OSA | Visions after the Fall: Program

Visions after the Fall: Museums, Archives and Cinema in Reshaping Popular Perceptions of the Socialist Past

Irina Flige: The "Virtual Gulag Museum"

The Gulag is not only of seminal importance for the understanding of Russia's history. There have been many unsuccessful attempts to overcome the past in Russia. However, the memory of the communist terror has failed to become an integral component of the national memory. To the present day there is no "Gulag Museum" in Russia. But is not just a building that is missing. Political repressions are for the most part remembered in the form of local events, without the overall concept uniting these events being fully acknowledged.
The fragmentation of the Russian national memory is accurately reflected by the state of existing museums and exhibitions. The memory of the Gulag is relegated to a scattering of provincial institutions, geographically remote and thematically/methodologically uncoordinated. These institutions include governmental museums and private collections as well as exhibits in schools, hospitals, or factories that often consist of just one showcase or a few photographs, and exhibitions that operate as part of local folk museums. As a result there exists a huge variety of material and a range of experience with presentation and concepts.
The Research and Information Centre "Memorial", St Petersburg, would like to introduce their project "Virtual Gulag Museum", which aims to redress the absence of a central museum and unite the disparate local initiatives into a universally accessible online resource. But the "Virtual Gulag Museum" is not merely a collection of computerised images of "real world museums". We conceive of it as a new museum in its own right. The regional and conceptual characteristics of the participating museums will be preserved and become part of the general picture.
We have compiled a list of the existing "Gulag Museums". On the territory of the former USSR there are 290 museum initiatives that have material on political repression, the history of the Gulag, and the history of resistance movements. It is envisaged to expand the scope of the project to include museums in Eastern Europe.
So far "Memorial" has already collected material on 100 museums; two disks with digital photos of the objects and textual materials have been released. The website was inaugurated in October 2005 and can be visited on www.gulagmuseum.org.
In due course the "Virtual Gulag Museum" will feature thematic exhibitions, such as "The History of State Terror in the USSR", "The Phenomenology of the Gulag", "A Guide to the Gulag Archipelago". For the visitor each exhibition can become an independent museum.
The Virtual Gulag Museum is based on the collective and individual experience of creating exhibitions accumulated by the participating initiatives. For the project to be successful it is imperative to consider the most variegated thematic, historical, and emotional concepts.
Principal aims of the project:

  1. The preservation of memory, museum initiatives and unique testimonies. The publicising of relevant experience and knowledge.
  2. The uniting of the disparate initiatives concerned with the preservation of memory and testimonies about the Soviet past into a single informational resource. The overcoming of regional or factional divisions in our consciousness of the Terror and the Gulag.
  3. The provision of information and advice for provincial museums.
  4. The creation of a public and generally accessible national museum.
  5. The furthering of public debate on the past and the significance of Russia's social and historical legacy.
  6. The instruction and education of the younger generation.

In addition, the Virtual Gulag Museum is designed to function as a feedback system between itself and the museum community and as an indispensable channel of communication encouraging closer cooperation between participating museums.

Irina Anatolievna Flige is the Director of RIC Memorial. She is the author and the director of several international projects, most recently Virtual Gulag Museum; Necropolis of the Gulag. She is also an organizer of various international academic conferences: "The World after the Gulag" (Syktyfkar, 2002-2004), "The Totalitarian Experience: Everyday History through Women's Testimonies: Russia, 20th Century" (Ukhta, 2004), "The Museum of Russian 20th Century History" (Perm 2005). Irina Flige is the author of more than 60 academic articles and publications, and the editor of 10 academic volumes. Her main spheres of research and publication include history of political repression in the USSR, history of the labor camp on the Solovetskii Islands, the colonization of the Russian Far North through the Gulag, methodology of biographical research.

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Date: June 8, Thursday

Time: 3-3.30 pm



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