Stalin’s Museum In his Hometown
Funny that I should write a dispatch from Georgia one week after I have returned home. While travelling, I was too busy exploring and meeting all sorts of interesting people that I hardly had time to write any FB posts. But some of those experiences/stories are worth-telling. In any case, writing those posts here are my way to keep a record of my life.
Today I want to talk about the Stalin Museum in Gori, his hometown in eastern Georgia. I wanted to visit the place partly because I am reading an interesting biography of the Soviet dictator Stalin: Passenger to Revolution. Gori wasn’t very easy to get to but I was glad to have made the effort.
This museum is regarded as one of the most interesting museums in the country. Constructed in 1957, a few years of his death, it radiates more than a whiff of religious air. As I walked up the carpeted stairs to the main exhibition hall, I felt like entering a tall temple, dedicated to him.
The exhibition charts his remarkable rise from a poor shoemaker’s son to one of the most powerful men in the 20th century, detailing his childhood, his early revolutionary activities, brief mentioning of his personal lives and his friendship with Lenin. Among his birthday presents on display, quite a few of them came from the Chinese leaders.
I noticed with interest that the museum does avoid the purges and his gulags where millions of people lost their lives. It even mentions one sickening detail: the family of the executed prisoners had to pay for the cost of the bullet.
After I finished the visit, I lingered to chat with the staff in my broken Russian. I wanted to find out how people from his hometown regarded Stalin today. All thumbs went up. “Great leader!” “Hero!” They were impressed that I knew Stalin’s nickname as ‘Soso’ and his family name was ‘Jughashivili’, so much so, one woman grabbed some keys and beckoned me to follow her.
It was then that I realized that the museum has other parts, beside the main building. There is Stalin’s parental home, a humble wooden hut, which is now enshrined in a Greco-Roman style pavilion. It is usually locked. There’s also his personal railway carriage – he was afraid of flying and always travelled by train – in his personal carriage.
Later, I met a young tour guide, shepherding a bored German couple. She let the couple wander on their own and explained to me that most people in Gori still feel very proud of him, especially the older generations, some of who feel nostalgic about the good old Soviet days, but the young and educated people don’t care about him and even dislike him.
The Stalin Museum is a popular tourist attraction. Bus loads of people from all over Georgia and beyond come to visit.
I wonder most of the visitors are like me – driven by curiosity rather than admiration.