Across Continents

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The Great Dictator

Interesting piece in today’s Independent. Suggestions that plans to revamp the Stalin museum in Gori, his Georgian birthplace, amount to revisionism. Some might say that’d be rather in keeping with the Soviet era and its fondness for brushing over the inconvenient, not that it’d be alone in doing so, far from it. I doubt if French text books major on Agincourt and we don’t exactly bang on about Amritsar. To be fair to the country’s President, to whom this initiative is attributed, the place could do with something of a revision. I’ve been there. Couple of years back, an afternoon stop en route through the Caucasus, heading for the capital Tbilisi and onwards to the Caspian.

My ticket purchased in the dark, cavernous Kafkaesque lobby, locked doors had greeted me at the top of the long marble staircase. Eventually finding an attendant to admit me, she’d followed me through the various dimly lit rooms, past the endless faded photographs, as might a shadow. I’d hoped she might open the curtains but she didn’t, perhaps a window for the air tasted stale. Stalin the favourite uncle, the family man, a likeable rogue maybe. No Gulags, no suggestions of his murderous paranoia.

Outside once more in the warm spring sunshine, I’d sat sipping coffee admiring the surprising neatness of the cottage where the dictator was supposedly born, conveniently reassembled in the museum’s grounds. Perhaps he was born there, I remember thinking, but in a dwelling that seemed no less authentic than Marie Antoinette’s model village at Versailles? I’m backing the President.

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