The Disappearance of the Outside (pt. 1)

16 Nov

(Zek: 1. Political prisoner in the Soviet Concentration/Labor Camp System; aka Gulag; aka “Chief Administration for Corrective Labor Camps.” 2. Incarcerated canal builder.)

We were used to people disappearing. That’s how it was for us. We took our lead from the Soviets, whose system imprisoned upwards of 35 million people, and executed 8-10 million others from 1930-1989, although exact figures will never be known since key documentation was deliberately destroyed as the USSR was collapsing. People around the world are keenly aware of the Holocaust and its precise numbers, but not many talk about Stalin’s purges and the Soviet Union’s “satellite” countries’ systemic repression and murder in its labour camps from the mid-40s until the Wall crumbled in 1989. And so we were used to suddenly not seeing friends. Or having them “re-appear” a year or two later, looking gaunt and pale, re-educated in the salt mines or work camps. The ones that were let out were turned into informants, and we knew that also. Family members spied on one another, children informed on their parents of any suspicious activities like reading Western literature or listening to Radio Free Europe on the sly, on the short wave receivers. We were used to being under surveillance, being followed, our apartments being bugged. When I was eight years of age, I got excited at some insignificant event and began clapping loudly. The sound of my hands hitting one another travelled up toward the ceiling and we heard feedback, which in turn triggered a loop from other mics placed around the apartment, and for a few seconds the entire place turned into some soundcheck-gone-wrong. I remember my father smiling and shrugging and making a “shhh” gesture with his index finger. And then he drew an imaginary circle into the air, encompassing all the rooms. We were used to that. That’s how it was for us in that country. A Zek was slang in the Soviet Union’s Gulags, but in reality we were all Zeks. In all the Easter Bloc countries. It’s just that, as Orwell so masterfully wrote, some Zeks were more equal than others. Some leashes were longer than others. But a leash is still a leash, and it was connected to a choker, which could at any time be pulled tightly enough to either re-educate you, or strangle you. That’s how it was for us. We lived like that. With all of that.


4 Responses to “The Disappearance of the Outside (pt. 1)”

  1. slyboots2 16/11/2007 at 3:36 PM #

    Have you read “We” by Zamyatin? It kicked Orwell’s “1984” ass. Ditto Huxley’s “Brave New World.” If you like that kind of thing, that is.

  2. (S)wine, Inc. 16/11/2007 at 5:06 PM #

    i have not.
    i will take your recommendation.

  3. Janete Cabral 18/11/2007 at 1:44 AM #

    The style of writing reminds of the latest Paul AUster book “Travels in the Scriptorium”.

    Great writing as always my friend :)


  4. (S)wine, Inc. 18/11/2007 at 1:13 PM #

    hi janete,
    thanks much.

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