Monday, July 23, 2012

Joseph Stalin

As sad as this connection might be for the Georgian people, there is no coming around the fact that the man who once was known as Koba to his friends, who became known and feared as Joseph Stalin to the world, was born and raised as Ioseb Besarionis dze Jughashvili in the town of Gori. This quiet and beautiful town is situated right along the major road that leads from the Georgian Black Sea coast to the capital of Tbilisi, so today we made a stop on our way to see the human origins of this man who became a monster.

An old propaganda statue of Stalin.

Looking out over the rolling hills surrounding the town and savouring its quiet rural charm, it’s hard to imagine anything evil ever coming from here. But then, of course, the time of his youth was a very different and more violent time.

The town itself is ancient, and has over the centuries played important roles in Georgian history, so from Georgia itself the town attracts tourists who would rather like to forget the reason for the town also attracting foreigners today. During the Soviet era, a museum was built around the birthplace of Stalin — in the classical communist propaganda tradition, that cannot feel any limits or embarrassments when celebrating the proclaimed glory of their great leaders. Despite several waves of de-Stalinization and anti-communist reforms, the museum still stands and is still open to the public; today, however, there are three large banners in Georgian, Russian and English declaring that:

This museum is a typical example of Soviet propaganda and falsification of history. Throughout various stages of Soviet history, the expositions were modified or refocused, but the objective of this museum stayed unchanged — to legitimize the bloodiest regime in history.

Thomas, Fredrik and Audun studying a propaganda painting.

Just after parking the ambulance, I hear a voice behind me shouting out Svensker på reise? (Norwegian: “Swedes on journey?”): A couple from Norway, Audun from Arendal and Justyna, his girlfriend, originally from Kędzierzyn-Koźle in Poland, had just also arrived in Gori in a Lada Niva they had rented in Armenia to drive along the Caucasus. Great rejoicing in meeting fellow travellers and speaking Norwegian in this remote and exotic place. Together, we all entered the Stalin museum where an English speaking guide gave us the grand tour of this surreal and truly disturbing place.

Wine covered backyard in central Gori.

Walking out of the museum and seeing the sun-drenched old stone houses, shadowed by vines, along the dusty summer streets, lined with plane and larch trees, was one of these moments that just doesn’t make any sense. Now I’m typing this while sitting at a massive wooden table in the cool dining room of a rustic local restaurant, waiting for grilled meats, livers and potatoes. In the afternoon, I’ll take over the driver’s seat to navigate through the Tbilisi city traffic …


  1. Magnus Bäck14:38

    Judging by the photo of the Norwegian travelers and their rented Lada that you posted on Facebook, they had a Lada Niva (not Nova). The Nova is the Fiat-derived boxy sedan or station wagon while the Niva is the 4x4 jeep.

    1. Oh, you're right, of course, Niva (not Nova). I've updated the text now.