In a country, there is a city, where there is a museum, and there is a statue on the museum grounds. The statue and museum are dedicated to a man who was born in the city. This man might be a hero to some, yet a villain to others. The country is Georgia, a former Soviet republic located in the Caucasus region between Eastern Europe and West Asia. The city is Gori, a city mid-east located 86 kilometers west of the capital Tbilisi. The museum is located in the city’s central square and consists of three parts: the museum which is modeled as if it’s a shrine to the man; the childhood house of the man, which everything in the complex is built around; and the man’s personal railway carriage. The man is Joseph Stalin.
I will assume that at this point, you know who Joseph Stalin is. If you don’t, then quickly search Joseph Stalin, pause here, then come back. As I said above, whether Stalin is viewed as a hero or a villain in the course of history depends on perspective. One thing’s for sure is that the people of Gori value him enough to create a museum and statue dedicated to Stalin. It is said that the museum was dedicated to Stalin in 1957, but was closed for a while due to the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the independence movement of Georgia. In 1989, it’s said that the museum reopened and become a tourist attraction.
The statue itself has quite a different and more complex story. Before the statue on the museum grounds, there was a six-meter bronze statue of Stalin in front of the Gori city hall that was erected in 1952. This statue was removed in 2010 by the administration. The removal was said to be a way for Georgia to cut ties to its communist past but drew controversy from the older generation of Georgians whom Stalin is a source of pride as he is a local boy who went on to achieve great heights, even with the sinister notes of his deeds. The statue in front of the City Hall is then replaced with another statue commemorating the 2008 Russia-Georgia war victims. A new statue was then erected on the museum ground.
The existence of this statue and museum to me was revealed when I was watching The Grand Tour Season 3 Episode 11, “Sea to Unsalty Sea”. In the program, a conversation occurred between Jeremy Clarkson and James May:
JC: “The man who beat Hitler is from your town, so obviously, as they have done, you put up a statue to him. But then it turns out that he’s an even bigger mass murderer, so do you take it down?”
JM: “It’s tricky, that one. It’s very tricky… This is sort of (a) pivotal bit of 20th-century history, it affected the whole world.”
JC: “This whole town, it’s a big dilemma.”
JM: “Do you know what it’s like? It’s like someone who has an old piece of furniture that they don’t really like, but they can’t throw it away because it was their grandma’s.”
JC: “There’s no question that they shouldn’t have a statue.”
JM: “Of course you shouldn’t.”
JC: “I mean I can’t remember the town in Austria, not Germany, where Hitler was born, but I bet they haven’t got a statue of him…”
A second, or maybe third, viewing of this particular episode got me thinking about statues and/or busts of controversial historical figures all over the world. We might have known about the multiple statues of various figures that were toppled during the global Black Lives Matter protest, especially those who were slave traders or were active in creating the structural and perpetual racist society that we live in until this day. Now I am not articulate on the topic of decolonization or identity and class politics, but how do you tackle the issue of Stalin’s statue? Quick research showed that some statues of him are already torn down, but some still stand.
So how, if it were up to us, should the statues of Stalin be addressed? On one hand, without Stalin eventually joining the Allied Forces and the success of countering Operation Barbarossa, the world might be a very different place. On the other hand, all the gulags, purges, and other crimes amassing about 20 million victims makes Stalin a dark and cruel figure of history. How do we “judge” such a man?
Thank you for reading, trust no one, and see you in the next post.