6 August 2006
Next: Disney buys Guantanamo
What's better than a Soviet prison camp? A Soviet prison camp catering to the tourist trade:
The Mayor of what used to be one of the most infamous outposts of Josef Stalin's Gulag wants to charge masochistic foreign tourists £80 [about $150] a day to "holiday" in an elaborate mock-up of a Soviet prison camp.
Igor Shpektor, the Mayor of Vorkuta, 100 miles above the Arctic Circle and 1,200 miles northeast of Moscow, says he is looking for an investor to turn an abandoned prison complex into a "reality" holiday camp for novelty-seeking tourists keen to understand what life was like for Soviet political prisoners at first hand.
Residents are perhaps not so keen:
Camp survivors, some of whom still live in Vorkuta, have condemned his idea. They call it a "sacrilege" and a tasteless insult to the memory of those prisoners who died in the area. Historians say 200,000 prisoners, known as zeks, died in the camps surrounding Vorkuta, out of more than two million deported there between 1932 and 1954.
But it's not like Vorkuta has a whole lot to offer otherwise:
In winter, the temperature plunges to minus 50C, while in summer the population of mosquitoes explodes. At the Gulag's peak 132 camps existed in and around Vorkuta. Now the city desperately needs new funds to pour into its dying economy. Eight of its 13 coal mines have shut in the past 15 years and the city's population has almost halved, from 217,000 to 120,000.
Life in Vorkuta is so bleak and subsidy-dependent that the government and the World Bank are offering residents money to move so the authorities can, literally, turn out the lights.
I'm not sure that this is such a bad idea, though really, if they're going to recreate one of Stalin's major projects, they should do it in a location where Stalin is still staggeringly popular say, Berkeley.
(Via Pratie Place.)Posted at 9:15 AM to Dyssynergy