The book that made the word ‘gulag’ a synonym for the horrors of Soviet oppression will be taught in Russian high schools, education officials said Wednesday, a generation after the Soviet Union banned it as destructive to the Communist cause and exiled its author.
Excerpts from the book, Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago, which was published in 1973, will now be required reading for students, the Russian Education Ministry said.
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is pushing to restore pride in the Soviet past, so the decision could be a reflection of the Russian establishment’s struggle to reconcile that pride with the freedoms that Russians now take for granted, nearly 20 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the transition to democracy and the free market.
The government has tried in recent years to control how history is taught, removing textbooks that deviate from the changing official view. In 2003, the authorities banned a history text that was critical of Stalin, the dictator identified with the horrors of the Soviet gulag.
The Gulag Archipelago initially circulated underground and soon reached the West in translation. The three-volume book gave the outside world a detailed account of the systematic imprisonment and murder of hundreds of thousands of Russians in the nationwide “archipelago” of prisons and labour camps devised by Lenin and expanded by Stalin.
The USSR expelled Solzhenitsyn in 1974, and he spent the next 20 years in the US.
Solzhenitsyn, who had won the 1970 Nobel Prize for Literature, drew on his own experiences in various labour camps in the 1940s and on the testimony of hundreds of other prisoners who survived Corrective Labour Camps.
Stalin, who died in office in 1953, was recently voted by Russians as their third greatest historical figure, and lyrics praising him have been inscribed in the vestibule of a prominent Moscow subway station.