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In Kazakhstan, Spending Saturday Night In The Gulag

A Kazakh museum documenting political oppression during the Soviet era opened its doors to visitors for a nighttime tour.

The unusual visit on the night of May 18 was organized by the Museum of Political Oppression in Dolinka.

The central town became infamous in the 1930s as the center of the Qaraghandy Corrective Labor Camps system (KarLAG).

Some 1,000 visitors took part in the tour, dubbed “Night in KarLAG.”

The guide took the group to the prison hospital, cells, a torture chamber, and the KarLAG head’s office.

"This is the office of the head of the KarLAG prison camp [system]. There were 11 camp heads," the guide said. "Otto Bin was the first head of KarLAG. When he was the chief here the authorities allowed families to be together. That was the only time when men and women could live and work together in the KarLAG camp.”

Overnight Plans Scrapped

In the room, actors performed a mock interrogation scene in which a young woman is pressured to denounce her father.

The group also witnessed performances that included an inmate who was hanging by his hands while being mistreated by a guard.

To have a better taste of being a prisoner at KarLAG, the visitors were also offered gulag-type meals.

The museum initially planned to offer visitors the chance to become “Stalin-era prisoners” for one night, but museum director Svetlana Bainova told RFE/RL the plan was scrapped following a request by local officials.

She said the officials argued that such an experience could scare or even psychologically traumatize the participants.

The Museum of Political Oppression occupies the building that served as KarLAG headquarters. It was formally opened in May 2011.

The KarLAG prison camp system was set up during the purges in the 1930s launched by Soviet leader Josef Stalin.

Hundreds of thousands of people from all over the Soviet Union were sent there through the 1950s.

Written by Antoine Blua in Prague based on reporting by Yelena Weber of RFE/RL’s Kazakh Service