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21.05.2000 | I.Stashinskas, Union of aiding the incarcerated, Lithuania

Do we still have the Gulag?

   

Solzhenitsyn listed three features characteristic of the Gulag in contrast to other prison systems. The first feature is that the prison personnel is prepared in militia schools, whereas in the normal prison it is social officers who do the work. The second feature is that prison guard consists of the military. The third feature is that Gulag incorporates preliminary prisons for those who are still awaiting their verdict, whereas a normal prison must contain only those who were arrested in the courtroom after the verdict was declared. We have the system meeting all these features. In the pre-war Lithuania the prison system was governed by the Ministry of Justice. When our independence was gained in 1991, one of the first demands was to transfer the prison system back to the Ministry of Justice. During 40 years of the occupation our old traditions and laws are still alive in our memory. Nonetheless, we have not yet transferred from the Ministry of Interior. I believe that this is due to the fact that certain bureaucrats are afraid to loose their ranks and privileges. However, maybe such a transfer will at last be made this summer.

At present Lithuania has 14 thousand of the incarcerated, i.e. 325 incarcerated for 100 thousand population. In all the Scandinavian countries rolled together the number of the incarcerated is less. This fact testifies of some abnormality.

What can NGOs do to change the situation? Some of them go in for charity, distribution of food rations, of clothing, but this solves only a small part of the problems. We understand that out prisons now are opened for NGOs. Unfortunately, some visitors come to prisons as tourists. There are few organizations that understand prison problems.

Our organization has existed since 1991. We try our best to affect the situation in prisons. We publish a magazine, a quarterly, and distribute it among politicians, newsmen, MPs, and so forth. One issue was devoted to the death penalty. The chairman of one of parliamentary committees handed this magazine to all members of the committee before discussing the death penalty. We also published a newspaper for the incarcerated during four years, but we had to terminate it because of financial difficulties. We managed to introduce our representative into the commission of mercy at the President’s administration and we try to influence decisions of this commission.

Unfortunately, we are unable to solve certain important problems, for example, such as preparation of the law draft: it demands very high qualification.

Something has been changed in our prison system: public telephones and TV sets appeared, it is permitted to receive more parcels and wear civil clothing. Nonetheless, the incarcerated regard all these changes as make-up, which does not change the essence of the things.

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