Wednesday, December 30, 2009


I came across this word, in a french magazine article about a book on eating properly on stalinist USSR ("Le livre de la bonne et saine nourriture ” par Ljiljana Avirovic). The sound of the word attracted me, it sounds nice, rhymes with amor, splendour, all nice things...

Then I remembered this Alexander Rodchenko photo, I've seen in an exhibit in Barcelona - the question it arose about artists fate and atitudes during Stalin's your whole life hanged from the favors of the ditactor...
So I investigated a little further, what this nice word Belomor really meant.

The Belomor Canal gave the Soviet Union a shipping canal from the White Sea to the Baltic, at a cost of at least 11,000 lives and the use of the forced labor of over 100,000 political prisoners. Even though the canal is narrow, shallow, and seasonal, it is still in use, especially for the transport of oil. The contemporary pro-Soviet accounts of the building of the canal, and responses to those events, are also part of the story. Although the Soviets held out the labor camps as a means of "rehabilitation" this was, essentially, slavery.
Taken from here

“The Belomor Canal labor force numbered about 300,000 at its peak, not counting the almost equally large number who died of overwork, mistreatment, undernourishment, or camp-induced disease, and were replaced as fast as they fell. The death rate was 700 per day; but new prisoners came in to the camps in the Belomor Canal area at the rate of 1,500 per day. Average survival time was two years… D.P. Vitkovsky, a Solovetsky prisoner himself who was a work supervisor on the canal, describes with calm and deadly precision the working conditions and their results, even for those who were not labor camp inmates:

‘At the end of the workday there were corpses left on the work site. The snow powdered their faces. One of them was hunched over beneath an overturned wheelbarrow; he had hidden his hands in his sleeves and frozen to death in that position. Someone had frozen with his head bent down between his knees. Two were frozen back to back leaning against each other. They were peasant lads and the best workers one could possibly imagine. They were sent to the canal in tens of thousands at a time, and the authorities tried to work things out so no one got to the same subcamp as his father; they tried to break up families. And right off they gave them norms of shingle and boulders that you’d be unable to fulfill even in summer. No one was able to teach them anything, to warn them; and in their village simplicity they gave all their strength to their work and weakened very swiftly and froze to death, embracing in pairs. At night the sledges went out and collected them. The drivers threw the corpses onto the sledges with a dull clonk.

And in the summer bones remained from corpses which had not been removed in time, and together with the shingle they got into the concrete mixer.” (Warren H. Carroll, The Rise and Fall of the Communist Revolution, pp. 248-249)

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