeland” were also Soviet citizens who had tried to escape from the USSR, and “nievozvrashchentsy”, those who had stayed abroad while there on a trip, but then changed their mind and returned.

As well as political prisoners, among those convicted for “ “treason against the homeland” were also people sentenced for “military crimes”, that is, those who had collaborated with the Nazis during the War, politsai, members of auxiliary subdivisions of the German Army, employees of the Occupation administration, people who had taken part in punitive actions. During the 1960s and 1970s they were also kept in the political zones of Dubravlag. (However the cases of many of these people, just as those of “anti-Soviets”, had been overtly rigged during the campaign “No one is forgotten, nothing can be forgotten”, to maintain an atmosphere of fear in society). There was also a group of former members of Cheka, sentenced from 1953-1956 in the “Beria” case, or during analogous court trials, and also a few prisoners convicted of spying (real, not imagined) for foreign countries. There was finally a zone, kept strictly isolated from political and criminal prisoners, for foreign nationals.

In 1972, after the establishment in the Urals of the Perm political labour camps, a large number of the political prisoners were transferred from Dubravlag which lost its unique significance. However several Mordovian zones continued to function as “political” (up till August 1976 – camp No. 17-A in Ozyornoye; until 1987: the harsh regime camp ZhKh-385-3/5 with the only women’s unit 3/4  in the settlement of Barashevo, and No. 19 in Lesnoye, in the Tengushevsk district; up till March 1980 – the special regime No. 1 camp in Sosnovka, in the Zubovo-Polyansk district. The last political prisoners were freed from the Mordovian camps during perestroika.

There is now a normal penal colony of the Department for the Execution of Sentences at the site. In the settlement of Barashevo, the camp administration has organized a museum display which basically presents the history of the camps in the 1930s.

The Mordovian political labour camps and the fate of their inmates and the conditions they were held in first attracted public attention at the beginning of 1966 when the two writers of the most notorious political trial of the period – Yuli Daniel and Andrei Sinyavsky – were sent there. From 1967, when the memoirs of Anatoly MARCHENKO “My testimony” and the work of Valentin MOROZ “Reportazh iz zapovednika imeni Beriya” [“Report from the Beria reserve”] (both being inmates of both Dubravlag and the Vladimir Prison) and others appeared in samizdat, as well as information published in ’Khronika tekushchykh sobytiy’ [’Chronicle of Current Events’], in the book by Viacheslav CHORNOVIL “Lykho z rozumu” [“The Chornovil Papers”], in “Ukrainsky visnyk” [“Ukrainian Herald”], and later in “Bulletin of Repression in Ukraine”, the issue of political prisoners and their treatment became one of the major themes of human rights publicist works.

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