Little known to the public is the fact that Joseph Stalin, the leader of the Soviet union from the 1920s until 1953, was born in Gori in Georgia. In fact, the name he received at birth, Ioseb Besarionis dze Jughashvili, has little similarity to the name people use to refer to him and to his regime. Stalin means ‘man of steel’ in Russian and the name was given to him by his fellow revolutionaries. He must have liked the sound to it.
The Stalin museum in Gori was initially created with the sole purpose of propaganda for the Stalin regime. Stalin never returned to his childhood home and did not appear to have a special place in his heart for the town of Gori. The museum itself is not big, it consists of a six halls filled with paintings, photo’s and memorabilia of Stalin and his fellow revolutionaries and his original train wagon outside of the building. Most information is in Georgian. You need an English speaking guide to bring the material to life.
However, what I find extremely interesting about this museum is the story it tells about Stalin, a man considered a tyrant by some and a hero by others. What attracted him to the communist ideology? Why the hunger for power and the fierce oppression of opponents, friends and even family? Did he experience any remorse about the Gulag camps, millions dying of famine in Ukraine and the deportation of whole ethnic groups?
The exhibition at the Stalin museum is roughly in chronological order. Containing childhood photos, images of Stalin as a young man with his compatriots, photos of his personal life and his rise to power. The highlight is Stalin’s death mask of which there are only 12 copies to be found in the world. The museum also contains Stalin’s office furniture and artifacts he received from other world leaders. No mention is made of any of the atrocities committed by the Stalin regime. In fact, on some of the paintings and photos faces, of functionaries fallen into disgrace, have been painted off.
However Georgia is no longer a part of the Soviet union and our guide added the information that was skillfully left out of the exhibition. Definitely worth a visit!