don't understand the macabre fascination Soviet history holds
for tourists. Meanwhile, the tourists themselves search for sympathetic
senses of irony that may not exist in most countries directly
impacted by communism.
The J. Stalin
State Museum in Gori is a shrine to the late General Secretary
who played a noteworthy role in the deaths of approximately 20
million Soviet citizens. Gela Naskidashvili, newly hired museum
director, has taken notable steps to advertise the museum, such
as creating a website replete with photographs and information
on other tourist sites in and around Gori. Still many long time
ex-patriot residents of Tbilisi have never heard of the Stalin
Museum, which is only an hour's drive from the capitol.
itself is a solemn affair, lined with arched promenades, vaguely
reminiscent of a monastery. Its staff doesn't seem to be aware
of the ironies associated with celebrating a cruel Soviet despot
in one of the first countries to break from the Soviet Union.
Inside, a red carpet leading up a flight of stairs culminates
in a pristine, white statue of Stalin greeting incoming tourists.
Above the statue, dim light filters through a blue stained glass
window. A security guard barks something from the guard room.
Nowhere in the museum is there mention of the purges or the Ukrainian
starvation or life in the Gulag.
from Joseph Stalin still remain in Georgia (Steven weinberg)
contains hundreds of artifacts and art works. Stalin's boots,
jacket and pipe are all here hunkered between numerous oil paintings
and laudatory correspondence from Roosevelt and Churchill. Perhaps
the most incredible attraction the museum offers is one of 16
existing Stalin death masks. The mask rests in a circular, dimly
lit atrium, and the face itself appears small and thin - serene.
one of the Stalin Museum's chief selling points is its total lack
of perspective. One experiences the guilty voyeurism of viewing
history unexamined, horrors unacknowledged, and the lingering
echoes of raw Soviet propaganda transplanted into the 21st Century.
Naskedashvili, the museum's director, maintains the museum's neutrality.
"A museum isn't for politics. A museum is a museum,"
fact that tour guide Ketino Akhobardze's grandfather died in the
Gulag, she hesitates to judge Stalin. "Good, bad, it is difficult
to judge. He was very interesting," she said, adding in regards
to the purges, "It is history. How can I hate it?"
to the director, the number of foreign tourists coming to the
museum has doubled over the past year. However the vast majority
of visitors are still local; approximately 5000 foreign tourists
came in 2006 out of an estimated 30,000 tourists that visited
the museum last year.
to Naskidashvili, the net revenue from tourism is barely enough
money to fix up the place. While ticket prices for foreigners
are 15 lari, native Georgians officially pay three lari a head.
museum has a modest assortment of souvenirs, including busts,
pipes, and volumes of the dictator's poetry, but in Gori business
doesn't commonly utilize the Soviet kitsch theme. Local restaurants
offer English signage, but, perhaps for good reason, shy away
from selling souvenirs or using Stalin as an overt marketing motif.
The loud indifference of locals greets newly arrived tourists.
Janet Boddy, an American tourist, was "surprised" when
no one from the museum greeted their tour bus. "I was very
surprised that when we got off the bus today, there weren't people
ready to sign you up for a tour and show you around."
- hate relationship
Nizharadze is a social psychologist working for the International
Center on Conflict and Negotiation. He says that Stalin remains
for some a subject of pride.
loved the Soviet Union because of Stalin. As soon as he died,
the belief in the Soviet Union vanished," Nizharadze said,
adding that identification with dictators is a common scenario
in which hate is converted into love. While Nizharadze believes
that the majority of Georgians don't miss the Soviet Union, he
says that it is often hard for them to accurately assess a communist
past in which everyone participated. "It was considered that
'it was not me' who made the communist choice. It was Russia'sresponsibility,"
from the great patriotic war, as wwii
was known in the soviet union, still met on
the soviet holiday may 9 to celebrate victory
over fascism. (Steven weinberg)
and Daniel Multon are local developers from the UK who crave experience
of sites associated with Soviet history. They think that such
sites could easily market themselves to western audiences. Accordingly,
they want to see more old Soviet factories, sanatoriums, and remnants
of Soviet military and leisure history. "We found it fascinating
that these things still exist," said Richard Delaney, director
of First Brokerage in Tbilisi.
ironies of Soviet history fascinate Daniel Multon, project delivery
director at GRDC. When he was in Rustavi, locals spoke proudly
of the town's Soviet industrial history in one breath and its
famous cancer treatment center in the next. "I think Georgians
are ignoring it," said Multon, speaking of the Soviet legacy.
"You could market it so well. You could go see the old tank
battle ground and be given a tank shell," he said.
Georgia profits off its Soviet past, it appears to do so accidentally,
as if it isn't willing to fully comprehend the multiple avenues
of irony Soviet history represents for western tourists. Iago
Bibileishvili co-owns the recently opened KGB cafe in the old
town. The café, whose slogans are "Still working,"
and "We're watching you," has made a modest success
of selling KGB shirts and mugs. Their novelty menu boasts a variety
of Soviet flavors, ranging from "Gulagi" (Buckwheat
cutlet) to Religion is the Opium of the People (Beefsteaks with
wine sauce) to Comrade Chegevara (steak). Still, Bibileishvili
himself considers the style of the cafe more an example of history
than tongue-in-cheek marketing. Of the Soviet theme, he said,
"we don't use it ironically. We do as it was. With us we
show how it was during the Soviet Union." While the café
has only been open for nine months, Bibileishvili says that it
has so far been a success. When asked about the prospect of Soviet
history tours, Bibileishvili, like many working in the tourism
industry, stressed the importance of marketing the whole Georgia.
"In principle Georgia has a rich tradition. They can be interested
in Georgian history, and Stalin is also Georgian," he said.
Delaney and Multon have something very specific in mind of what
they want to see next. They anxiously wait for the chance to inspect
more old factories, sanatoriums, and perhaps, if they are lucky,
the old Soviet anthrax plant that, rumor has it, exists somewhere
in Tbilisi. "From a photographer's point of view, I find
the old, crumbling factories very post-apocalyptic," said
Delaney, adding, "They think tourists want more of what you
read in the Lonely Planet guides."
for the past vs. the catharsis of laughter
From the look
of it, Delaney is right: Soviet history is largely ignored as
a product in Georgia. But while guide books do advertise the Stalin
Museum, it is anything but an ordinary tourist attraction. The
glaring question is how to market a product that people conceive
of in such varying ways, from an object of hate, to regret, to
reverence, to one of irony and humor.
a local entrepreneur, would never consider using a Soviet Kitsch
motif at her Mozart Chocolates shop slated to open in September.
Her great grandfather was persecuted as a Kulak during the purges
and died in a Siberian labor camp. She voices a commonly held
perspective, saying that anyone that could love Stalin must be
crazy. "I don't want to talk about Stalin because I don't
respect this person," she said.
other former Soviet republics have cashed in on their communist
legacy. In Lithuania, hundreds of thousands of visitors flock
to a new Soviet theme park. Stalin World is the creation of Viliumas
Malinauskas, a Lithuanian businessman. The park houses numerous
Lenin and Stalin monuments within a perimeter of barbwire. Loudspeakers
blasting Soviet slogans and cold borscht for sale compliment the
general tongue-in-cheek gulag atmosphere. Irony appears to be
the anti-Soviet theme parks main marketing tool. "People
can come here and joke about these grim statues. This means that
Lithuania is no longer afraid of communism," said Malinauskas
in a May 2006 article published by the Associated Press.
a piece of history
at the city's unofficial souvenir market, selling hard won Soviet
medals isn't a question of marketing - it's a matter of survival.
Vladimer Mgebrishvili is a former Red Army captain trying to eek
out a living on a pension of 200 lari a month. He says that he
is not embarrassed to sell his medals and understands why westerners
his age might be interested doing business with him. "They
want a piece of the Cold War to bring home with them," he
said. When Mgebrishvili remembers the Soviet Union, he doesn't
miss Stalin, but rather a time when life was easier. "Everything
was free then and in a democracy you have to pay," he said.