Local Boy Makes It Big


“A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.” ~~ Joseph Stalin

Ioseb Besarionis dze Jughashvili was born in Gori, Georgia in December of 1878. At the time, Gori was part of the Russian Empire. The little kid from a poor family was nicknamed “Soso.” He went on to have more than thirty different last names over his lifetime, but the name that he took into infamy is Joseph Stalin, which means “man of steel,” but is synonymous with violence, tyranny, and the slaughter of 750,000 to one million people during the Great Purge. Some believe the number could be as high as twenty million people.

Although it’s been seventy years since his death, the townspeople have wildly differing views of the man and his legacy. It’s like they aren’t remembering the same person. There is an active chapter of the Communist party and they keep trying to reinstall the large Stalin statue in the center of town. The longtime mayor states simply, “He’s our boy.” Those who actually revere him are mostly the older generation but most in the younger generation consider him a stain on the country and fight any efforts to prop him up as a role model for anyone. The younger residents like that the huge statue of Stalin is lying broken and face down in weeds and don’t want to see it resurrected. The oldsters consider his life story that of an underdog and point to the fact that he took a country that was stuck in almost medieval times and left it with nuclear capability. And then, there are those who see the divisions created by Stalin’s legacy as being stoked by Russia to keep Georgia under its influence and, there is no doubt that Russia’s sway is strong. And the town is not without people who miss the old way of life. They liked the guaranteed jobs and housing and believe that the population was more cohesive and worked toward common goals then, but now they feel that everyone thinks only of themselves.

Visitors are often alarmed to see a photograph of a smiling Stalin dangling from the mirror of a taxicab manned by a seemingly friendly driver. But this homage has nothing to do with the evils Stalin perpetrated; rather it reflects a misguided national spirit.                                              ~~ Darra Goldstein, The Georgian Feast


We visited the Joseph Stalin Museum in Gori, where the main drag is named Stalin Avenue. It was supposedly begun as a museum about socialism, but it was rather obvious that it was really meant to be a memorial to Stalin, who died in 1953. It is essentially a shrine to the man. The museum complex was dedicated to his memory in 1957, but after the fall of the Soviet Union, it closed in 1989. It has since reopened and is a very popular tourist attraction. Basically a grand tribute to the man (there is even a photo of him as a choirboy), the museum does feature a small section in an obscure area of the basement that gives witness to the crimes and atrocities he committed. At one time, a banner was strung across the entrance declaring the museum “a falsification of history,” but it came down in 2017. There was also talk of converting the museum into the Museum of Russian Aggression, but that plan fell through.

The home where Stalin was born in Gori (it was moved right next to the museum).


The last Stalin Avenue in the world.


Stalin’s private rail car. He refused to travel by air.


I admit that I felt a little guilty going to the museum. I felt that I was supporting those who ostensibly continue to spread his poisonous philosophy, but it was irresistible to go inside for a look. I asked our guide if she felt that way, but she said she did not because there was a museum in Tbilisi that told the other side of the story. I wondered how the town of Braunau am Inn in Austria handles the birthplace of Adolf Hitler because we all know that there are always nutjobs out there who hold that animal in high esteem. I looked into it and that little town is having none of it; his birthplace will never become anything close to a shrine. I guess this is one of those things that everyone has to decide for themselves. Still, I think I’d feel better if the proceeds were used to create some type of memorial to the masses of people Stalin had slaughtered.

Stalin’s death mask.


Step right up and get your Stalin souvenirs!







  1. Donna on September 16, 2023 at 3:37 pm

    We encountered a similar experience last year with Tito in what is now Slovenia in a small museum in Skofja Loka. It’s difficult to to wade through so much of brutality but in a small it was important for me to understand the history…and there are no monuments to past dictators. I was unable to to discover why this particular town had a small galley to Communism and Tito since he was born in the village of Kumrovec (which is now Croatia) which was where his father’s family was from. His mother was born in Yugoslavia (now Slovenia) so that may be why. The Slovenes are very grateful to be free of dictatorship and it shows all over Slovenia. Maybe a few of the older generation think it was better but none of the young people do. Keep enjoying!

    • Ruth Anne Lawson on September 16, 2023 at 10:48 pm

      Such an apt comparison! We missed the museum in Slovenia but sure thought it was a beautiful country. Loved Ljubljana as well as Croatia.

  2. Melinda Young on September 16, 2023 at 3:37 pm

    Very interesting

  3. Ruth Anne Lawson on September 16, 2023 at 10:50 pm

    You and Frank would have really enjoyed the museum. Only problem was that very little was written in English, so we had to depend on our guide to explain everything. There was a great painting with Trotsky whited out. Seems in real life he got whited out with an ax in Mexico City.

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