Amid an ongoing exercise in national self-examination, Georgians are confronting the legacy of the country's most famous, and notorious, native son -- Joseph Stalin. A significant number of Georgians now blame Stalin's legacy for the country's present-day woes. This trend, in turn, is fueling a debate over what to do with the most tangible symbol of that legacy -- the Stalin statue in the city of Gori.
The Stalin museum is the number one tourist attraction for the city of Gori. The shrine has three sections, all located in the town's central square. It was officially dedicated to Stalin in 1957. With the downfall of the Soviet Union and independence movement of Georgia, the museum closed in 1989, but has since been reopened.
Enshrined within a Greco-Italianate pavilion is a small wooden hut, in which Stalin was born in 1878 and spent his first four years. The hut is a duplex, and Stalin's father Vissarion Jughashvili, a local shoemaker, rented the one room on the left hand side of the building and maintained a workshop in the basement.
In 1888, Stalin's father left to live in Tiflis, leaving the family without support. Rumors said he died in a drunken bar fight. Stalin and his classmates were mostly Georgian and spoke one of the seventy Caucasian languages. However, at school they were forced to use Russian. Even when speaking in Russian, their Russian teachers mocked Stalin and his classmates because of their Georgian accents. His peers were mostly the sons of affluent priests, officials, and merchants.
In recent years, Stalin's cult of personality has resurged. Millions of Russians, exasperated with the downfall of the economy and instability after the breakup of the Soviet Union, want Stalin back. A recent poll revealed that over twenty-five percent of Russians would vote for Stalin if he were still alive, and the number of people who want a leader like Stalin continues to grow.
More than half of a century has passed since Stalin's death, but struggle of opinions and views around Stalin's person have continued. The State Museum of Stalin still receives a large number of visitors every year; the phenomenon of the country's most famous son still evokes great interest and revenue for the city of Gori.
Outside the city of Gori, hundreds of small houses for Internally Displaced Persons act as a reminder for the 2008 confict. There are currently over 200,000 IDPs in rural Georgia. Loyalties remain divided, but young Georgians are hopeful that tourism and alliances with Western Europe will improve living conditions and open up new opportunities for the small country.
As for the Stalin Museum, since the aftermath of the 2008 South Ossetia war, Georgia's Minister of Culture, Nikoloz Vacheishvili, announced the museum would be reorganized into the Museum of Russian Aggression in the near future.