“Stalin pooped here”

InstaStalinThe pinkish bud has opened,
Rushing to the pale-blue violet
And, stirred by a light breeze,
The lily of the valley has bent over the grass.

Ioseb Besarionis dze Jughashvili, age 17 (later known as Joseph Stalin)

One of the most unnerving things I learned while in Russia last summer was that Joseph Stalin’s reputation isn’t all that bad.  I expected that the propaganda, purges, and mass murders during Stalin’s reign would weigh heavily on the collective memory of Russians.  But that didn’t seem to be the case.

Just two months ago, The New York Times reported on the apparent revival of Stalin’s popularity when the city of Volgograd decided to change its name back to Stalingrad for six days each year, purportedly in honor of the Soviet soldiers who died during the Great Patriotic War (World War II):

“Polls have shown rising popularity for the former Soviet dictator, despite his responsibility for the deaths of tens of millions of his countrymen. Data from the Levada Center, a Moscow-based polling agency, showed that in 2012 only 22 percent of Russians said Stalin played a ‘negative role’ in the country’s development, down from 60 percent in 1998.”

“Russia Revives the Namesake of Uncle Joe”

Now that I live in “Uncle Joe’s” home country, I was curious to hear what Georgians had to say about him.  And, naturally, to go to his hometown and take pictures of his toilet.

Most responses to questions about Stalin here are accompanied with a wry smile.  “Yea, yea, we know… But he did take good care of Georgia while he was in power.”  A coworker explained to me that the older generations tend to perceive Stalin as a “victim of the system,” a Georgian boy who wrote poetry and sang in the church choir until he was corrupted by the “monster” Lenin.  Friends in my generation explained that in their grade schools, Stalin was presented dryly as a past leader of the Soviet Union, neither a hero nor a villain.  He is referred to as a strong and skilled leader.

On yet another workday excursion, I stepped out of our branch office in Gori to visit the Stalin Museum.  I was fascinated by this “museum of a museum,” a relic of the Soviet Era intentionally unchanged since 1979.  Nearby, visitors can visit Stalin’s childhood home, and tour his private train car.  A veritable Stalinpalooza.

Gori isn’t only a Stalin theme park.  This small city was battered by the war with Russia in 2008, and is still surrounded by rows upon rows of “temporary” IDP housing, where displaced Georgians have been living for five years with little hope of relocation.  When hardship is so ingrained in people’s live, I can understand the nostalgia for Soviet times.  Putin is a much more relevant villain these days.

P1110202 P1110205 Stalin Museum P1110303 P1110207 P1110241

As many Meghans as Stalins.  What can I say, my coworker was camera-happy.

As many Meghans as Stalins. What can I say, my coworker was camera-happy.

Stalins Home

Inside Stalin’s childhood home

"Temporary" IDP housing on the way from Tbilisi to Gori

“Temporary” IDP housing on the way from Tbilisi to Gori

14 comments

  1. I’ve studied extensively on Stalin while living in former USSR. There is no question in my mind that he was an incredibly evil man. His friend Beria and the others were just as evil. He didn’t have any love for his own family why do people think he cares about anyone else. Millions of his own innocent, intelligent people perished, including both of my grandfathers. The Russians in their entire history as a country probably done the worst thing ever by letting him to power. He died as a mad man running from one room to another. I do not envy his glory & his popularity.

  2. Wow, fascinating. I suppose as long as people are different, there’s always going to be supporters for fascism. In Mexico, you wouldn’t believe how much support there is for some of the historic dictators they’ve had there – Not because they think that person did great things but because they were a “strong leader” which is a quality that’s held in extremely high regard there.

    • Yes, I’ve heard the “strong leader” argument so many times. But often people who have experienced chaos will accept order at a very high price (loss of liberty, persecution of scapegoats, etc.).

  3. When I read the heading and then the first line of the poem, I was thinking for a moment that some poet was describing Stalin’s defecation process. Which, after I fully opened the post, turned out Stalin’s poem itself. But that was bizarre ) Great post!

  4. Honestly, I have a Russian aunt by marriage and the moment I brought up Russian politics, I was really surprised at how she actually preferred Stalin over Putin! It didn’t take long for me to realise that it’s just like many of the Arab dictators who were removed in the recent years, Putin was just doing the same thing. I was surprised when she said she would rate his government at 3/10 at best on a good day…so I guess older generations are beginning to now look at Soviet Russia with fondness now because what’s new isn’t better – if not worse.

  5. Niki

    One of those historical figures people love to hate and hate to love. Oddly enough, there’s ample reason for both. On a different note: like the new layout!

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