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Gori museum ready to laud Stalin again PDF Print E-mail
Sunday, 31 August 2008
by Stuart Williams*

When Russian jets started bombing the Georgian city of Gori, the director of the state Stalin museum had only one thought — saving the personal possessions of the city's most famous son.
Robert Maglakelidze found a taxi driver willing to take him to Tbilisi and hurriedly bundled the prized belongings of Josef Vissarionovich Stalin into the car.
"I was scared for the museum. On August 11, I took Stalin's personal effects in a taxi to the state museum in Tbilisi for safe keeping. I called the taxi and paid for it myself," he told AFP.
"These are things that you simply cannot replace."
Gori, which was surrounded by Russian troops for more than a week, became one of the key flashpoints in the conflict with Moscow over the breakaway region of South Ossetia.
But it was already famous as the city where in December 1878 a serf woman named Keke Dzhugashvili gave birth to a son who would become one of the most notorious leaders of the 20th century.
The name Stalin (which loosely translates as "man of steel" in Russian) was just one of many noms-de-guerre used in revolutionary activities by Dzhugashvili, a typically Georgian sounding name.
Gori's main square is still Stalin Square and main road Stalin Avenue.
A huge statue of Stalin, in an overcoat staring out over the Caucasus beyond, still stands in the square, an rarity now in the former Soviet Union.
Its inhabitants largely eulogise a man accused by historians of killing millions during the Great Terror and through a brutal collectivisation of Soviet agriculture.
The tiny wooden bungalow where he was born also still stands, no longer part of any residential area but grandly protected by a colonnaded stone covering opposite the specially-built Stalin State Museum.
The museum pays uncritical homage to the career of Stalin from the young revolutionary fighting against Tsarist rule in the Caucasus to the unchallenged dictator of the Soviet Union.
For Maglakelidze, its most prized exhibits are those with a personal link to Stalin.
His military boots, the trademark pipe, a Kremlin telephone, a used shaving brush and even a pack of cigarettes, opened by Stalin but still with 10 cigarettes inside, are all untouched.
The director showed off the inventory of items stashed away in Tbilisi and promised they will be back for the museum's reopening, planned for September 8.
The museum shut down during the conflict and was not spared the effects of war. Two of the front windows were shattered by the shockwave from a Russian bomb that landed nearby and still have not been repaired.
The corridors are unlit and the only occupants are the police. The museum, which received 28,000 visitors last year, feels ghostly empty.
The "Souvenir Salon" is shut so those wanting to buy Stalin wine (a red semi-dry), an Uncle Joe pipe or a Stalin souvenir badge will have to await the reopening.
But Maglakelidze proudly stated that looters, blamed for causing destruction elsewhere in the region, did not dare come near the museum of Stalin.
"Nothing was touched in the Stalin Museum, even though it would have been quite possible to come in through the open windows," he said.
"Of course the Russian soldiers were also here. They wanted to visit the museum. But we insisted that it was closed and we did not let them visit."
Stalin is not remembered in Gori for the Great Terror or the cruelty of collectivisation. Instead what is remembered is his role in helping the Soviet Union defeat Nazism in World War II.
"Of course we are proud of Stalin! He was a man of such talent and qualities. We need leaders like Stalin today. He had authority," said Gori resident Naski Dashvili.
"Compare him with today's leaders like (US President George W.) Bush or (Georgian President Mikheil) Saakashvili," he added.
Kocha Bzshavili, a retired soldier asked: "Why did the Russians do this to Gori? It was here that Stalin was born, without him Moscow could not have won the war!"
The hospitable and articulate Maglakelidze passionately took issue with Western and some Russian historians who believe Stalin was the prime instigator of the terror and was directly responsible for the deaths of millions.
"If a person works in a memorial museum and does not respect the person who is being remembered then they should not be working here," he said in his office, sitting beneath a picture of the young bearded Josef Dzhugashvili.
"Stalin was a great phenomenon. He was born in that tiny hovel and then rose up. He was a great strategist. He won World War II.
"I do not believe the lies about Stalin leading the repression. No one still knows what the reality was.
"We just know one thing. That without Stalin, the world would have been in the hands of Hitler. These are the real facts."
Maglakelidze said he will be ready to welcome everyone back to his museum when it reopens.
"People have always come here from all over the world. Those who love Stalin, those who hate Stalin and those who are just interested in him."


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