National Geographic : 1990 Mar
Perm 55 revisited "The longer I look, the more the colors strike me," says Natan Sharansky, examin ing photographs for this article at his home in Israel with his wife, Avital. The for mer dissident was released from Perm 35 in 1986. "This was a world I could only see-and still only see-in black and white." A prisonerfor nine years, three at Perm 35, Sharansky spent long periods in solitary confinement for his resis tance and hunger strikes. "Justlook at that bench!" he says, pointing to the photo of the shizo (page 43). "In my time there was just a piece of wood to put the bread on. Had there been the bench, I could have lain down. We weren't allowed to lie on the floor." His fellow inmates were the most diverse imaginable, he says. "Their lowest common denominator was hatred of the KGB. Through that we were able to bridge the gap of our antagonisms." Such pictures prompt strong feelings, he says. But an emotional reaction would be a mistake. "Ifyou look more coldly at these photo graphs, you can see the old mechanisms at work at the heart of perestroika. They could close down Perm 35 today, but no democratic institution exists to prevent its reopening tomorrow." Last Days of the Gulag?