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Grigory Pasko: Gulag State of Mind

zeks100510.jpgA couple of days ago I accidentally bumped into an acolyte of the GULAG, or, in more contemporary parlance – FSIN (the Federal Service for the Execution of Punishment).

He’s been serving there for a long time, such an impression – since he was in diapers. He serves as a journalist, in some kind of newspapers of the prison system. But before this, as they told me, he was the chief of a colony. The mentality, you understand yourselves, is still that one. An example? No problem.

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Once some female journalist asked him why FSIN employees treat the zeks so badly: as if they’re less than human? He replied: “because no matter where you kiss a zek, anywhere, he’s got an asshole.” The journalist wrote exactly that in her newspaper. The former colony chief took offense, began to deny: “like, the stupid bitch, she thought it up herself.

But that day, when I bumped into him, he was discoursing on different topics. On the topic of medical services in SIZOs, for example: “Why the fuck is it that they all suddenly get sick as soon as they get in the SIZO: if they’d just go to the dentist or get some liver treatments before they got arrested, they wouldn’t have any of these fucking aches and pains… But in the SIZO it’s not a resort, and there aren’t enough fucking doctors… The salary of the doctors there is 15k, nobody goes to work there. The SIZO isn’t at fault for the death of Magnitsky and Trifonova. All questions – to the investigators and the judges. So they fired a judgess for Trifonova…But all the judges there are like that…

I asked the acolyte of the GULAG: so why didn’t the chief of the SIZO respond to Sergei Magnitsky’s requests to send him for medical examination?

The acolyte faltered. Then he replied: “well, maybe, the chief was well acquainted with the investigator…” About the supremacy of the law over acquaintanceship the acolyte of the GULAG, it would appear, hadn’t paused to ponder at all.

Then I ran across an article by this person from the FSIN. In it he wrote: “Any convict…has the right to turn to a court with a petition on conditional early release on parole. In the petition must be contained information bearing witness that the convict…has repented of what has been done.

Once again the mentality crawled out of the depths of the acolyte: the law does not demand repentance. This demand – an invention of persons from the FSIN, the KGB, the procuracy and the courts (to whom belongs a never-yet-seen know-how).

It was thought: were such a petition to end up in the hands of this acolyte, he would certainly demand an admission of guilt and repentance.

…What I’m driving at with all this is that mere words alone about modernization and innovations are not going to change Russia. You need to change people, their psychology, their habits. This acolyte-cum-journalist, by the way, is a kind of chief for many lower-level officers of the FSIN system. And if subordinates are going to see this, excuse me, face and hear these, excuse me, sentences day in and day out, then where is the guarantee that they will not become exactly the same?

A rhetorical, as you understand yourselves, question.

Image: Illustration by Peter O. Zeirlein, The Nation