The term “gulag” refers to the government agency that administered the system of penal labor camps in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). The word is an acronym for “Chief Administration of Corrective Labor Camps and Colonies” (Glavnoie upravlenie ispravitel’ no-trudovukh lagerei), a division of the NKVD, the predecessor of the KGB. Eventually, the term came to denote the entire Soviet penal labor system, which housed criminals of all types; however, the term gulag is predominantly used to describe Soviet political prisoners and to define the system of political repression in the USSR.
   As a centrally administered unit and part of the Soviet secret police, the gulag system was established in the 1930s. Under Joseph Stalin, the gulag system expanded exponentially, absorbing individuals sentenced for corrective labor because of suspected counterrevolutionary activity, which could vary from taking membership in oppositional organizations to telling a joke about the regime. The growth of the camp system coincided with Stalin’s great purges in the 1930s. The government quickly realized the economic potential of the gulags: the Soviet industrialization campaign required enormous labor and capital investments and the state sought them through building a system of slave labor. Therefore, gulag prisoners were used at the construction of many industrial developments in the Soviet Union, including hydroelectric stations in Siberia and the Moscow–White Sea canal. After Stalin’s death in 1953, gulag laborers were freed, and many victims of the Soviet penal system were eventually rehabilitated after Nikita Khrushchev’s secret speech of 1956 denouncing Stalin and Stalinism.
   In the West, the term “gulag” became known after the publication of The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in 1973, in which the author exposed the evildoing of the Soviet state. This work, as well as his earlier short novel One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (1962), are based on the author’s extensive research as well as his personal experience of spending eight years as an inmate of a Siberian prison camp.
   At the height of the gulag system, there were about 500 camps; the majority of them were located in Russia’s Far North. As with tsaristera penal colonies, Soviet gulags were a method of colonization of sparsely populated northern areas of the USSR. As regards the number of people who served their sentence in the gulags, statistics vary from 14 million to 40 million. The official data presented by the Soviet authorities indicate that over a million people died in camps between 1934 and 1953. Independent analysts, however, estimate that the number of victims was at least 10 times higher than the official data.
   Living and working conditions in gulags were unbearable; many laborers had meager food rations, inadequate clothing, insufficient (and sometimes nonexistent) health care, and primitive hygiene and housing. Prisoners were compelled to engage in harsh physical labor, sometimes working in temperatures well below freezing. A complex system of surveillance was implemented by Stalin’s regime. The prisoners were completely disconnected from the outer world; very often, they would not be able to communicate with their families for years. Often, political prisoners fell victim to assaults by ordinary criminals who normally shared the same facilities. These factors account for an extremely high death rate among prisoners.
   Gulags had an enormous influence on Russian culture, stretching from creating a new system of political and philosophical thought, as exemplified in the work of Solzhenitsyn, to providing the Russian language with new words and importing new practices into mainstream culture. A number of works of visual art and literature have been produced that commemorate the victims of political oppression and the gulag system. The Russian public are still divided in their attitudes toward the role of gulags, and particularly the role of Stalin and political repression. While there are local museums of gulags (one in Moscow opened in 2004), there is no national museum dedicated to the history of the political penal system and repression. This cultural gap signifies that the process of de-Stalinization in Russia is not complete and the society has not reconciled with its own past. A number of organizations continue looking for more evidence of the atrocities of the Stalinist regimes, with the group Memorial being the most prominent.

Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. . 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Gulag — (russisch Главное управление лагерей/ oder Главное управление исправительно трудовых лагерей и колоний Glawnoje uprawlenije isprawitelno trudowych lagerej i kolonij anhören?/i) – auch GULag – ist …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • gulag — GULÁG s. v. lagăr de concentrare. Trimis de siveco, 28.05.2007. Sursa: Sinonime  gulág s. n., pl. guláguri Trimis de siveco, 10.08.2004. Sursa: Dicţionar ortografic  GÚLAG s. n. lagăr de muncă forţată în fosta URSS. (< rus. gulag) …   Dicționar Român

  • gulag — /gu lak/, it. / gulag/ s.m., russo [acronimo di G(lavnoe ) u(pravlenie ) lag(erej ) direzione generale dei campi (di lavoro) ]. 1. [campo di lavoro coatto secondo l ordinamento sovietico]. 2. (estens.) [ambiente di lavoro chiuso e repressivo]… …   Enciclopedia Italiana

  • gulag — / ˈɡulaɡ, russo ɡuˈlAk/ [vc. russa, abbr. di G(lavnoe) U(pravlenie ispravitel notrudovych) Lag(erei) «amministrazione generale dei campi di lavoro correzionale»] s. m. inv. 1. (nell ex URSS) campo di lavoro forzato, lager (ted.) 2. (est.) sistema …   Sinonimi e Contrari. Terza edizione

  • gulag — gȕlāg m <N mn āzi> DEFINICIJA pov. sustav staljinističkih kaznenih i radnih logora u kojima je likvidirano više milijuna ljudi SINTAGMA arhipelag gulag naziv za cjelinu takvih logora ETIMOLOGIJA krat., rus. Glávnoe upravlénie ispravítelno… …   Hrvatski jezični portal

  • gulag — (Del ruso gulag, acrón. de Glavnoe upravlenie ispravitel no trudovykh lagerei, central administrativa de los campos de trabajo correccionales). 1. m. Campo de concentración de la antigua Unión Soviética. 2. Sistema basado en el conjunto de… …   Diccionario de la lengua española

  • Gulag — ► NOUN (the Gulag) ▪ a system of harsh labour camps maintained in the Soviet Union 1930 1955. ORIGIN Russian, from G(lavnoe) u(pravlenie ispravitel no trudovykh) lag(ere ) «Chief Administration for Corrective Labour Camps» …   English terms dictionary

  • gulag — [go͞o′läg΄, go͞o′lag΄] n. [< Russ acronym for G(lavnoe) u(pravlenie ispravitel no trudovykh) lag(erei), Chief Administration of Corrective Labor Camps: term popularized by The Gulag Archipelago by A. SOLZHENITSYN Aleksandr (Isayevich)] 1.… …   English World dictionary

  • gulag — ‘Campo de concentración de la antigua Unión Soviética’. Su plural es gulags (→ plural, 1h) …   Diccionario panhispánico de dudas

  • gulag — system of prisons and labor camps, especially for political detainees, in the former Soviet Union; rough acronym from Rus. Glavnoe upravlenie ispravitel no trudovykh lagerei Chief Administration of Corrective Labor Camps, set up in 1931 …   Etymology dictionary

  • gułag — {{/stl 13}}{{stl 8}}rz. mnż IIa, D. u {{/stl 8}}{{stl 7}} obóz pracy przymusowej w byłym ZSRR; także: system tych obozów : {{/stl 7}}{{stl 10}}Dziesięć lat gułagu. Miliony ludzi zginęły w gułagach. Archipelag gułagów był państwem w państwie.… …   Langenscheidt Polski wyjaśnień

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