Russian labor camp memorial group faces heavy pressure

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MOSCOW (AP) — A Russian organization that restored a Soviet-era forced-labor camp as a memorial for the victims of political repression said Friday it is facing legal action aimed at pressuring it to fold.

Viktor Shmyrov, director of the Perm-36 association, said his organization will next week face a 1.5 million ruble ($30,000) lawsuit filed by authorities in the Perm region. The case is related to a dispute over the premises of the former Perm-36 camp, which has been wrested away from Shmyrov's organization.

"This is a way to pressure us and destroy us," he told The Associated Press by telephone.

A surge in state-sanctioned patriotism in Russia has been paired with an official effort to downplay any unsavory passages of Russia's recent past. Positive attitudes toward the Soviet Union's former repressive communist regime, and Soviet dictator Josef Stalin in particular, have increased under President Vladimir Putin's rule.

Historians say Soviet authorities sent about 15 million people to forced-labor camps, known as Gulags, between the 1930s and the 1950s.

Shmyrov said volunteers took over the derelict premises of Perm-36 in 2009 and turned it into a museum that drew visitors from all over the world. The camp, which was built on top of a swamp in the village of Kuchino — 1,500 kilometers (930 miles) east of Moscow — released its last prisoner only in 1988. The Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.

The museum was the only one of its kind in Russia until it was forced to close earlier this year after years of pressure from the authorities.

Perm-36 was restored with funds from private international donors, making it a particular target for Putin's government.

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