Posts tagged Museum of Memory of Political Repression

Dolinka Longhand Letter vs. Karaganda Computer Labs


Last week when I went to the KarLAG in Dolinka, 50 km. away from Karaganda, I did not know what to expect of their museum when comparing it to ALZHIR in Astana.  Also, I didn’t know how the museum would preserve the memory of those imprisoned as “Enemies of the People” in the 1930s-1950s.  I wish I had taken more photos, I only took a few.  The longhand letter in Russian was written by a survivor in 1996 and was one of a collection of many letters on the wall of the former hospital, now called Museum of Memory of Political Repression Victims Measures.”  What I recall the museum guide said about this particular letter was that the person who wrote it was an orphan, his parents had either died enroute to Kazakhstan or there in Dolinka.  The letter related how they, as young children, had to make bricks “manually” or rather by using their feet.  I’m amazed at the good penmanship of the writer despite the fact that children of prisoners at the KarLAG probably had no opportunity to get any education. 


friendly-wavesWhat a contrast to the vibrancy of the KarSU Computer Lab at the big university in Karaganda where there were 50 high speed Internet computers equipped with the latest in technology.  I gave a very brief talk to some of the conference attendees who were exploring the most efficient way to conduct tri-lingual classes with the new governmental edict for all teachers to know how to teach in Kazakh, Russian and English.  We think being bi-lingual is something in the U.S., here the people of Kazakhstan hold an earnestness to know THREE languages!  The next morning I gave an hour and half workshop with about 55 eager English teachers from the Foreign Languages department who want to learn more about electronic research databases.  They have invited me to return to give another workshop in January of 2009.  I look forward to it since it is nice to be valued for what I know, even though it is only in English.



Afterwards we had a very good discussion when I was through showing my powerpoint presentations.  Why is it that westerners do not know about Kazakhstan?  Reflecting on this now, shouldn’t our own American educational system have higher goals to achieve to know world geography or world history better? We all agree we live in a globalized world, right? Seems that many in the West do NOT know about Central Asia or even where Kazakhstan is located.  One of the participants wondered aloud why Kazakhs are expected to learn so much about the world and its history while Americans seem to not care about them. That makes me sad about our own guilty complacency.  However, despite that, my charge to the teachers was to encourage their Kazakh students to write more in English about the great and wonderful history that Kazakhstan has.  I think if enough westerners were exposed to the vastness of this country that is not only wealthy in natural resources but also rich in traditions and culture, they would be willing to adventure to Kazakhstan to find out for themselves.


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KarLAG Buildings in “Stalin’s Neoclassicism” Style


According to the Museum brochure this structure was built in 1933-35 by forcing 1,000s of prisoners to construct it.  It’s purpose was to house the NKVD (People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs), it was an imposing structure of Greek Roman style columns surrounded by little houses in a simple farming village.  This two story building was meant to look threatening to the prisoners but inspire grand feelings in those who did the repressing of “Enemies of the People.”  By 1961 the agricultural training college was placed there and then it was turned into a sanatorium for children called “Brigantina” from 1971 to the early 1990s.  It was planned to be changed into a rest house for miners but after the bankruptcy of that enterprise, the windows were bricked up and it sits waiting to be rehabilitated. As of 2005, the building will hopefully have a new life once the Museum of Memory of Political Repression find enough funds to restore it. 


This was the mess hall or dining room for all the officers and higher ups.  Now a shopping place for those who dwell in Dolinka and was painted purple a year ago.  An unusual color in a place so bleak.


Either called the “House of Technics” or “Technology House” was built in 1943.  The leadership of GULAG (Main Administration for Corrective Labor Camps) tried to show that prisoners could work very well.  Therefore, the kolkhoz was called Gigant took part in All-Union exhibition every year.  In 1938 the experimental agricultural station was set up here.  This building now houses the Abay district electric nets since 1974.

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Dolinka, the KarLAG and its Repressed Artists



dolinkaThe approach to the little village of Dolinka (50 km from Karaganda) was ominous, it was overcast and foggy.  The asphalt roads could have been icy but thankfully they were not, just full of potholes and slush.  Most impressive about the little museum with its information about the KarLAG was that it used to be the hospital for political repressed victims in Dolinka.  A map prominently shown in the museum was the network of gulag systems in Kazakhstan is the size of France.  Kazakhstan is FOUR times the size of France so you know how invasive this imprisonment was to the Kazakh land and their people who often pitied those outcasts who were dumped in Dolinka from all parts of the U.S.S.R.prison-fence


Since I enjoy viewing artwork, I was struck by the HUGE canvas showing an image of Lenin at the table and Stalin pointing to a map of USSR electrification along with workers and soldiers.  No one knows the name of the artist of this @ 20 foot long by 7 foot high painting.  No doubt this artist of the karlag was trying to get back into the good graces of the elite in Moscow.  However, I’m wondering if it is the same artist who painted in 1991 the samovar on the decked out dining table in the stalovaya of the guest house where I stayed one night in Karaganda.  I wish I had written down the name of the artist, it was in the bottom left hand corner of the painting.samovar


Much talent and skill during the USSR times were wasted but our guide to the museum took us over to another technical building where they tested for breeding of different grains, corn or potatoes.  Famous agriculturalists were imprisoned but kept up their experiments in that building.  Damira said that her family would buy the Dolinka brand potatoes because it was of good quality. 


For now, I hate to think of all the poets, writers, artists and musicians (refer to the photos from yesterday’s blog) whose lives were destroyed over bad policy, bad governance that was meant to help people.  It did quite the opposite.  Stalin and Lenin’s system repressed millions of those they claimed as their own.

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Karaganda Faces Contrasted to Dolinka Faces of Old

Contrast the happy faces from Karaganda to those black and white photos of USSR faces from a dreary, sad time of Dolinka imprisonment in the 1930s and 1940s.  I traveled to Dolinka to witness the Museum of Memory of Political Repression Victims Measures with Damira and her father.  You will see below a photo of Damira with her father and son.  Aigerim has a bright life ahead of her, she LOVES anything to do with English and would LOVE to go to the U.S., she would flourish there.  The little Kazakh baby, he is just another cute little face at the train station in Karaganda.




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