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Stalin Back in Style In His Hometown of Gori
I visited the Stalin sites in Gori's main square 12 years ago and can't help but wonder if this recent move is an ill-conceived scheme to attract tourists, an effort to embarrass President Mikheil Saakashvili, whose party was defeated by a coalition that, according to the Times, "promised to restore monuments to Stalin in Gori and other cities," or simply a move to honor Stalin.
"There is nothing in Gori, nothing!" she said.
But I wanted to see the Stalin birthplace and museum, so off I went, early one morning in a battered minivan with a shattered windshield and about three or four too many passengers. Walking around the forlorn town, I felt like I'd stepped back in time about 100 years. Peasants in heavy, homemade-looking woolen outfits lined the streets, selling produce and household items, like Barf brand detergent, made in Iran and other developing world backwaters, on top of cardboard boxes and from the trunks of dilapidated old cars.
The sidewalks were so deeply cracked that one could easily break a leg if they weren't paying close attention. The stench of poverty and despair filled the dark streets and I couldn't help but conclude that Stalin, born Joseph Vissarionovich, the son of a cobbler, couldn't be blamed for abandoning the place as a young revolutionary.
All I had to do was say "Stalin?" and people knew to direct me toward his humble boyhood home, which was venerated with a huge, columned building around it to make it look more grand after his death. There were five women huddled in the cold around an inadequate little space heater at the adjacent Stalin museum. One of them walked me around the pitch-dark place, turning on and off the lights above each exhibit as we strolled through. There was little of interest, save for an old pair of Stalin's boots and other memorabilia, especially for an English speaker.
After the impromptu tour, one of her colleagues offered me a selection of souvenirs – a book of Stalin's awful poetry, a Stalin keychain and some postcards.
As we walked out to check out his elaborate train car, I asked her what she thought of Stalin and an unpleasant expression, half-disgusted, half-exhausted came over her face.
"I don't have to tell you that," she said.
"Yes, of course you don't," I said. "I was just curious."
"My opinion about Stalin is private," she said, cutting me off.
[Photo credit: Dave Seminara, Giladr and Rapidtravelchai on Flickr]