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Russian NGO ousted from Gulag prison camp museum

March 5, 2015

MOSCOW (AP) — An independent Russian organization says it has been ousted from the Gulag prison camp museum that it has run from 1992, leaving “no talk of Stalin.”

Viktor Shmyrov, director for the Perm-36 museum in central Russia, told The Associated Press Thursday that his organization had lost the property after losing a lawsuit against the regional Ministry of Culture, which announced in 2013 that it would take over.

Shmyrov said that the museum — the only one inside a surviving gulag camp — is now dedicated more to demonstrating how the camp functioned on a day-to-day basis, rather than to discussing the brutal history of the Soviet-era camps more generally.

“Now the exhibition shows: here were the barracks where the prisoners lived, here is the bathhouse. There was no talk of political repression, no talk of Stalin,” he said. “What they are doing shows that the very essence of the museum is changing.”

Shmyrov said that his organization had been trying to negotiate with the government since 2013, but the property was finally seized from them late last month.

The Ministry of Culture for the Perm Region could not be reached for comment immediately.

Historians estimate that under Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, 700,000 people were executed during the peak of the purges in 1937-1938. Millions more died of harsh labor and cruel treatment in the giant Gulag prison camp system, mass starvation in Ukraine and southern Russia and deportations of ethnic minorities.

But opinion polls in recent years have showed that Stalin remains a relatively popular figure in Russia, admired as a strongman and for leading Russia to victory against Nazi Germany in World War II. That popularity has only grown under the administration of Vladimir Putin, which has found Stalin’s image useful in its efforts to tighten control.

“In most textbooks there are literally two or three paragraphs about the repression,” said Shmyrov. “In the teaching of history in this country we still have Soviet myths, and they’re still being taught.”

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