Grigory Pasko: A Holiday for Prison Guards

A happy holiday to the successors of the GULAG

Grigory Pasko, journalist

Soon after 8 March [The Russian shorthand name for International Women’s Day–Trans.] in Russia there impends yet another holiday, about the existence of which our population dimly guesses, but celebrates somewhat reluctantly and without optimism, perhaps… But after all, 12 March – is the Day of Workers of the Criminal-Execution System (UIS) [“Criminal execution” is far less ominous than it sounds, and merely refers to the “execution” of sentences imposed by courts, e.g. imprisonment, probation, etc.–Trans.]


Just another typical workday in an investigative isolator (SIZO) (photo from the author’s archive)

Just to get things going – a couple of definitions from Russian reality.

There are three categories of the population: prisoners, persons under investigation, and suspects.

Four states of life: jail; [prison] camp; internal exile; awaiting arrest.

Now the joyous news.  On one of the Russian websites I once read:«To celebrate professional holidays — is a wonderful tradition, whicharose in our country back in the «years of stagnation». There is acertain color to every professional holiday. As an example, on the dayof the worker of trade, all salespersons are smiling and attentivetowards buyers, while those, in their turn, are not stingy with thecompliments and the purchases».


Even a correctional colony has a plan to fulfill (thebanner text reads “DISCIPLINE AND ORDER IMPROVE LIVING CONDITIONS ANDREDUCE THE TERM OF PUNISHMENT !”, a sort of Russian twist on “Arbeitmacht Frei”) (photo from the author’s archive)

What holidays don’t they celebrate in Russia! The day of employees ofmilitary commissariats, the day of the military automobilist, the dayof the armored-car service worker, the tester, the secretary, theinsurer, the mechanical engineer, the intelligence agent, thebookkeeper, the appraiser, the realtor [this is a relatively new one–Trans.],the bank employee… If not for the crisis, which has slightly prunedback the wildly growing rating of our president-premier-president HisRadiance Putin, no doubt a new holiday would appear in Russia – «TheDay of Our Everything».

On average in Russia ten days every month are some kind of holiday. Around a hundred holidays a year!

On 12 March is celebrated the professional holiday of the workers ofthe criminal-execution system (UIS) of the Ministry of Justice ofRussia. In the year 1879, the emperor Alexander III issued an ukase onthe founding of a jail department, laying the foundation for a unitarystate system of the execution of punishments in Russia. The workers ofthe Russian GULAG literally dragged this event in by the ears and beganto celebrate their own holiday. (Although perhaps, it is somehowassociated also with Reforestation Day – an official holiday of China.True, there on this day they merely plant trees, and not people intojails).


The strangeness of the holiday of workers of the UIS is furthercompounded by the presence in Russia of yet another such holiday – theDay of workers of investigative isolators (SIZOs) and jails. Thisholiday, as the jailers themselves say, is new for Russia, and thereare not any traditions of celebrating it as yet. Simply in some jailson this day on the occasion of the holiday they open the locks andsecrets of their institutions. They show journalists the ancientdungeons in which famous personalities served punishment. They bringadolescents, future clients, for tours… (It is interesting, are therestatistics among these adolescents on the quantity who end up behindbars AFTER such tours?)

As a person who has spent not just one year in the hospitable UISsystem, I would like to take advantage of the occasion to congratulatethe employees of this organization on the occasion of theirprofessional holiday. And I very much hope that they, like the workersof Soviet trade, will be kinder to the arrestees on this day.

P.P.S. According to official data,  as of 1 January 2009 inthe institutions of the UIS are currently holding 887.700 people.

Last photo:  Chief of the Federal Service for the Execution ofPunishments (FSIN) of Russia, General Yuri Kalinin (photo from theauthor’s archive)