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Mock prison gives Latvians glimpse of Soviet-era hardships

latviaLIEPAJA, Latvia--"Face the wall and stop looking around!" a prison guard shouts at inmates in a cell at a prison inside Karosta, a military naval base in Latvia. As people line up along the dark walls covered with inscriptions etched by former inmates, one of the engravings stands out as it reads, in Russian: "I want to go home."
  But this is no longer a functioning prison and these are not real prisoners. They are instead people seeking a chilling insight into the life of Soviet servicemen at a punishment institution by being imprisoned themselves in what is thought to be the only military prison, now museum, open to the general public in Europe.
  "I don't have the most pleasant feelings if you imagine that people ... were really locked up here," Evita Kezbere, a Latvian visitor, told Reuters.
  She along with her fellow visitors served a couple of hours as mock inmates in the red-brick building of a military hospital turned prison in the attraction in Liepaja, a city on the shore of the Baltic Sea. "All the cells and all the conditions of the prison are authentic," said Andris Uzegovs, one of the people acting as a prison guard at the museum.
  He said some people like to call it a show, but he does not agree, because that would be entertainment. "This is quite a gloomy place," Uzegovs said.
  The history of Karosta military prison and the naval base, which takes up a third of the territory of Liepaja, stretches back more than a century, to when the Russian Empire was ruled by Tsar Alexander III. "An order by the Tsar (Alexander III) was issued to build a military naval base in January 1890 and Karosta was built (in Liepaja) over 16 years," Juris Rakis, a historian who works at Karosta, said.
  In the 20th century, Karosta was used as a military base by the Latvian army, Nazi Germany and the Soviets during the World War Two. More than 30,000 Soviet servicemen used the base while Latvia was part of the Soviet Union until 1991, when the country regained its independence with the breakup of the Soviet Union.
  The military jail has been open to visitors since 2002 and the voluntary imprisonment is just one of several attractions available at Karosta. People also can stay overnight in a prison cell, take excursions around the naval base and play Soviet spy games.
  "This is not intended to scare people, but to let them find out, feel history in a different way," Uzegovs said.

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