The 9th of March of 1956 in Tbilisi
16 June, 2011
The 9th of March of 1956 in Tbilisi

In the morning of the 9th of March of 1956, following Khrushchev’s orders, the Soviet Army suggested an extremely cruel handling of demonstrators, drowning people in blood-bath. Tens, even hundreds of people perished that day in Tbilisi. Professor Simon Maskharashvili has more.

GJ – The 1950’s is a very significant period in the 70-year existence of the Soviet Union. Stalin’s death was followed by tremendous changes in the Soviet cadre, which was seriously reflected on the political life of the entire

country. How was Georgia affected by that change?

SM – Georgia was part of the Soviet Union, and naturally, the same processes were taking place here as in the rest of whole country – the USSR. The period of Khrushchev’s rule is described as a ‘Thaw’ by historians. As they put it, a thaw had set in. Why so? At this stage of Soviet history the reevaluation of everything old took place, and that was the process of rehabilitation of the people  purged by Stalin, which was started by Beria and continued in Khrushchev’s time; Stalin was disparaged, his political activity was condemned and his personality cult was severely criticized; the relations with the West became closer and warmer; Khrushchev traveled to Britain and America; the Soviet citizens were given right to travel abroad; in 1958 the Soviet soccer team was allowed to participate in the world championship, and in 1960’s they took part in the European championship. This all meant that the Soviet culture and sport became part of the cultural and sporting life of the rest of the world. The exchange of information – to a certain extent of course – between the Soviet Union and the West took place, and contacts between them were strengthened too. The Iron Curtain, pulled by Stalin was raised at least slightly. On top of all that, the alternative (other than Soviet) music and arts came in. Although Khrushchev never recognized and vehemently belittled and disparaged the Western art and culture, the artists were not arrested and they were not deprived of their chance to work. Writing humorous stories or making movies in which a communist party functionary used to be made fun of was no longer prohibited although the wrapping of the story had to be done accordingly, otherwise it would have been difficult to get away with it. For example, if you read attentively into the stories and novels by Nodar Dumbadze, the famous Georgian author, you can find in them plenty of mockery over the Soviet way of life. Those stories were far from the laudation of the life in the Soviet farms (the Kolkhoz). Those were the stories masterfully describing the life of plain people in Georgia’s villages without any exaggeration and embellishment – just the way it truly was there.

GJ – But in 1956, there took place the events which had once again corroborated the cruelty of the Soviet regime and perpetuated the notion that the Soviet power would never put up with any impairment of Soviet imperial system in any way.

SM – For Georgia, the year of 1956 was a real turning point, a crucial moment so to speak. In the years between 1953 (Stalin’s death) and 1956 (Stalin’s denunciation) the Georgian society was at a loss – they had no idea what exactly was happening in reality.

GJ – What do you mean by saying that?

SM – Two Georgians occupied the highest two positions in the Soviet hierarchy – Stalin and Beria, Stalin’s name was identified with the world power. This was a big name. Beria was also a world-wide authority and a very significant figure within the Soviet reality. In the duration of three months one of these two giants died and the other was killed. In 1956, the fact of trashing out Stalin’s cult of personality was taken as a personal offence by the Georgians. Because Stalin was recognized as a world leader and a great person, the Georgians reconciled with atrocious facts like the execution of their fathers and grandfathers. They forgot those dreadful purges inflicted on them and their relatives by the Stalinist government. Now, if that was just Stalin’s cult and nothing else . . . In a word, Khrushchev’s statement about Stalin’s cult of personality was followed by rallies and manifestation in Georgia. The rebels were asking for Khrushchev’s resignation. In the morning of the 9th of March of 1956, following Khrushchev’s orders, the Soviet Army suggested an extremely cruel handling of demonstrators, drowning people in blood-bath. Tens, even hundreds of people perished that day in Tbilisi. (Continued in the next article on the same page)

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