Joseph Stalin

Stalin’s Cult in Georgia

Davit Batashvili

Since October 2012, Georgia has witnessed an unwelcome revival of a long-forgotten phenomenon – the installation of statues to Stalin. First, a Stalin statue was erected in the village of Zemo Alvani in November, then, in December, the same thing happened in the village of Akura. Whilst on 1 September 2013, a statue of Stalin was erected in the city of Telavi. Representatives of Telavi municipality promised shortly thereafter that the statue would be dismantled, however, at the time of writing (mid-October), it has not yet delivered on that promise and it is unclear whether this will happen at all. In total, Stalin's statues can now be found, in addition to Telavi, in the villages of Akura, Vanta, Zemo Alvani, Kiketi and Tsinandali. There is also a plan to re-erect the Stalin statue in Gori in the grounds of the Stalin museum.

Meanwhile, the attitude of the Georgian government towards the cult of Stalin is unclear. This confusion has been manifested in many ways. In April 2012, the Ministry of Culture of Georgia announced its project about transforming the Gori Stalin museum into a museum of Stalinism. Had that project materialized, it would have meant transforming the museum from a remnant of the cult of Stalin into a historical museum dedicated to Stalinism as a phenomenon and the repressions carried out as a result of that phenomenon. However, talks about that project have long since stopped. At the same time, the presidential candidate of the ruling Georgian Dream coalition, Giorgi Margvelashvili, thinks that "in future, Stalin will be perceived as a brilliant politician and a great commander-in-chief." The reality shows that the government is not against Stalin monuments being erected in Georgia.

Seeing a Stalin statue in Georgia is just like seeing a Hitler statue in Poland. Hitler created a totalitarian empire for Germany at the same time as Stalin was doing the same for Russia. In the process of creating that empire, Hitler (with the help of Stalin) destroyed the Polish state in 1939, whilst Stalin, along with his Bolshevik colleagues, destroyed the Georgian state in 1921.

Russia's population has claims against Stalin and the other Bolsheviks for establishing a regime which ran counter to human nature, which killed and tortured millions of people. Georgia shares these claims, but has the additional charge that the Bolsheviks, including Stalin, deprived the country of its independence in 1921 and thereafter subjected the country to a 70-year-long occupation.

Attitudes towards the fact that Stalin was Georgian can only be twofold: either no special importance should be attached to that fact because Stalin identified himself with Russia, not Georgia, and hence his origin does not matter at all; or, if Stalin is still viewed as Georgian, he must be regarded as our shame – the creator and leader of one of the most inhumane regimes in history; the one who betrayed his homeland and killed its independence.

Consequently, Stalin's legacy is absolutely unacceptable from the standpoint of both universal human values and Georgian patriotism. Logically, having Stalin statues in Georgia should be something totally unacceptable for every person of any attitude, save for neo-Bolsheviks. This is something on which everyone must agree – be they rightist or leftist liberals, religious conservatives, nationalists or social democrats. Considering the incontestable, well known historical facts, the worship of Stalin is clear madness. This is true for any part of the world, but for Georgia it is utter insanity.

However, the events of late – the installment of Stalin statues, and, in general, the existing remnants of his cult – show that this madness is commonplace in our country. Why is this so?

The opening of the Stalin statue in the village of Akura. 2012. Photo: Reuters
One reason, perhaps, is that the Bolsheviks did a "good" job. Wherever the Bolsheviks seized power, they instantly carried out a systemic purge of honest, socially active, gifted and courageous people. Such members of society were physically exterminated, most of them were executed and the rest were sent to the gulags. From the late 1950s to the mid-1980s, the Bolshevik regime also continued the systemic removal of such individuals that appeared in subsequent generations – sending some to prisons, as in case of Georgian dissident Merab Kostava, or to mental clinics, as with Russian dissident Vladimir Bukovsky. The most "humane" treatment of those people who disapproved of communism was depriving them of any chance of career promotion.

To replace the natural elite which they destroyed in the 1920s and 1930s, the Bolsheviks "nurtured" a pseudo-elite that developed absolutely different qualities, characterized by a lack of principles and a longing for personal gain. These qualities nudged them to put themselves in the service of the totalitarian regime. We are well familiar with this social category of the so-called red intelligentsia. It was this very pseudo-elite that formed public opinion after the 1930s and their influence proved to be lasting. Georgian society is not yet free from the influence of such individuals, especially considering that a large segment of people formed their values before the mid-1980s and have not appreciably changed them since then. That is why we now have the reality that we have. Against this backdrop, it is no surprise that statues of Stalin and the Stalin cult, in general, are acceptable for some people in Georgia.

Another reason must be the lack, as yet, of a fully formed state identity in Georgia. The impression is that not only can we still not believe that we have an independent state, but also that we cannot yet truly comprehend that whatever contributes to the welfare and security of our country and ourselves is good, whereas something which harms such things is bad; or that those historical figures who totally destroyed this welfare and security can have no relation to anything positive.

The installation of Stalin statues and the existence of his cult may be explained by the reasons cited above, but cannot be justified by them. Stalinism in Georgia is an extremely shameful and unacceptable phenomenon. One facet of this issue is how foreigners view the installment of Stalin statues, especially those countries which have positive attitudes towards Georgia. In the eyes of Poles, Estonians, Latvians, Lithuanians or Finns, Stalin and the worship of his personality is associated with the enemy that either destroyed or tried to destroy their freedom. Until now, many people in these countries viewed Georgia as a country fighting for freedom and thereby sympathized with us. With the installation of statues to Stalin, this positive image of our country will suffer.

However, way more important than that is what the remnants of the Stalin cult mean to us, the citizens of Georgia. Stalin's statue is not just a monument. It is a symbol against the freedom and independence of Georgia. Stalin statues offend our country and the memory of those people who fought for Georgia's independence (and against Stalin) in the 1920s.

Apart from all that, the erection of Stalin statues goes against a Georgian law – the Liberty Charter – which obliges the state to scrap Soviet and Nazi symbols, including statues.

It is a fact that the installment of new Stalin statues has started under the rule of the Georgian Dream. Any government of Georgia is obliged, both morally and legally, to fight against this development.

evertheless, as yet, the government acts in such a manner as to suggest that it has nothing against these manifestations of the Stalin cult.


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