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«THE GULAG ARCHIPELAGO Also by Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn The Nobel Lecture on Literature August 1914 A Lenten Letter to Pimen, Patriarch of All Russia ...»

-- [ Page 87 ] --

he smiled to himself; he didn't act as if things were bad. He had become unfit for military service way back after the Japanese I 454 THE G U LAG ARC HIP E LAG 0 War, had studied horse breeding, and then served in the provincial local self-government council; by the thirties he was attached to the I vanovo Provincial Agricultural Department as "inspector of the horse herd of the Red Army." In other words, he was supposed to see to it that the best horses went to the army. He was arrested and sentenced to be shot for wrecking-for recommending that stallions be gelded before the age of three, by which means he allegedly "subverted the fighting capacity of the Red Army." Khomenko appealed the verdict. Fifty-five days later the block supervisor came around and pointed out to him that he had addressed his appeal to the wrong appeals jurisdiction. Right then and there, propping the paper against the wall and using the block supervisor's pencil, Khomenko crossed out one jurisdiction and substituted another, as if it were a request for a pack of cigarettes. Thus clumsily corrected, the appeal made the rounds for another sixty days, so Khomenko had been awaiting death for four months. (As for waiting a year or two, after all, we spend year after year waiting for the angel of death! Isn't our whole world just a death cell?) And one day complete rehabilitation for Khomenko arrived. (In the interval since his sentence, Voroshilov had given orders that gelding should be done before age three.) Die one minute and dance the next!

Many sentences were commuted, and many prisoners had high hopes. But Vlasov, comparing his case with those of the others, and keeping in mind his conduct at the trial as the principal factor, felt that things were likely to go badly for him. They had to shoot someone. They probably had to shoot at least half of those condemned to death. So he came to believe they would shoot him. And he wanted just one thing-not to bow his head when it happened. That recklessness which was one of his characteristics returned to him and increased within him, and he was all set to be bold and brazen to the very end.

And an opportunity came his way. Making the rounds of the prison for some reason-most likely just to give himself a thrill

-the Chief of the Investigation Department of Ivanovo State Security, Chinguli, ordered the door of their cell opened and stood on the threshold. He spoke to someone and asked: "Who is here from the Kady case?" He was dressed in a short-sleeved silk shirt, which had just begun to appear in Russia and therefore s~l1 seemed effeminate.

I 455 The Supreme Measure And either he or his shirt was doused in a sweetish perfume that drifted into the cell.

Vlasov swiftly jumped up on the cot and shouted shrilly: "What kind of colonial officer is this? Get out of here, you murderer!" And from that height he spat juicily full into Chinguli's face.

And he hit his mark.

Chinguli wiped his face and retreated. Because he had no right to enter the cell without six guards, and maybe not even with six guards either.

A reasonable rabbit ought not to behave in that fashion. What if Chinguli had been dealing with your case at that moment and was the one to decide whether to commute or not? After all, he must have.had a reason for asking: "Who is here from the Kady case?" That was probably why he came.

But there is a limit, and beyond it one is no longer willing, one finds it too repulsive, to be a reasonable little rabbit. And that is the limit beyond which rabbits are enlightened by the common understanding that all rabbits are foredoomed to become only meat and pelts, and that at best, therefore, one can gain only a postponement of death and not life in any case. That is when one wants to shout: "Curse you, hurry up and shoot!" It was this particular feeling of rage which took hold of Vlasov even more intensely during his forty-one days of waiting for execution. In the Ivanovo Prison they had twice suggested that he write a petition for pardon, but he had refused.

But on the forty-second day they summoned him to a box where they informed him that the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet had commuted the supreme measure of punishment to twenty years of imprisonment in corrective-labor camps with disenfranchisement for five additional years.

The pale Vlasov smiled wryly, and even at that point words

did not fail him:

"It is strange. I was condemned for lack of faith in the victory of socialism in our country. But can even Kalinin himself believe in it if he thinks camps will still be needed in our country twenty years from now?" At the time it seemed quite inconceivable: after twenty years.

Strangely, they were still needed even after thirty.

Chapter 12 • Tyurzak Oh, that good Russian word "ostr6g"-meaning "jail." What a powerful word it is and how well put together. One senses in it the strength of those thick, impenetrable walls from which one cannot escape. An4 it is all expressed in just six letters. And it has so many interesting connotations deriving from words that are close to it in sound: as, for instance, str6gost-meailing "severity"; and ostroga-meaning "harpoon"; and ostrotameaning "sharpness" (the sharpness of the porcupine's quills when they land in your snout, the sharpness of the blizzard lashing your frozen face, the sharpness of the pointed stakes of the camp perimeter, and the sharpness of the barbed wire too); and the word "ostor6zhnost"-meaning "caution" (a convict's caution)is somewhere close too; and then the word "rog"-meaning "hom." Yes, indeed, the horn juts out boldly and is pointed forward! It is aimed straight at us.





And if one glances over all Russia's jail customs and conduct, at the entire institution during, say, the last ninety years, then you'll see not just one horn really, but two horns. The Narodnaya Volya ("People's Will") revolutionaries began at the tip of one hom, right where it gores, right where it's too excruciatingly painful to take even on the breastbone. They kept wearing it down gradually until it got rounded off, shrank to a stump, and was hardly a horn any longer, and finally became just a woolly open spot (this was the beginning of the twentieth century). But then, I Tyurzak 457 after 1917, the first swelling of a new knob could be felt, and there, there, splaying out and with the slogan "You don't have the right!"-it began to thrust upward again, and to narrow to a point and harden, to acquire a horny surface-until by 1938 it was pinning the human being right in that gap between the collarbone and the neck: tyurzak!l And once a year, the single stroke

of a watchman's bell could be heard in the night in the distance:

"TONnnnnn!"2 If we pursue this parabola with the help of one of the prisoners in the Schltisselburg Fortress near St. Petersburg, we find that initially things were pretty bad. 3 The prisoner had a number, ~d no one called him by his family name; the gendarmes acted as if they had been trained in the Lubyanka. They didn't speak a word

on their own. If you stammered out: "We...," the reply came:

"Speak only for yourself!" The silence of the grave. The cell was in eternal shadows, the windows were frosted glass, the floor asphalt. The hinged ventilation pane in the window was open for forty minutes a day. The food consisted of grits and cabbage soup without meat. They would not allow you any scholarly books from the library. You wouldn't see another human being for two years at a stretch. Only after three years would they let you have sheets of paper-numbered. 4 And then, little by little, things got to be more lenient as the point of the hom got rounded off; there was white bread; and then the prisoners were allowed tea and sugar; one could have money and could buy things in addition to the rations; smoking was permitted; they put transparent glass in the windows; and the transom could be kept open all the time;

they painted the walls a light color; in no time at all you coUld get books by subscribing to the St. Petersburg library; there were gratings between the garden plots; one could converse through them, and prisoners even delivered lectures to other prisoners. By then the prisoners were urging the prison administration: "Give us more land to work on, more!" So they planted

1. Tyurzak=TYURemnoye ZAKlyucbeniye=prison confinement. Tyurzak is an official term.

2. TON=Tyurma Osobogo Naznacbeniya=Special Purpose Prison. TON is likewise an official abbreviation.

3. Vera Figner, Zapechatlenny Trud: Vospominaniya v Dvukh Tomakh (Impressed Labor: Memoirs in Two Volumes), Moscow, "Mysl," 1964.

4. According to the account of M. Novorussky, from 1884 to 1906 three prisoners in ScblUsselburg committed suicide and five others went insane.

I 458 THE GULAG ARCHIPELAGO two large prison courtyards in flowers and vegetables-no fewer than 450 varieties! And then there were scientific collections, a carpentry shop, a smithy, and they could earn money and buy books, even Russian political books, 5 and also magazines from abroad. And they wrote their families and got letters from them.

And they could go out to walk the whole day long if they liked.

And gradually, as Figner recollects, "it was no longer the superintendent who shouted at the prisoners, but we who shouted at him." In 1902, because he refused to forward a protest of hers, she ripped the shoulder boards 00 his uniform. And the result was that a military investigator came and apologized profusely to Figner for the ignoramus superintendent!

How did that horn come to shrink and broaden? Figner explains it to some extent by the humanitarian attitudes of individual prison superintendents, and also by the fact that the "gendarmes became friendly with the prisoners," got used to them. One significant factor certainly was the prisoners' determination and dignity and adroitness in conducting themselves. But nonetheless I myself believe that it was the temper of the times: this moisture and freshness in the air which drove away the thundercloud; this breeze of freedom, which was sweeping through society, it was decisive. Without it one could have given the gendarmes instructions from the Short Course every Monday, and kept tightening things up, kept putting the screws on. And instead of "impressed labor," Vera Nikolayevna Figner, for tearing off an officer's shoulder boards, would have gotten nine grams in the back of her head in a cellar.

The weakening and shaking up of the Tsarist prison system did not come about on its own, of course, but because all society, in concert with the revolutionaries, was shaking it up and ridiculing it in every possible way. Tsarism lost its chance to survive not in the street skirmishes of February but several decades earlier, when youths from well-to-do families began to consider a prison term an honor; when army officers (even guard officers) began to regard it as dishonorable to shake the hand of a gendarme.

And the more the prison system weakened, the more clearly

–  –  –

evident were the triumphant ethics of the political prisoners, and the more visibly did the members of the revolutionary parties realize their strength and regard their own laws as superior to those of the state.

And that was how Russia of 1917 arrived, bearing 1918 on its shoulders. The reason we have proceeded immediately to 1918 is that the subject of our investigation does not permit us to dwell on 1917. In February, 1917, all political prisons, both those used for interrogation and those in which sentences were served, and all hard-labor prisons as well were emptied. It is a wonder. that all the jailers managed to get through the year. Perhaps to make ends meet they simply set to work raising potatoes in their vegetable gardens. (But from 1918 on, things began to get much better for them, and at Shpalernaya Prison they were still serving the new regime even in 1928, and why not!) In December, 1917, it had already become clear that it was altogether impossible to do without prisons, that some people simply couldn't be left anywhere except behind bars (see Chapter 2, above), because-well, simply because there was no place for them in the new society. And so it was that the new rulers managed to feel their way across the space between the two horns and grope for the budding of the second hom.



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