A Gulag history museum runs into office space problems after possibly discovering a Soviet-era mass grave

Meduza
13:41, 11 june 2018

The Gulag History Museum in Yoshkar-Ola, the capital of Russia’s Mari El Republic, might be evicted from the building it’s occupied for the past eight years. Local officials cite safety concerns and legal issues with the organization’s expired lease, but the pressure to leave suspiciously follows the museum’s recent discovery of human remains nearby that experts say could belong to a mass grave of maybe 200 people executed by the Soviet authorities.

If the museum is able to find and identify the remains of these Soviet Gulag victims, state officials could be compelled to allocate resources to their reburial and rehabilitation. The museum’s director, Nikolai Arakcheyev, also speculates that the city would prefer to kick out his organization and rent to a business for a profit. Arakcheyev says it’s important for the museum to remain in the House of the Merchant Bulygin because it was the site of executions by Soviet police officials.

At the urging of Mikhail Fedotov, the chairman for Russia’s Presidential Human Rights Council, Yoshkar-Ola Mayor Alexander Evstifeyev reconvened a commission on rehabilitating repression victims. The commission met on June 8 and briefly visited the city’s Gulag History Museum, getting a tour from Arakcheyev himself. The results of an expert study ordered by the commission could determine what happens next.

Last week, the newspaper Kommersant reported that the director of Russia’s Gulag History Museum appealed in a letter to Mikhail Fedotov about an apparently confidential interdepartmental memo ordering the destruction of all registration cards issued to convicts in the Soviet prison system who were 80 years old by February 2014. Deputy Interior Minister Igor Zubov later denied the existence of such a policy, but there have been two cases (both in the Magadan region) where researchers requested access to registration card archives and were told that the records had been destroyed.