Joseph Stalin & Georgia
Few people’s historical legacy is simultaneously greater and more uncertain than that of Iosif Jughashvili, the Gori cobbler’s son who went on to rule the largest country on earth for a quarter of a century. Few would question his achievements: were it not for the Soviet role in WWII, Nazi Germany would probably have won, and in the space of a decade he turned the Soviet Union
from a peasant economy into a vast industrial powerhouse – ‘taking it with the plough and leaving it with nuclear weapons’, as Churchill observed.
Yet the suffering of millions cannot be forgotten. Stalin’s Gulags were responsible for the deaths of many millions, and his ruthless Cheka and NKVD (both secret police) terrorised the population from the late 1920s until Stalin’s death in 1953. Nor did Stalin’s Georgian origins translate into mercy for his own people – the purges in Tbilisi left mass graves in what is now
the bourgeois suburb of Vake.
In a country that is still recovering from post-Soviet chaos, and where many still do not reap much material benefit from capitalism, it’s perhaps not surprising that some still say they would like to see another Stalin in charge. While they don’t seem blind to his faults, people simply prefer to focus on his achievements and the fact that here was a Georgian who, for better or worse, ruled a great power and was one of the key figures of 20th-century history. Portraits, busts and statues of Stalin can be found in all corners of Georgia, and while few are new or even in good condition, there is no sign of them disappearing yet.