Stalin’s staue in Gori, Georgia
Some years ago, when I have visited the city of Gori in Georgia, with my friend Archbishop Malkhaz Songulashvili, the head of the Evangelical Baptist Church in Georgia, he took me to browse through the memorial dedicated to Stalin in his hometown.
Going towards the museum, I was shocked to see a tall statue of Stalin still standing in front of Gori municipality over fifteen years after the fall of communism in Georgia. Until last night.
I have received today from Malkhaz a message telling me that the statue was finally removed by the Georgian authorities, soon after midnight, in the early hours of 25 June. Here is the story.
Dear Friends and Colleagues,
I have just woke up in my little top flat on Cornmarket Street in Oxford [Archbishop Malkhaz works in Oxford on hist doctoral thesis]. With my eyes still closed I searched for my notebook on the bedside table. I found it in the pile of my books and retrieved it. I looked from the window and saw my good neighbours: craws. They have recently produced two little ones who are fluffy and look bigger than their parents. I opened my e-mail account and found a letter from my son, Alexander. I am always glad to hear from him. Today I was particularly exited by his letter. He came up with the news I had been waiting for so long, perhaps all my conscious life.
“Vladika, at long last”, writes Alexander, “this night Stalin’s statue in Gori was pulled down!”
Yes, indeed “at long last”! It had to go away long ago and it did not. I thought it would go two years ago when the Russians invaded Georgia and it did not. The government and politicians did not want to upset supporters of Stallin in his home region. The statue had been dominating the main square in the city of Gori right in front of the local authorities head quarters. It was so anachronistic. Beyond statue you could see the five crossed Georgian flag which is a symbol of 2003 liberal-democratic revolution in Georgia.
The attitude to Stalin in his home region has always been rather ambiguous. Some people would agree that Stalin was a mass murderer but he was a local boy. Some people have venerated him for crashing the fascism in Europe. Some have admired his way of running the country with an iron hand.
In my view there is nobody who is absolutely good and there is nobody who is absolutely evil. Of course some people can be more even than others and some people can be better than others. No doubt he had some positive qualities but these qualities were overwhelmed by his evil inclinations. Perhaps I have to tell you that he wrote beautiful poetry in Georgian, singing to the beauty of the sky and birds and flowers…
Stalin was a leader of a largest country of the world and influenced the world politics directly for three decades and indirectly he is still influences some countries and some politicians.
His mother’s dream was that he would become a bishop of the Orthodox church but chose to be a revolutionary and politician. He achieved a lot. As some people used to say he assumed a feudal Russia and within thirty years he turned it into a nuclear power. But nothing can justify his cruelty, murders, killings, assassinations of political rivals and innocent people, uprooting of peoples and entire nations, persecution of all religions Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists and others. It is ironic that some Christians in Russia and in Georgia still consider him as a great Christian. In Russia his icons have been circulating in religious circles. In one of them he is vested in Orthodox episcopal vestment and holds a sword and the book of Gospel in his hands.
In 1924 on his death bed, they say, Lenin told Stalin that he was not good enough to be his successor.
“People will not follow you”, told him dying Lenin.
“If they will not follow me” said comrade Stalin, “than they will follow you!”
This joke was not quite a joke. It was the reality of the Soviet time under Stalin. During my life I have met a lot of people who admired Stalin exactly for this reason. He would not tolerate any opposition and any diversity in thinking. I am so sorry that a genius Georgian boy from Georgia did not dedicate his life to freedom, love and forgiveness. In this respect his lice was tragic and he made lives of millions of people tragic.
What lessons we learned from the life of this boy from Gori is that you can terrorise people, kill them, frighten, but you can never kill the longing for freedom, love and God.
As a Georgian I offer my apologies to all the peoples of the Soviet Union and certainly other countries for the evil which my compatriot has brought to our civilization. My prayer is that Georgia and other former Soviet countries finally get rids of Stalinist legacy in political, spiritual, ecclesiastical and human spheres of life. Do join me in this prayer.
Archbishop Malkhaz Songulashvili
Regent’s Park College
Oxford OX1 2LB
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