Listen Download Podcast
  • RFI English News flash 04h00 - 04h10 GMT Mon-Fri
    News bulletin 10/01 04h00 GMT
  • Paris Live AM 04h10 - 04h30 GMT Mon-Fri
    Features and analysis 10/01 04h10 GMT
  • RFI English News flash 05h00 - 05h10 GMT Mon-Fri
    News bulletin 10/01 05h00 GMT
  • Paris Live AM 05h10 - 05h30 GMT Mon-Fri
    Features and analysis 10/01 05h10 GMT
  • RFI English News flash 06h00 - 06h10 GMT Mon-Fri
    News bulletin 10/01 06h00 GMT
  • Paris Live AM 06h10 - 06h30 GMT Mon-Fri
    Features and analysis 10/01 06h10 GMT
  • RFI English News flash 06h30 - 06h33 GMT Mon-Fri
    News bulletin 10/01 06h30 GMT
  • Paris Live AM 06h33 - 06h59 GMT Mon-Fri
    Features and analysis 10/01 06h33 GMT
  • RFI English News flash 07h00 - 07h10 GMT Mon-Fri
    News bulletin 10/01 07h00 GMT
  • RFI English News flash 07h30 - 07h33 GMT Mon-Fri
    News bulletin 10/01 07h30 GMT
  • RFI English News flash 14h00 - 14h03 GMT Sat-Sun
    News bulletin 09/25 14h00 GMT
  • RFI English News flash 14h00 - 14h06 GMT Mon-Fri
    News bulletin 09/30 14h00 GMT
  • Paris Live Weekend 14h03 - 14h30 GMT Sat-Sun
    Features and analysis 09/25 14h03 GMT
  • Paris Live PM 14h06 - 14h30 GMT Mon-Fri
    Features and analysis 09/30 14h06 GMT
  • RFI English News flash 14h30 - 14h33 GMT Mon-Fri
    News bulletin 09/30 14h30 GMT
  • Paris Live PM 14h33 - 14h59 GMT Mon-Fri
    Features and analysis 09/30 14h33 GMT
  • RFI English News flash 16h00 - 16h03 GMT Sat-Sun
    News bulletin 09/25 16h00 GMT
  • RFI English News flash 16h00 - 16h06 GMT Sat-Sun
    News bulletin 09/30 16h00 GMT
  • Paris Live Weekend 16h03 - 16h30 GMT Sat-Sun
    Features and analysis 09/25 16h03 GMT
  • RFI English News flash 16h30 - 16h33 GMT Mon-Fri
    News bulletin 09/30 16h30 GMT
  • Paris Live Weekend 16h33 - 17h00 GMT Sat-Sun
    Features and analysis 09/25 16h33 GMT
To take full advantage of multimedia content, you must have the Flash plugin installed in your browser. To connect, you need to enable cookies in your browser settings. For an optimal navigation, the RFI site is compatible with the following browsers: Internet Explorer 8 and above, Firefox 10 and +, Safari 3+, Chrome 17 and + etc.
Europe

Recording Europe's first sound archive of the Gulag

media Prisoners at the Kengir camp in May 1955. Cercec

The story of the Gulag first captured journalist Valérie Nivelon's  interest when historian and academic Alain Blum told her about an old woman, a babushka, whom he met on a trip to Siberia. Sent to a labour camp in the mid-20th century, she had never returned  to her homeland but built a new life in the far-off region.

 

“It wasn’t her own country," she says. "It was a country where she had been deported years ago but she was still living there."

 
But she was sorry to find that Blum hadn’t been able to record this oral account.
The experience inspired her to gather more stories, which now form the basis of the first-ever Europe-wide sound archive on the former Soviet Union’s prison camps, known as the Gulag. The project is a collaboration between RFI and the French national research institute, CNRS.
 
She and her team of 12 researchers went on to meet people who had been sent to Siberia from 13 European countries, which had either been incorporated into the Soviet Union or invaded by the Red Army.
 
 “It was absolutely incredible to realise that this story of deportation to the Gulag was not just history that belonged to the Russian people,” she says.
 
Even to this day it’s part of European history, Nivelon continues, “because in those Gulags there were people from all over Europe”.

 
She still can’t believe the team of scientists she worked with agreed to take part in her quest to create Europe’s first ever sound archive.
 
“You know, historians prefer to work on paper which isn’t really the same as oral history," she says. "For once they accepted this idea, so I’m proud of that. They turned this sound archive into a scientific project.”
 
The researchers travelled to Germany, France, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Hungary, Romania, the Czech Republic, Italy and Poland.
 
They were taught radio interview techniques so as to record the various accounts, combing radio journalists’ and historians’s skills.
 
Each researcher was attributed to a specific country and from then on would seek out its Gulag survivors. Over 250 hours of accounts from 120 Gulag survivors were collected.
 
“The point is, it’s the first time we do a European archive, because if you go, for example, to the Baltic countries, they do their own work about that,” Nivelon points out.
She believes that some east European governments are today exploiting the memory of the Gulag for their own purposes. Some Baltic states to have the deportations labelled genocide and Hungary has its own anti-Communist museum, the House of Terror.
 
And she believes it has lessons for today.
 
 “I’m thinking about Iran, I’m thinking about Eritrea for example in Africa, Myanmar, we must be aware and we must think about all those countries where there is real and strong violence from the government - from the state.”
 
She sees a powerful parallel between these events and the stories of the Gulag: “It’s not past, it’s present, and we must be very, very careful.”
 
When asked whether she’d like to work on another audio archive, Valérie Nivelon is quick to mention Africa, a speciality of the radio she works for.
 
“I’m not the only one of course here at RFI who loves Africa and who loves gathering the memories of women and men in Africa, who are the actors of their own history. It’s not only their own history, it's a history we have to share.”
The full archive will be made into an audio book, set to be released at the end of this year.
 
Listen to our Culture in France programme on the Gulag sound archive here.

 

 

Related
 
Sorry but the period of time connection to the operation is exceeded.