Review: Drawings from the Gulag by Danzig Baldaev (The Dabbler)

Drawings from the Gulag begins unexpectedly, with a headshot of a proud homo-sovieticus from one of the USSR’s eastern minorities. Wearing thick soviet spectacles and a soviet suit, and with impeccable posture, this man gazes at you, the reader, with firm resolve. Here is a stalwart Comrade-of-the-Month, whose portrait would be placed at the entrance to a massive factory complex in some industrial soviet city. Forget bonuses and a salary raise — true glory was to be found in constructing the socialist future.

The man is Danzig Baldaev, and to his colleagues he really did appear to be a loyal soviet citizen. Born in 1925, he worked for decades in the soviet prison service- no place for the squeamish, that’s for certain. And yet flip to the first illustration in the book, a drawing of a crowd of proud revolutionaries titled ‘Inception of the Gulag’ and in the top right hand corner there is an inscription that reads: ‘Dedicated to the 70th anniversary of the giant of Russian literature, A.I. Solzhenitsyn.  11th November 1988’. A strange thing for a career penal officer to write, no?

Gorbushka- Moscow's One Stop Shop For Firearms And Pirate CDs (Sabotage Times)

My favourite record shop was not a shop, but a once illegal open-air market in Moscow, Russia that went by the name ‘Gorbushka’.

Legend has it that in the early 90s you could buy just about anything at Gorbushka- guns, ammo, possibly even a small nuclear device. Its main business however had always been pirate CDs, tapes and computer software. Scruffy types would set up their stalls along the park’s tree lined avenue every weekend, and the entertainment hungry denizens of the city would descend. Cops would wander about, pausing only to collect payments from the stallholders, or maybe buy a CD. The market was completely illegal, and completely in the open – like all business in Russia at the time.