A small crowd of frail, elderly Georgians bearing red banners and wreaths gathered on Tuesday in front of Joseph Stalin’s childhood home in the town of Gori to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Soviet leader’s death.
“Comrades, we have gathered here to remember the great leader,” said Alexandre Lursmanashvili, the chairperson of Gori’s tiny Community Party, as he stood in front of the Stalin museum. With their hair blowing in the wind, elderly men and women swaddled in winter coats listened and applauded solemnly.
“Don’t film just the old people. Film the young as well,” some instructed reporters, pointing at a younger woman with a red flag. After some photo-opp'ing, the crowd walked to a nearby church to attend a memorial service for the city’s most famous son.
A recent study commissioned by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace has shown that Stalin is still very popular in his native Georgia, though diehard admirers like members of the small Communist Party are few in number. The study, which includes surveys of respondents in Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia, showed that a startling 45 percent of an unspecified number of Georgian respondents still view the Great Terror's architect positively. Unlike for other ex-Soviet spots, though, in Georgia Stalin is more of a national brand than just a USSR leader and a victor of World War II.
“He made us famous,” commented one elderly woman in Gori to EurasiaNet.org. “He was born here, in our town, he built a great, beautiful country and then he saved the world from Nazi Germany. Did any other Georgian do anything that even comes near to that?”
Young people strolling in the park, watched the gathering from a distance and with a smile. “He was a great man, they say,” one youth said timidly. “Our grandparents are so in love with him that he must have done something good.”
The millions who perished in labor camps? Collateral damage, say the commemorators, adding that achieving national prosperity comes at a price.
Proud as many Georgians may be of the dictator they produced, the majority of them say that today they wouldn’t want to live a in country ruled by someone like Stalin.