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Grigory Pasko: Happy Birthday to GULAG’s Descendants!

Happy Birthday to GULAG’s Descendants! By Grigory Pasko, journalist stena.jpg Photo of the wall of the Chita SIZO by Grigory Pasko On one of the Russian websites you can read: “Celebrating professional holidays is a wonderful tradition that arose in our country back in the ‘years of stagnation’. Every professional holiday has its own special color. For example, on the Day of the Trade Worker, all sales clerks are smiling and attentive to buyers, while these, in their turn, are not stingy with compliments and purchases”. What holiday’s DON’T we celebrate in Russia?! The Day of the Employees of the Military Comissariats [Draft Boards—Trans.], the Day of the Military Automobilist, the Day of the Incassator [the people who drive money around in armored trucks—Trans.], the Tester, the Secretary, the Insurer, the Mechanical Engineer, the Intelligence Officer, the Accountant, the Appraiser, the Realtor, the Bank Clerk… On average, there are ten such holidays of various sorts every month in Russia. Around a hundred a year! March 12 was the professional holiday of Workers of the Criminal-Execution [Penal—Trans.] System (UIS) or the Ministry of Justice of Russia. In 1879, the Emperor Alexander III issued an Ukase on the creation of a gaols department, laying the foundation for a unified state system of executing punishments in Russia. The workers of the Russian GULAG practically dragged this event in from the street and turned it into “their” holiday. (It probably has nothing to do with Arbor Day, an official holiday that is celebrated on the same day in China. In China they only plant trees in the ground on this day, not people in jail.

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Inside a Russian prison. Writing on wall reads: Solitary Movement Prohibited [i.e. all persons must be accompanied by another person] Photo NOT!!!! by Grigory Pasko.

The strangeness of the holiday of UIS workers is compounded by the fact that there is another similar holiday in Russia already – the Day of Workers of Investigative Isolators (SIZOs) and Jails. This holiday, as the prison workers themselves say, is a new one for Russia, and there are so far no traditions for how this holiday is celebrated. In certain prisons, they simply open up some of the nooks and crannies of their institutions and invite journalists to come see the ancient dungeons in which famous people once underwent punishment. Inasmuch as readers of this blog have recently had numerous opportunities to read reports about the investigative isolator of the city of Chita, in which Mikhail Khodorkovsky is imprisoned, we felt it might be appropriate to send our holiday greetings to the employees of this institution on the occasion of their professional holiday. Who knows, maybe they, like the workers in the Russian retail sector, are kinder towards arrestees on this day? In addition, we are pleased to offer you an interview (directly below this post) with a former jailer, currently a Chita taxi driver, Georgy Kozhanov.