Perm-36 museum in a former gulag, surrounded by the original guard towers and barbed wire
Moscow - AFP
The rights group that ran Russia's only museum in a former gulag said Tuesday it has been ousted and the institution will cease as a memorial devoted to Soviet-era repression.
The Perm-36 museum -- named after the notorious prison camp where it is housed -- has been open since 1996, but was increasingly threatened by a hostile relationship with Russian leaders.
"The association is self-liquidating. We could not reach an agreement with regional administrators," Tatiana Koursina, head of the Perm-36 association, told AFP.
"The museum will continue to function... but it won't be the same," she added.
Under President Vladimir Putin, Russia has increasingly taken on the mantle of the Soviet Union and prides itself on its victories while downplaying the millions of deaths under Stalin's forced industrialisation, collectivisation and prison camps.
The museum's financing was cut off last year and its founding group -- which organised exhibitions on dissidents and Soviet-era repression -- lost control of the site.
The Perm-36 association said Tuesday it decided to give up trying to stay involved in the management of the museum after months of negotiations with local authorities failed.
"The museum's format is being completely changed. It's tragic that a museum to Soviet terror will be transformed into a museum to the penal system," said Arseny Roginsky, president of Memorial, one of Russia's most prominent human rights organisations.
The first exhibition organised by the new management makes no mention of Soviet repression, but focuses generally on the Russian penal system, said Roginsky, who added the new management includes former camp guards.
Perm-36, the penal colony located about 100 kilometres (62 miles) from the Urals city of Perm, in particular housed many political prisoners convicted for "anti-Soviet" views as recently as the 1980s.
Surrounded by the original guard towers and barbed wire, the museum, almost alone in Russia, documents the history of Communist-era repression from the Stalinist terror through the 1970s repression of dissidents by the KGB.
First revealed to the world by authors such as Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the Soviet's vast network of gulags stretched across the former socialist empire and left millions dead.
The word "gulag" -- a Russian acronym for main camp and prison directorate –- has become synonymous in all languages with brutal detention camps.