I woke up angry today, in honor of the type of day I had planned. I brushed my teeth, but didn’t shave. I kept breakfast light, so that stomach irritability would not be a factor. I was going to the Stalin Museum in Gori.
I’m joking… I wasn’t angry. I didn’t even yell at the cabbie who tried to take us for twice what it costs to get there and back. We got that part straightened out pretty quickly (I’d been in Georgia a few days already and had a pretty good sense for what that trip should cost), and we were soon out in the cold Georgian countryside.
The trip to Gori out east is about an hour or so, and halfway there you pass a huge enclosed compound on the north side of the highway. Row after row of exactly identical buildings – little more than huts – are aligned in military fashion, creating a sort of town. There are thousands of these buildings out there. I pointed toward them and asked, because curiosity is one of those things I succumb to, more often that not. “Refugees from the 2008 war with Russia,” came the reply. The actual term defining the status of these people is that of “Internally-Displaced People”, or IDPs, but the driver’s vocabulary allotted for no Russian equivalent.
We got to Gori in good time. We exited the cab directly in front of Stalin’s childhood home, the driver promising to wait in order to drive us back to the big town. We didn’t think that was necessary, considering how he already wasn’t exactly making a fortune off of us, but he merely parked, shut his car off and there was nothing else to say.
It is difficult to describe the condition of the Stalin Museum. The entirety consists of three parts: the home, the train and the museum building. Of the three, the train seems most well-kept, but even it is old and worn-looking. The house – where wee Joseph Vissarionovich was born and raised – is on its last legs. There was an exterior construct built over it at some point, in order to keep the worst of the elements off of the tired façade. The museum building is something out of a haunted house movie, replete with frayed and faded red carpet welcoming the guests.
The theme of the museum is of the former Soviet Premiere, as one might have already guessed. What is interesting is the mood of the place. It is not quite veneration; his things are on display in a candid, non-glorifying type of way. But noticeably, the brutal aspects of this former dictator and the sheer numbers of deaths typically attributed him are also not trumpeted. You see, in some parts of Georgia, there is still a lingering notion regarding Stalin that goes something like this: “He’s a son of a bitch… but he’s OUR son of a bitch.”