I booked an one way ticket to Georgia looking to get away from the usual summer beach holidays and explore some of the lesser known areas close to Europe. I knew very little about the country and didn't know what to expect. Not much is written about Georgia and I didn't know if that was a good thing or not.
So when I was told about this small town where Stalin was born, I'd expected it to be a small off the beaten track place with modern museum dedicated to showing the horrors of his rule. Turns out they're quite proud of the local boy who made it to the top job of the time. He's known as an outlaw hero who extorted the rich, organised labor and went on to lead Russia through the second world war. Locals have a selective memory of the ruthless ruler of communist Russia who is known infamously around the world as one of the most oppressive dictators of the 20th century. Here, they blissfully ignore the more familiar story of ruling with an iron fist filling the Gulags with anyone who dared speak out.
Here at the top of Stalin Avenue in Stalin Park is a museum different from all the others. Outside sits the house where he supposedly grew up in and to the left of the museum his famous train carriage, equipped with still functioning air conditioning, which he used to travel the length and breadth of the Soviet Union. Some say he was afraid of flying, others too paranoid to take the risk. The museum was rumored to to have been fairly blunt with it's stance on the man. However, I went with a friend, a historian who was also hoping to hear some of their over romanticized twisted version but they now steer clear of reference to anything that could incriminate him and of course nobody asked any questions when the opportunity arose.
The tour itself was factually correct and extremely precise about what they wanted to be heard. The museum boasts over 60,000 items of Stalin related artifacts from simple documents and office furniture to extravagant gifts received from foreign diplomats and even a huge iron state on the staircase leading to the second floor. But the eeriest piece of memorabilia is the death mask, which was sent all over the Soviet Union as proof of death, sitting in a special room and treated with reverence by the staff.
Overall the whole experience left it's mark, not just because of the impressive displays but also how somethings can just be brushed aside when dealing with such a serious topic. Being able to buy a Stalin snow globe along with other gift show goodies represents just how the truth can be obscured and hidden to paint a completely new picture of one of the most murderous men in history. It's worth a visit but I am weary that this kind of exhibition could become a shrine for those who admire and share his beliefs.
In this town the people have their minds made up. When the government tried to remove his statue, they did so with armed police. However, the local residents demanded it back and it is now in a nearby park.