Paul Connerton identifies "repressive erasure" as one of seven forms of forgetting. He states that, "Repressive erasure can be employed to deny the fact of a historical rupture as well as to bring about a historical break." It can occur at various levels within society, but often is associated with the (ab)use of state power. However, direct violence is not necessary for repressive erasure. Indeed, Connerton states that "it can be encrypted covertly and without apparent violence."

The fence at Perm-36.

The fence at Perm-36.

Politically motivated changes to the Perm-36 Museum near the Russian city of Perm provides a compelling contemporary case study of repressive erasure. Perm-36 was a forced labor camp opened in 1946 and closed in 1987 near the end of the Soviet Union. In 1995 a museum opened on the site of the former camp, and was officially named "The Museum of the History of Political Repression Perm-36." According to the museum's English-language brochure,

"Perm-36" Memorial Museum is the only preserved саmр of the GULAG еrа throughout the former USSR. The museum presents аll the periods of the repressive роliсу and the USSR penitentiary system history starting from the first years of Soviet power and the GULAG to the ending of political camps and political prisoners оn the еvе of the communist system collapse.

Until recently, the Perm-36 Museum was operated by a private organization. However, according to Maxim Trudolyubov, the "local government, sensing a need to demonstrate loyalty to the Kremlin, pushed the organization out. Perm-36 will soon reopen as a state museum dedicated to the airbrushed history of the Russian penal system." It is yet to be seen how the Perm-36 Museum under state-control will differ. For example, what narratives will be given prominence and what will be left unsaid?

The state takeover of the Perm-36 Museum is part of a larger narrative in contemporary Russia. A recent NYTimes article provides a summary of some of the changes occurring at museums throughout the country. In particular, the article highlights the connection between the ongoing conflict in Ukraine as well as Russia's March 2014 annexation of Crimea and historical memory.

AuthorPaul Hastings