Georgia's Stalin museum still provides the Soviet version of the dictator's biography – The Guardian
05 August, 2015
Georgia's Stalin museum still provides the Soviet version of the dictator's biography – The Guardian
The Guardian has published an article about Joseph Stalin’s museum in Gori, a small town in central Georgia and the birthplace of the Soviet dictator.Despite the fact that USSR dissolved decades ago, the museum still feeds visitors the glossed-over version of its ruler’s biography, not mentioning anything about his crimes and cruelty. The article also features locals’ and foreigners’ opinions of him. It turns out that for many visitors, Stalin’s museum is a place of pilgrimage.
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Joseph Stalin’s museum in
Gori

“Vera Shalamberidze leaned against a statue of Joseph Stalin and smiled for the photo. “Let me take another,” urged her husband, Zurab. Behind them, other Russian tourists were snapping pictures next to the cramped brick hovel in this small central Georgian town where the Soviet dictator was born in 1878.

The house is now one of the main attractions of Gori’s Stalin Museum – a place where visitors can still experience the Soviet version of his life story, without any mention of the millions of people that he killed. “Maybe he made some mistakes,” said Zurab, whose family is originally from Georgia. “But every coin has two sides and we respect him as a strong leader who created a great empire and won the Second World War.”
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Stalin's sculpture in museum

Unsurprisingly not everyone shares that view. “We looked everywhere for mention of Katyn,” says Przemek, a Polish student, referring to the Stalin-ordered massacre of 22,000 Polish officers and officials in 1940. “The guide said nothing about Stalin’s crimes,” adds Gaby Schulder, a German tourist. “It’s impossible to imagine anything like this in Germany for Hitler.”
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The hall of the museum

Historian Lasha Bakradze, who has long campaigned for an alternative exhibition about Stalinism to be built alongside the sanitised version, is unequivocal. “It is an embarrassment,” he says. Now Bakradze is advising officials as the Georgian government attempts once again to update the nearly 60-year-old museum. Past efforts to show the other side of Stalin – including his deliberate starvation of Ukraine and the great purges of the 1930s – have crumbled because of resistance from admirers of the dictator on the Gori town council.
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Stalin's office furniture

For Bakradze, the conflicting views are a sign that Georgia is still struggling to come to terms with its past – even as it seeks closer ties with the west. “We still don’t know how to deal with Stalin, or with our Soviet history,” he says.

The details of that history are stark: at least 30,000 Georgians were either executed or imprisoned during Stalin’s rule. Yet for some people the story of a poor boy from tiny Georgia who took over mighty Russia still has an intoxicating pull. “I always toast Stalin,” says farmer Giorgi Mazmishvili. “We need a strong man like him again.”
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When the previous staunchly pro-western Georgian government of President Mikheil Saakashvili removed a huge statue of the dictator from the main square in 2010, there was outrage. Pro-Stalin rallies are often accompanied by denunciations of Georgia’s EU and NATO membership hopes.

These are minority views. But amid renewed tensions with Russia – and with Vladimir Putin doing much to revive the dictator’s reputation – how people see Stalin has become a “matter of identity”, says opposition MP Giorgi Kandelaki, who was closely involved in earlier de-Stalinisation campaigns under the previous government.
geotv.ge
Photo courtesy Stalinmuseum

Bakradze goes further, arguing that the future of Georgia’s new democracy depends on educating people better about their Soviet past. “Only if we understand every aspect of totalitarianism will we develop a proper understanding of the rule of law,” he says. At the moment, schools barely touch Georgia’s Soviet history, doing little more than cover Stalin’s second world war victory over Hitler.

The Georgian government already has good material for a new exhibit on the alternative Stalin narrative – including death sentences personally signed by him for at least 3,600 Georgians. They are in old KGB files held by the interior ministry and on display in its private museum.
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Photo courtesy Stalinmuseum

Officially, these archives have been publicly available since 2011, when Georgia passed a so-called lustration law, aimed at removing Soviet sympathisers from power and opening up old records. The private museum holds plentiful examples of KGB abuses and even the desk from where Stalin’s notorious secret police chief, Lavrenty Beria, ran the purges. The goal is to “get the ugly truth out”, says Omar Tushurashvili, the archives director, a former KGB officer. “Only names are blanked out,” he says, to protect identities.

Although many documents have been published, several former government officials said some sensitive files have been held back. Among them, the sources said, are details of at least 22,000 Georgians who were reportedly working as KGB informers when the Soviet Union fell apart in 1991. The list is thought to include many priests from Georgia’s powerful Orthodox church. “We were worried about a backlash when we already had a lot to deal with,” said one past official. “Looking back now, that may have been a mistake.”
geotv.ge
Photo courtesy Stalinmuseum

Tushurashvili denied they held any files on past informers, saying they were either destroyed in a 1992 fire at the archives or taken to Russia before the Soviet collapse. But activists question why parts of the lustration law itself are still secret. He says they are planning a public museum to display material from the archives, but it is not clear when it will be ready.

Bakradze believes it is not too late for Georgia to change and open up more, pointing out that, even as it battles Russian troops in its own backyard, Ukraine is considering its own lustration law – and is looking partly at Georgia for lessons.
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In the meantime, however, thousands of tourists are likely to visit the Stalin Museum each year to see displays which have barely changed since 1979. They pay the equivalent of £3 for a guided tour of his personal armoured rail coach, a walk round one of Stalin’s death masks, and hundreds of reverential paintings and photographs chronicling his rise.

A small exhibit was added a few years ago about the gulag prison camps. But, buried under the stairs without a sign, it is barely even a token gesture. Curator Keti Akhobadze admits that for many visitors this is a place of pilgrimage. “We had a big group of Cubans here the other day and they sung the Marseillaise next to Stalin’s statue,” she says”, the article reads.

Source: The Guardian
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