Cuttino's Georgian Life

A journal of my Peace Corps service in the Republic of Georgia, 2006-2008.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Stalin's Big Day

Nothing starts off the holidays here in Gori quite like Stalin's birthday. Every year on the 21st of December, nostalgic pensioners gather in front of the Stalin birthplace to hold speeches, wave flags and banners, and reminisce about the "good ol' days" of the U.S.S.R. My friends and I went to see the festivities. Despite the snow, some 50 people (a few were members of the Communist Party of Georgia--yes, it still exists) were milling around in front of the museum. It was quite possible that we Volunteers were the only ones there under the age of 60. Despite the fact that for most of these people's lives our two countries were enemies, the response to our presence ranged from curiosity to benign indifference.

I'm sure it seems strange to an American that Stalin would still be held in such regard, and I realize that so far I have written very little about the "Stalin cult" here in Gori and, to a lesser degree, in all of Georgia.

We all know what Stalin did while in power. Many Georgians here in Gori recognize that, though some either deny it or play it down ("He really didn't kill that many people...the capitalists are making it up...."). Its also important to realize what was accomplished during Stalin's time--the U.S.S.R. was taken from an underdeveloped cluster of nations to an industrial power rivalling that of the United States. They beat Hitler and got the bomb. So, for a lot of people, Stalin has come to represent what was once great about Georgia.

Here in Gori, of course, Stalin is alive and well. We have Stalin Street, Stalin Park, five statues of Stalin, the Stalin Museum and Birthplace... Gori's floundering tourism industry is just starting to understand the kitchy goldmine they're sitting on. Already, the Stalin Museum's admissions price has been raised to an outrageous 15 lari (about 8 dollars) and the giftshop sells Stalin busts and mugs. I'm holding out for Stalin tshirts.

Of course, Stalin continues to come up in everyday conversation here. At the supra table, we inevitably drink to his memory. How do I deal with it? Whenever it comes up, I always invoke the Big Three--a toast to Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin. Its always a winning toast and one that always gets an approving nod from the nostalgic pensioners.


  • At 1:50 PM, Blogger Matt said…

    A few years ago, admission to the Stalin museum was only about 4 lari... and, there was no electicity that day, and Stalin's "death mask" was illuminated by an OLD woman with a lit match!


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