I love Georgia, and was pleased to get off the train and speed toward Tbilisi, its fascinating capital. We were only stopping there for an hour to meet friends, pick up their daughter and three of her friends and head off to Svaneti, a distant and remote part of the country that we were looking forward to exploring. So after a reviving cappuccino in the city we headed west first to Gori, some 65kms from the city.
Stalin might not be everyone’s choice for the focus of a museum, but Gori, in central Georgia, was his home.
When the young Josep Jugashvili grew up in Gori in the late 19th century it was a brutal place. Simon Sebag Montifiore’s fascinating book “Young Stalin” tells of a local tradition where on an annual basis the men of the town all went out for a sanctioned street brawl. There were boy’s events too, and one can only wonder at the organisation and potential rankings. These brawls, however, were part of life, and as history tells, Stalin lost little of his love for violence.
I have visited the Stalin Museum before, and confess to a macabre interest in the giant, mausoleum-like building housing a significant trove of interesting images and other material. He is certainly, at least to a significant few in Gori a “local boy made good”, and although the rest of the world may feel somewhat differently, the museum stands. Certainly my friends in Tbilisi would rather that we didn’t go, but I feel that as despicable as he most certainly was, the museum is important.
The souvenir shop, however, was completely over the top; even by my liberal standards. Ash trays, cigarette lighters fashioned as three bullets, Uncle Joe pipes and even bottles of Stalin labelled red wine and champagne. Stalin champagne? The woman serving at the kiosk told me that she had never sampled the bubbly, but the red wine, which she and her colleagues had apparently tasted the day previously, had, she said “a wery nice flavour”. One can only wonder.
So after an interesting hour or so, we stepped back into the cleansing sunshine and headed off to the mountains.