The Museum's Permanent Exhibit
The Museum's Permanent Exhibit presents Soviet history as seen through the prism of political repressions and resistance to the regime. In Moscow, it was the first exhibit open to the common public in memory of the millions sacrificed in the name of communist Utopia.
The artistic design of the exhibit was developed by architect Yevgeni Ass. The main idea of the exhibit is a metaphoric movement from captivity to freedom, from darkness to light. The exhibit site is divided into four naves (corridors) by high walls. The walls serve not only as places for exhibits, but as symbols of changing epochs, as well. By means of a variety of materials (brick, metal, wood, glass, textile), the exhibit, dark and gloomy at the start of the route, becomes more spacious, light and bright on the way to its end. The project was implemented by teams of young architects from "Architect Lab" and "Obledenenie" of Architects," and by "Bioinjector" Company. In 1997, the Museum's Permanent Exhibit project was awarded the prize "For the best interior" at the Moscow Architecture Competition held during the "Architecture and Design" Exhibition.
The first authors to contribute to the major sections of the exhibit included Nikita Okhotin, Leonid Litinsky, and Galina Averbukh. In 1998-2003, the material content of the exposition was renewed, but its concept remained the same. The authors of the renewed exposition were Lyudmila Vasilovskaya, Aleksandr Yermolaev, Andrei Ivanov, Yuri Samodurov, and Maria Kudyukina.
The exhibit's design and mounting were accomplished by the architects of "masterskaya-taf," headed by Aleksandr Yermolaev.
Mythology and Ideology of the USSR
The first section of the Exhibit presents a window-dressing of Soviet socialism in the form of a bright, colorful collage of photos, posters, lines from Soviet songs and slogans.
All of them advocated the Soviet way of life: subjugation of nature, friendship of nations, labor exploits, festive demonstrations, military parades, sports festivals, progress achieved in science, technology and culture, unity of the Party and the people. The purpose of the propaganda was to inspire faith in the inevitable victory of communism. The idea of building a communist society rested on man's age-old dreams of a just social order, material abundance, free and joyful labor, a world without violence, private property, exploitation, and a world without the poor (but, at the same time, without the rich). Vladimir Lenin declared: "the Russian mass public has to be presented with something extremely simple, intelligible to its comprehension. Soviets and communism are simple enough." Up to that point, the Bolshevik Party had led the Utopian project. The party enjoyed absolute power in politics, the economy and ideology. It controlled society in order to nip all doubts and deviations in the bud. As soon as the majority of citizens realized the gap between the image of propaganda's "bright future" and reality, the fall of the Soviet regime became just a matter of time.
Political Repressions in the USSR
The second section of the Exhibit deals with the history of political repressions in the USSR in the period from 1917 to the mid-1950's.
The so-called dictatorship of the proletariat in the person of the Bolshevik Party considered it inevitable to start the construction of a new society with total repression against real and potential enemies of the regime. Early on, opposition newspapers were closed, rival political parties banned, the Constituent Assembly was dismissed, and former landlords, noblemen, entrepreneurs, clergymen, army and police officers were deprived of suffrage. However, as time went by, it became clear that repressions were not a temporal measure but the very essence of the new regime. A few months after the revolution passed, a policy of enforcement was applied to peasantry (the most numerous segment of Russia's population) in the form of "prodrazverstka" (surplus appropriation system). This made civil war inevitable. The main instrument of civil war was terror - "red" and "white."
The Road Through the GULAG
For decades, the GULAG system was an ever-present fixture of the Soviet regime, "a state within a state" with its own territory, laws, population, language and economy. This section of the permanent exhibit demonstrates, once again, the horrible cost of the country's achievements between the 1930's and the 1950's: broken lives, long years of forced labor of millions of unlawfully convicted Soviet citizens.
Inspired by the book GULAG Archipelago, by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the exhibit depicts the life of a person sent to a camp - the way along the circles of the GULAG Inferno: arrest, investigation, verdict, camp, liberation and rehabilitation.
The section presents original documents, photos, camp household items (such as tableware and clothing), primitive working tools (shovel, hack, pickaxe), camp newspapers, and letters of prisoners. An individual tragic fate lies behind each document or artifact. They are the material evidence of the crimes committed by the Soviet state against its people. Broken and cracked boards, reinforcing steel, metal rods and other items on display in the exhibit magnify the unfriendly atmosphere which serves as a background for the story of human life in the camp. On the black metal wall, you see photos of persons shot in Moscow and the Moscow Region for "counter-revolutionary activities." In sliding boxes of metal shelves, you find copies of documents of the investigations of political prisoners in 1930's - 1950's. Access computer monitors to view documentation that demonstrates the "Crimes of the Soviet regime," fragments of the "Martyrs of political repressions executed in Moscow and the Moscow Region in 1918 - 1953" database, "Memoirs on GULAG and their authors," and "Monuments to victims of political repressions within the territory of the former USSR."
Resistance to Unfreedom in the USSR
This section of the exhibit presents evidence of opposition to the regime in the post-war period through the mid-1980's. Only a few dared to manifest dissatisfaction against the government openly. But hostile attitudes towards official Soviet ideology, unwillingness to collaborate with the authorities, and attempts to broaden the "permitted area" in art and culture were very common throughout society.
Upon entering the exhibit, you find photographs and documents about uprisings in the camps in 1953 - 1954. Fighting against the inhuman living conditions, convicts insisted, first and foremost, on observation of Soviet laws. Although these uprisings were brutally suppressed, they led, in the final result, to certain changes in the GULAG system. In the 1960s, a completely new form of non-violent, open opposition to the regime emerged - the dissident movement. The movement's most vibrant participants - human rights activists - called for observation of the rights and freedoms granted by the Constitution and international agreements: freedom of speech, conscience, and movement, and access to information and its distribution. Many dissidents from the Baltic Republics, Armenia and Georgia also advocated the right to national self-determination. Underground culture flourished in the period of the 1970's and 1980's. Unlike human rights campaigners, painters, musicians, authors and poets did not fight against the power of the State itself, but resisted its ideological directives in art and literature. Their aim was to reach real freedom in free creative process. All of the phenomena mentioned herein contributed to the washout of Soviet official ideology and, in the final analysis, to the fall of the regime. In 1991, the USSR disintegrated.
Andrei Sakharov: Personality and Destiny
Each section of the exhibit about Sakharov concentrates on a specific issue: "The Birth," "War and Science," "The Object", "The Choice," "Resistance," "Gorky," and "The Return." Each marks a certain "step" in his evolution.
Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov wrote in his memoirs: "In a sense, my destiny has been an exclusive one. It is not excessive modesty, but the need to be precise that makes me note that my destiny has appeared to be larger than my personality. I merely have tried to keep up with my own destiny. I am no angel, politician or prophet. Therefore, my deeds and my evolution do not result from a miracle: They are influenced by life, in particular, by people beside me … by ideas I find in books." Sakharov devoted his life to science. His discoveries in thermonuclear synthesis, cosmology, the physics of elementary particles, the predicted decay of protons and, overall, his general body of substantive work in science, outstripped his time. Sheldon Gladshow, Nobel Prize winner in physics, called Sakharov "maybe the greatest of all contemporary Soviet physicists."
- The Museum's Permanent Exhibit