Across Continents

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The Great Dictator

June 6th, 2012

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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Stalin’s birthplace

May 1st, 2010

Stalin

I’d made good time to Gori, birthplace of Joseph Stalin, keen to secure Emma and the kit and visit the museum dedicated to the town’s most well-known son. Decided to opt for the best hotel in town, sixty euros online or considerably less if you turn up and pay in Georgian Lari. Took a while to find, and I’d balked at paying extra for breakfast so that got thrown in for free. Worn carpets, but friendly staff and a hot shower. I’d noticed the old Intourist hotel in the centre, but I didn’t feel up to the authentic Soviet era experience.

Reaching the Stalin Museum mid-afternoon, quite a few people were wandering around the grounds, mostly Georgians, the odd German or American tourist. But, it seemed, I was the only one to venture in. The exhibition rooms had to be unlocked so I could enter. Dark and austere, the many photographs of a smiling ’Uncle Joe’ failed to raise the sobre mood within. I was tempted to take a few photos but I’d a minder close by.

Stalin house

Emerging back into the warm afternoon sun, a brief look at the house where Stalin was supposedly born, now transported into the museum’s grounds. More a shrine than a monument.

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