Currently reading : Experimentum crucis

Experimentum crucis

19 March 2014

Author : ivgheny-kosthin


Experimentum crucis – the decisive experience , literally “the experience of the cross”, sometimes called “critical experiment” – an experiment which outcome uniquely determines whether a particular theory or hypothesis is correct. This experiment should give a predicted result, that can’t be withdrawn from the other common hypotheses and theories.


“Experimentum cruces” was filmed in 1995 and took place on the territory of the Republic of Kazakhstan in a children colony. It was documented by a man who spent more than 10 years working at this institution. I have transcribed and translated various parts of the video below. Although the entire video has not been transcribed visually alone the film is quite outstanding and the parts dissected are of more interest.


Taras Popov (writer and director):

” …I worked in the colony from 1983 till 1995 as a psychiatrist. This position was introduced in 1983 , in connection with the anti-alcohol campaign in the Soviet Union, and increased suicidal tendencies in the institutions of this type…

…At the end of 80s the so called humanization process started. Colonies began to exchange some positive experiences. I offered our heads to buy some photo and video equipment to share our achievements. We bought a “Krasnogorsk” 16mm camera, tapes, photo cameras and slide projectors…

…We were making movies, slides and traveled to various conferences. What were we demonstrating? “Proper” events: prisoners visiting the city, working in collective farms, building of rehab areas, patronage after the release and so on. In parallel I was filming the hidden prisoner’s life: tattoos, relationships – the so-called negative colony phenomena. As for me personally, this subculture was much more interesting than soviet propaganda…


…In 1993 a friend of mine gifted me a Panasonic 9000, the videocamera with capabilities of which stunned me much. I no longer needed to sit in the darkroom for days! So with this camera the whole process started … ”

From the first frames, the viewer opens a realistic picture of life in a correctional labor colony. The everyday life of teenagers trapped behind the wire exposing in a violently natural way. Complete disregard of sanitary norms, poor nutrition, lack of control over the inner life and relationships between prisoners. Prisons staff permissiveness, which only provokes violence between inmates.

The film starts from the dialogue with the young convict, a boy who swallowed a piece of wire.


(00:20 – 1:20)

– What happened?

– Sore throat.

– Why?

– I swallowed the cross.

– How did you do it?

– At first I sharpened it from the metal wire. Then we went to the zona, i found a string. Then I took a piece of bread from dinner, the inner side (“myakushka”). I overlaid the cross with bread, shook it and swallowed. And it stuck. I hoped that it will reveal in the stomach, but it stuck. And revealed here.

– Why did you do that ?

– In the zona it was unbearable. I was tired.

There is also an another, more painless way to get to the hospital, where conditions are much better than in zona.



(31:29 – 31:51)

– You take a needle, dip it in gasoline or in something else, stick it. Stuck – pulled out – the next day the leg will swell to such an extent that you can not walk. And no suspicion that you did it yourself.

Then we can observe the arrival of new convicts, and the beginning of their lives in the perimeter, with the comments of one of the most experienced convicts in colony, serving apparently not his first term in the zona. He will perform as storyteller during the whole film.


(4:27 – 4:59)

– The stage. Youngsters. Arrive at the quarantine. The Major smiles: ” Sons, in the bath! ” Children are trooping to the bath. Some time passes: already showered in the bath they come out all dressed and sit down. So the Major walks into the room, containing all these young under quarantine, and begins his lecture. The lecture begins with these words: “Behold, Sons. We did not invite you here. You came here by yourself…

The Next usual text is already pronounced by Major himself.

(5:00 – 6:04)

– Clearly, yes, it is. Now, sons. Although, as I said, we are in colony, a children colony, yes, a pioneer camp, some say. But it’s still a camp, a colony. So we have guards: here you can see a three-meter fence, barbed wire, see, yes. Dogs running, seen it? Have you heard? Dogs running. Therefore, Sons it is securely guarded. Across the perimeter the towers stand. With a sentry. Sentry with weapons and ammunition. In the event of escape, he has the right to use his weapons to kill. First, he shouts, ” Stop! I’ll shoot! ” Then shoots up – warning shot. If you keep running, keep in mind, he shoots to kill. Well usually he shoots in leg to arrest than. Well, the bullet – fool, you know. And shoots somewhere… Brains in different directions. Because of what ? Because of escape. Do you need it?


Further, looking back at the daily life of convicts, we witness the dialogue of the youngest representatives of the colony. (10:08 – 10:42) And learn the story of one of their crimes.

For a minor theft a boy who looks less than 10 years old is requested by the prosecutor the sum of the two articles of the Criminal Code – 9 years imprisonment. 4 years finally.

He appears later , reading canonical prison prayer. (28:20 – 28:45) Due to the abundance of prison slang it is hardly translatable into other languages.


How to become a “bugor” (a prison slang interpretation of “brigadir” – the leader of the working brigade)…

( 12:15 – 12:50)

– … A man come to the zona, he lived quietly in jail and touched nobody in “hata” (cell). Six months later. For six months, he already fixes the inner life, the system is that it looks like and people’s behaviour. And he begins to gnaw the weak ones. The attention paid. And then he begins to gnaw those who are bigger. So he fills his authority. Buckler authority called…


Bugor – is primarily a function. He monitors the general discipline and controls interpersonal relationships He can help somebody even with clothes. But giving one , it takes away from the other. One who has taken away, takes the weak, and so on – that is the system. That is the way how so-called “pomoyka” (a prison slang interpretation of “scrap-heap” applied to a man) appears.

There is a saying : Who doesn’t wash – that dirty, and who is dirty – that stinks, the one that stinks – he lives on the “pyatak” (place near the public toilet in cell), and who lives on the “pyatak” – he is five minutes down “opuschenniy” (sexual humiliated)…

“Being born from our parents, from the moment of birth we desire to violate the God’s commandments and tend to sin rather than to good… ”

(16:50 – 17:05)

“Actually the whole world is evil. Evil will never disappear from the Earth, because we have received a dose of evil while still being hanged in our mother’s womb. Evil spawns only evil, good is not spawn by good.”



(36:09 – 36:31) Many prisoners who are not Christians, are baptising already in the colony.

(32:57 – 34:53) Of course, this process is simplified, and it is not a mandatory, but this process, the religious experience of the cross, is crucial for many of these young people in colony.

Speaking about the title of the film, it is also interesting to note that the tattoo in a shape of a cross stamped on the convict’s hand is a confirmation of being incarcerated.

You can watch the entire video here

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