Candle-Lit Memories of Stalin ; While Older Georgians Recall 'Glory Days,' Young Have New Ideas

Article excerpt

Say the word "Stalin" anywhere else in the world, and the reaction is likely to be abhorrence about the ruthless Soviet leader whose regime killed at least 20 million of its own people.

But nostalgia for the glory days of the Soviet Union is growing in troubled former Soviet republics. And in Georgia, this idealized past often centers on native son, Joseph Stalin. His statues dot towns across the country, including a freshly-painted silver bust erected only two years ago north of the capital, Tbilisi.

For older Georgians especially, memories of the socialist state - when electricity was regular and goods were cheap - outweigh Stalin's history. "I consider Stalin to be the second coming of Jesus," says Omari Mazmishvili, an unshaven retired boxer in Stalin's hometown of Gori. "In his time we ate, but today there is nothing."

Yet even here, near the preserved wood-and-brick village house where Stalin was born in 1879, his name does not go unchallenged. "How can you say that? He was a monster!" retorts Anna Naskidashvili, a student.

"He was a saint," counters Mr. Mazmishvili. "If you are ruler, you must kill the opposition. They were all criminals who were killed."

"Are you sure they were all criminals?" asks Ms. Naskidashvili, who says her great-grandfather was imprisoned for 12 years by Stalin's security police.

"We need Stalin now - we need 10 Stalins," says Tsitsiho Chikhladze, an elderly housewife. "You need to pay for everything that was free. Now there is not even electricity," adds Mazmishvili. "That's why you are sitting here, when you should be in school."

A 1999 poll found that 80 percent of Georgians surveyed consider Stalin the "best and most important political leader of the 20th century. …


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