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Monday, June 07, 2004

"THE GULAG ARCHIPELAGO" ["The Prison Islands"] (Excerpts from the great book By Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn) [Copyright (c) in Russia and Internationally by Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn. All rights reserved.] "Part I. The Prison Industry" "1. Arrest" "Arrest! Need it be said that it is a breaking point in your life, a bolt of lightning which has scored a direct hit on you? That it is an unassimilable spiritual earthquake not every person can cope with, as a result of which people often slip into insanity? "The Universe has as many different centers as there are living beings in it. Each of us is a center of the Universe, and that Universe is shattered when they hiss at you: "You are under arrest." "If you are arrested, can anything else remain unshattered by this cataclysm? "But the darkened mind is incapable of embracing these displacements in our universe, and both the most sophisticated and the veriest simpleton among us, drawing on all life's experience, can gasp out only: "Me? What for?" "And this is a question which, though repeated millions and millions of times before, has yet to receive an answer. "Arrest is an instantaneous, shattering thrust, expulsion, somersault from one state into another. "We have been happily borne---or perhaps have unhappily dragged our weary way---down the long and crooked streets of our lives, past all kinds of walls and fences made of rotting wood, rammed earth, brick, concrete, iron railings. We have never given a thought to what lies behind them. We have never tried to penetrate them with our vision or our understanding. But there is where the Gulag [Prison] country begins, right next to us, two yards away from us. In addition, we fail to notice an enormous number of closely fitted, well-disguised doors and gates into these fences. All those gates were prepared for us, every last one! And all of a sudden the fateful gate swings quickly open, and four white male hands, unaccustomed to physical labor but nonetheless strong and tenacious, grab us by the leg, arm, collar, cap, ear, and drag us in like a sack, and the gate behind us, the gate to our past life, is slammed shut once and for all. "That's all there is to it! You are arrested! "And you'll find nothing better to respond with than a lamb-like bleat: "Me? What for?" "That's what arrest is: It's a blinding flash and a blow which shifts the present instantly into the past and the impossible into omnipotent actuality. "That's all. And neither for the first hour nor for the first day will you be able to grasp anything else. "Except that in your desperation the fake circus moon will blink at you: "It's a mistake! They'll set things right!" "And everything which is by now comprised in the traditional, even literary, image of an arrest will pile up and take shape, and your neighbors in your apartment remember: The sharp nighttime ring or the rude knock at the door. The insolent entrance of unwiped jackboots of the unsleeping State Security [the Police] operatives.... "....A submissive sheep is a find for a wolf. "This submissiveness was also due to the mechanics of epidemic arrests. By and large, the 'Organs' had no profound reasons for their choice of whom to arrest and whom not to arrest. They merely had over-all assignments, quotas for a specific number of arrests. These quotas might be filled on an orderly basis or wholly arbitrarily.... ""Resistance! Why didn't you resist?" Today those who have continued to live on in comfort scold those who suffered. "Yes, resistance should have begun right there, at the moment of the arrest itself. "But it did not begin. "....You really can and really ought to cry out---to cry out that you are being [falsely] arrested! That villains in disguise are trapping people! That arrests are being made on the strength of false denunciations! That millions are being subjected to silent reprisals! If many such outcries had been heard all over the city in the course of a day, would not our fellow citizens perhaps have begun to bristle? And would arrests perhaps no longer have been so easy? "....So why did I keep silent? Why, in my last minute out in the open, did I not attempt to enlighten the hoodwinked crowd? "....So why did I keep silent? "Every [person] always has handy a dozen glib little reasons why [they are supposedly] right not to sacrifice [themselves]. "Some still have hopes of a favorable outcome to their case and are afraid to ruin their chances by an outcry. (For, after all, we get no news from that other world [or very little], and we do not realize that from the very moment of arrest our fate has almost certainly been decided in the worst possible sense and that we cannot make it any worse.) Others have not yet attained the mature concepts on which a shout of protest to the crowd must be based. ...And where would the uninvolved, peaceable average [person] come by [the right] slogans? He simply does not know what to shout. And then, last of all, there is the person whose heart is too full of emotion, whose eyes have seen too much, for that whole ocean to pour forth in a few disconnected cries." "2. The History of Our Sewage Disposal System" "It would have been impossible to carry out this 'hygienic purging', especially under wartime conditions, if they had had to follow 'outdated' legal processes and normal judicial procedures. And so an entirely new form was adopted: Extrajudicial reprisal ... which was the only punitive organ in history that combined in one set of hands investigation, arrest, interrogation, prosecution, trial, and execution of the 'verdict'." "5. First Cell, First Love" "....In every case, out of all the cells you've been in, your first cell is a very special one, the place where you first encountered others like yourself, doomed to the same fate. All your life you will remember it with an emotion that you otherwise experience only in remembering your first love. And those people, who shared with you the floor and air of that stone cubicle during those days when you rethought your entire life, will from time to time be recollected by you as members of your own family. "Yes, in those days they were your only family. "What you experience in your first ... cell parallels nothing in your entire previous life or your whole subsequent life. No doubt prisons have stood for thousands of years before you came along, and may continue to stand after you too---longer than one would like to think---but that first ... cell is unique and inimitable. "Maybe it was a terrible place for a human being.... "But it was not the dirty floor, nor the murky walls, nor the odor of urine from the latrine ... that you loved---but those fellow prisoners with whom you [shared], and that something which beat between your heart and theirs', and their sometimes astonishing words, and then, too, the birth within you, on that very spot, of free-floating thoughts you had so recently been unable to leap up or rise to. "And how much it cost you to last out until that first cell! You had been kept in a pit, or in a box, or in a cellar. No one had addressed a human word to you. No one had looked at you with a human gaze. All they did was to peck at your brain and heart with iron beaks, and when you cried out or groaned, they laughed. "For ... month[s] you had been an abandoned waif, alone among enemies, and you had said goodbye to reason and to life.... "That's what your first cell is!.... "One night of undisturbed sleep was more important than all the fates on earth! "One more thing held me back, which I didn't quite catch right away but had felt nonetheless from the first words of my story, although I could not at this early date find a name for it: As each of us had been arrested, everything in our world had switched places, a 180-degree shift in all our concepts had occurred, and the good news I had begun to recount with such enthusiasm might not be good news for us at all.... "And I lay there, filled to the brim with the joy of being among them. One hour ago I could not have counted on being with anyone... Tomorrow I would be telling them my story... and they would be telling me their stories too. How interesting tomorrow would be.... "Every detail of the cell interested me. Sleep fled, and when the peephole was not in use I studied it all furtively. ...Yes, there was a window in the cell... How much that meant---to have daylight in the daytime!.... "What a cozy life! Chess, books, cots with springs, decent mattresses, clean linen. I could not remember having slept like this... One could take nearly four strides from the window to the door in the aisle between the cots. No, indeed! This central ... prison was a real resort. "All right then, the hell with you; if you don't want me to fight, I won't...." "8. The Law as a Child" "However, we cannot do without a brief review. It is our duty, anyway, to probe some of the charred ruins which go all the way back to that gentle, misty, rose-colored dawn.... "There was an official term current then: Extrajudicial reprisal ... not because there weren't any courts at the time, but because there was terror. Because it was more efficient. Certainly there were courts, and they tried and convicted and executed people, but we need to remember that, parallel to them and independently of them, extrajudicial reprisal went on at the same time. How can one depict its scale?...." [ ] = Words supplied by me ( ) = Author's emphasis


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