"It's very easy to break people's will"
July 4, 2015 10:30 PM   Subscribe

Fifteen miles from Vilnius, Lithuania, in the forest of Nemenčinė, a crumbling, underground Soviet Bunker contains Europe's most terrifying theme park: a KGB torture prison that's still operating on its visitors.
The bullfrog-guard enters and gives us our orders: we will answer only in the affirmative or negative; dissent will be punished with beatings and solitary confinement; and we will forget all thoughts other than the glory of the socialist paradise in which we now live. We stand to attention for the Soviet anthem and hoisting of the red flag, and then down we go, into the freezing-cold bunker. For three hours, we are force-marched through icy, virtually pitch-black corridors, barked at (by canine and human alike), humiliated, interrogated, forced to sign false confessions to imagined crimes, shown propaganda, and taught to prepare for a nuclear attack by the imperialist pigs.

A KGB doctor forces me to strip to the waist, in front of the other participants. "Jacket off! Shirt off! Strip to waist! Quick! Quick!" She sits me down on a stool, grabs a clump of cotton wool, douses it in alcohol, and sets it alight. This is then dropped in a glass jar and applied to my bare shoulders.

The purpose of the museum is educational. "The young people, they don't understand what it was like," Vanagaite insists... "They think they could just overpower Soviet guards. We try to show them the reality."

If you want to visit: "Tourists pay 120 LTL ($US 220) each to step back into 1984 as a temporary USSR citizen for 2.5 hours. On entry, all belongings, including money, cameras and phones, are handed over and under the watchful eye of guards and alsatians, tourists change into threadbare Soviet coats and are herded through the bunker... Before heading back into the real world, participants are treated to a shot of vodka."
posted by Harvey Kilobit (20 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
 
5 faints a show eh, I give this attraction Six Flags.
posted by clavdivs at 10:36 PM on July 4, 2015 [5 favorites]


Gulag Tourism, a 5-minute documentary film about the Soviet Bunker by Indian journalist Karan Singh.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 11:10 PM on July 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


Thanks! An ironically appropriate post for the 4th!
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 11:51 PM on July 4, 2015 [4 favorites]


Kind of insane (what crowd does this attract?), but I'm impressed.

I think it'd be cool if there were a version of this for the Cultural Revolution (though that will obviously take way more time...), since there must be some similar sentiment along the lines of "[t]he young people, they don't understand what it was like." Not saying that a two-hour visit to that reenactment would give anybody a comprehensive overview, and I'm sure that knowing in the back of your mind that you signed up for this yourself and that the whole exercise would be over in an hour or two changes things. But it probably still encourages people to reconsider certain aspects about the era.
posted by gemutlichkeit at 12:01 AM on July 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


There's a particular shade of institutional green that's used the world over, from solitary confinement cells in the old political prison on Green Island in Taiwan, the sick room of my old high school, an ex Soviet bunker in Lithuania, the waiting room of my local railway station, surgical gowns - why is this? Why this particular green?
posted by mattoxic at 1:27 AM on July 5, 2015 [14 favorites]


"They are mostly actors, but they can get stuck in that time and forget they are actors. We had to fire some of them because they were a little too hard on people."

Combine that with "all of the actors involved in the project were originally in the Soviet army and some were authentic interrogators" and you get a tragic truth: there are people out there in the world parts of which once had a place in it. People parts of whom are utterly, utterly obsolete.
posted by BiggerJ at 1:56 AM on July 5, 2015 [8 favorites]


Kind of insane (what crowd does this attract?), but I'm impressed.

Smart phone and facebook users.
posted by lilburne at 2:22 AM on July 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


An ironically appropriate post for the 4th!

Ironic because the US still operates CIA torture sites around the world but doesn't offer tours and demos?
posted by five fresh fish at 4:39 AM on July 5, 2015 [17 favorites]


Kind of insane (what crowd does this attract?), but I'm impressed.

It's really sort of amazing what you can look back on and call the good old days: "Eh, cold not so bad. Got nostalgia for cotton ball and vodka trick, though; remind me of Vladivostok in '81."
posted by Mooski at 4:50 AM on July 5, 2015 [1 favorite]




There's a particular shade of institutional green that's used the world over, from solitary confinement cells in the old political prison on Green Island in Taiwan, the sick room of my old high school, an ex Soviet bunker in Lithuania, the waiting room of my local railway station, surgical gowns - why is this? Why this particular green?

This short journal article, The colour of medicine, describes the history of institutional green in the west.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:41 AM on July 5, 2015 [13 favorites]


The engine rooms of nuclear submarines are painted seafoam green for supposedly similar reasons.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 6:50 AM on July 5, 2015 [3 favorites]


Marx and Smith never saw this form of capitalism coming.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 7:47 AM on July 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


An ironically appropriate post for the 4th!

Ironic because the US still operates CIA torture sites around the world but doesn't offer tours and demos?
posted by five fresh fish at 4:39 AM on July 5

****

That level, and my own memories of anti - Soviet propaganda. This could if it were b/w be something I was shown at school.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 7:48 AM on July 5, 2015


> I think it'd be cool if there were a version of this for the Cultural Revolution (though that will obviously take way more time...), since there must be some similar sentiment along the lines of "[t]he young people, they don't understand what it was like."

I sometimes feel this way about the Reagan presidency. And if you're old enough to be reading this now you'll probably end up feeling the same way as you try to explain GW Bush's wars.
posted by benito.strauss at 7:54 AM on July 5, 2015 [4 favorites]


"... think it'd be cool if there were a version of this for the Cultural Revolution..."

It's called it Washington D.C.
posted by clavdivs at 8:29 AM on July 5, 2015


In 1977, in the basement of a house in Austria, I experienced just one hour of training intended to prepare me for the possibility of interrogation at a Bloc-country border crossing. Two things about that stayed with me, and lead me to believe that this bunker experience could make a lasting impression on its visitors.

- I was surprised by how quickly the rest of the world disappeared and that basement room became reality, even though I knew it was a simulation.

- I now understand that there are people in the world who are able to turn on a strength of dominant authority that most of us never experience. Combine that with the right setting and a kind of authority- and intimidation-craft, and you get something that most people would find difficult or impossible to resist. Far more sense of Self and presence than I could muster as a twenty-year old.

I certainly can never blame the oppressed for "letting themselves" be oppressed.
posted by mrettig at 9:32 AM on July 5, 2015 [15 favorites]


Except for the vodka, this place sounds like IKEA.
posted by 4ster at 10:22 AM on July 5, 2015 [3 favorites]


The Bunker's founder intended not just a historical education for youngsters, but a political reminder for older conservatives:
Lithuania and its neighbouring Baltic states were forcibly incorporated into the Soviet Union in 1940. Though many people remember repression and the thousands who were sent to exile or death in Siberia, the 1970s and 1980s were also considered a time of stability.

That stability is what those nostalgic for the Soviet era remember, particularly older people, who have seen their incomes shrink and prices rocket.

"There are still many in Lithuania who have the illness of Soviet nostalgia, so we started this show to help them to recover," said producer Ruta Vanagaite.
In light of the Confederate flag controversy here in America, her remarks brought to mind Abraham Lincoln's dictum: "Whenever I hear anyone arguing for slavery, I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on him personally."
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 10:23 AM on July 5, 2015 [11 favorites]


"Men are infinitely malleable."
- O'Brien, 1984
posted by prepmonkey at 7:50 AM on July 7, 2015


« Older 🍴   |   “street-level, real-world kinds of stories.” Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments