Staunton, March 28 – The sad fate of company towns in Russia where the closure of the industry around which they were formed closes down, but there is a special category of these settlements that has so far received less attention: towns built up around prisons or penal camps that are at risk of disappearing if their main “industry” goes away.
That may be about to change thanks to a Dozhd television broadcast last week about the situation in Sos’va, a small settlement in the Urals where former prisoners and their former guards staged a demonstration opposing the closure of the prison camp there, something that would mean the death of the town (snob.ru/selected/entry/90066).
Some 200 people took part, making this “save the prison” effort the largest demonstration in the settlement over the last decade perhaps because it was organized by local business people who will lose out if the camp closes down. One of the protesters openly acknowledged he’d been inside as a prisoner long ago because of “stupidity.”
Sos’va with a population of a little more than 7,000 is located some 450 kilometers north of Yekaterinburg and exists because of two strict regime camps and a third for prisoners suffering from tuberculosis. The only other industry, a wood processing plant, went bankrupt some time ago.
Rumors that one or more of the camps will be closed have been circulating for some time, although officials say that no decision has been taken because no one is quite sure where the remaining prisoners would be sent. But because almost all Sos’va’s residents are linked to the camps as employees or former inmates, they are very concerned about a possible shut down.
Russian penal officials say that they are indeed closing many camps far from the main cities as part of an efficiency drive. Dozens have been shut down already, and both the inmates and the guards have been taken care of. People don’t need to worry. If things were as bad as the media say, why has there been so little protest?
But now that there has been a demonstration in Sos’va, that too many change with residents of other such settlements deciding that they have no choice but to go into the streets to try to protect what little they have in what many Russians still call “the big zone” outside of the camps by insisting that the state maintain “the little zone” of them.