Stalin & Georgia

Few would question the achievements of Iosif Jughashvili, the Gori cobbler’s son who rose to rule the largest country on earth for a quarter of a century: were it not for the Soviet role in WWII, Nazi Germany may well have won, and in the space of a decade Stalin turned the USSR from a peasant economy into an industrial powerhouse – ‘taking it with the plough and leaving it with nuclear weapons’, as Churchill observed.

Yet Stalin’s Gulag camps were responsible for the deaths of many millions, he is blamed for the 1932 Ukraine famine in which an estimated seven million died, and his ruthless secret police terrorised the Soviet population from the late 1920s until his death in 1953.

Stalin is still respected by some Georgians. When the government finally decided to remove the large Stalin statue from Gori’s central square in 2010, they did it at night, with police sealing off the square. Yet any admiration for the man seems to be more a matter of pride in a local lad who rose to rule Russia – and a nostalgia for the days when the Soviet Union was a great power – than any thumbs-up for his murderous policies. Meanwhile Gori has reason to thank Stalin for the daily stream of tourists he brings to the town. Gori's souvenir shops now sell Stalin mugs, Stalin hipflasks and Stalin paperweights, and tourists pose for selfies before a small Stalin statue outside the museum. It's as if, with the passing of the decades, people are losing the memory of the horrors he perpetrated, and the leader of world communism has become just another capitalist commodity to be marketed to a pliable public.