Kuchino, Perm Krai, Russian Federation. A notorious Gulag called Perm-36 existed for decades on the outskirts of this village at the foot of the Urals, thousands of kilometers from Oświęcim.
During the final 20 years of its operation, before the fall of the communist regime, this was one of the best known camps for political prisoners. The last dissidents left the Gulag in 1987. Eight years later, the Perm-36 Museum of the History of Political Repression, the only museum of its kind in the Russian Federation, opened at the site.
For several years, the Pilorama Festival, a three-day series of concerts, discussions, exhibitions, and happenings, has been part of the educational activities of the Perm-36 Museum. The themes for Pilorama 2008 were the 40th anniversary of the founding of the human rights movement in Russia and the 60th anniversary of the proclamation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Those in attendance included Sergei Kovalev, a former prisoner of the Perm Gulag and a Russian human rights activist, and the well-known Russian artist German Vinogradov. The organizers also invited Dr. Piotr M.A. Cywiński, director of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, to take part in this year’s meeting.
Cywiński feels that, while the history of the Gulag and the Nazi camps is different, these two products of totalitarian systems have much in common. “The 20th century did not end with World War II, the concept of the word ‘camp’ did not end with Auschwitz concentration camp, and Europe does not end with the European Union,” said Cywiński. “That is why it is so important for us to learn here about the experiences of the people who are trying to safeguard the memory of the innocent victims of the Gulag.”
“In the limitless Urals, the space of freedom and the space of enslavement took on entirely dissimilar meanings. To a large degree, this was different, although the essence of memory is very similar: it is a question of humanity,” said Cywiński. He discussed the possibility of cooperation between the two memorials with Viktor Shmirov, director of the Perm-36 center.
Andrzej Wajda’s Katyń evoked great interest at the festival this year. Many of the participants in the lively discussion afterwards felt that Wajda’s film was not anti-Russian, but rather represented a warning against totalitarianism for all humanity.
The festival concluded with the planting of trees in the Park of the Remembrance of the Victims of Political Repression. The director of the Polish Institute in Moscow, Dr. Hieronim Grala, joined Director Piotr Cywiński in planting the first tree.