Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Your Hometown Will Always Love You

You could send millions to their deaths. You could engineer famines. You could set the modern standard for dictatorial brutality. And still your hometown would love you. Just ask Joe Stalin. His hometown in Georgia, aptly named “Gori”, adores the man like he could do no wrong. “He’s ours.” they say, "We have to support him.”

Any Soviet enthusiast (not sure how many there are out there) probably has Gori on his/her list of things to see. This is of course after Lenin’s tomb, Checkpoint Charlie, a functioning commune, and a Lada factory. When I heard the news that Gori had not only a Stalin museum, but that you could take a stroll down Stalin Avenue and step inside is private railway car, I said, “This I have to see.”

Gori sits roughly in the center of Georgia. It’s surrounded on all sides by hills covered in different types of vegetation. A river flows in from the mountains in the north (at least I think it’s from the north). It is like many other cities of its size around the world, except for one glaring exception: it was Stalin’s birthplace. Not too many people can be listed in the same breath as the former Soviet ruler. Unfortunately, it was bombed during the Russian-Georgian conflict last year, to which I remarked, “It’s a little late for payback, isn’t it?”

The museum is nothing short of surreal. Get caught giggling while the tour guide solemnly tells you that Stalin has been judged unfairly and you’ll be sent to the gulags. Make a comment about how fifteen years of history is magically omitted from the tour and get locked up eight stories below the earth. “In 1924, Stalin became General Secretary of the Communist Party. In 1939, he began the victorious struggle against the evil fascists.” Umm…five year plans? Purges? Anyone?

Asked why they continually neglect the negative aspects of Stalin’s infamous career, “No one has sent us any new material or books.” Fascinating stuff.

The glorious climax of the tour was a peak at how the man himself travelled the vast expanse of the Soviet Union. It was modest, in a word. Surprisingly modest. I suppose that doesn’t come as a surprise given the fact that he worked out of a cave-like room.

Josef Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili. A symbol of Soviet modesty. Well, except for all the statues and never-ending, voracious applauses to his speeches.