28 June 2013

Stalin and politics of the past paralyse the Georgians


The people of Stalin’s native country have very conflicting feelings about him. On the one hand, he is respected for his ability to lead, on the other hand he is hated for the milions of lives on his conscience. The revolutions in the past paralyse the Georgians, who prefer to not have an opinion on politics. This is the conclusion of Copenhagen University anthropologist Katrine Gotfredsen in a new PhD thesis.

Illustration of StalinUp until the sommer of 2010, a 15 meters tall bronze statue of Joseph Stalin stood in front of the City Hall in the Georgian city of Gori, where Stalin was born. The local politicians decided to move the statue in the middle of the night, without any warning.

Only few Georgians objected. The statue was one of the few remaining in the countries that used to make up the USSR. Now, three years later, the statue is likely to be placed in front of the Stalin museum in Gori, due to the response from local interest groups who demanded the re-erection of the statue in a petition.

“The story about the Stalin statue exemplifies the general duality in Georgian politics. At the top there is a very clear and and clearly articulated policy. At the same time, the people insist on not getting involved in politics. Politics is dirty and unpredictable. This means that ordinary Georgians taking an interest or getting involved in politics are few and far between”, says anthropologist, PhD Katrine Gotfredsen.

She stayed in Gori for 10 months to study every day communication and political practices in Georgia. Other than the controversy over the statue she included the Stalin museum in Gori, a group of elderly Stalin supporters, and a local drinking ritual in her research.

The Georgians keep Stalin out of politics

Stalin is well liked among both some of the guides at the Stalin museum and elderly Stalin supporters. According to Katrine Gotfredsen, Stalin is described at the museum as a father figure, the boy who came from poverty in Gori, and became a powerful man with abilities to lead, and the man who conquered Nazism. 

“The guides prefer to not speak of the dark sides of Stalin’s policies. They denounce these sides of him, but they do not speak of it, because it might potentially be controversial. This makes the guides indirectly political, because many guests feel that the guides glorify Stalin. But the reason is just as much the guides’ reluctance to talk about politics as it is a actual desire to glorify him”, she explains and continues:

”The Georgians have very strong feelings about their nation, and besides being a tyrannical leader responsible for many people loosing their lives, he is also a national symbol. He is part of them. And for some it is difficult to separate him from their love for their country. This is again a paradox considering the fact that many think of the Soviet era as a time of oppression of the Georgian nation”, she says.

Paradoxes in Georgian politics

For years, the former government demanded the adjustment of the exhibition at the Stalin museum to make it more critical in its view of the Stalin history. But the overall impression of the exhibition today is still that it glorifies rather than critisises.

The insight into the Georgian people’s feelings about politics, and the ambivalens it causes could be important knowledge for politicians and organisations who work with political development and democratisation in Georgia, according to Katrine Godtfredsen.

”When looking at countries like Georgia who have gone through massive political changes, and where the trust in politicians and government institutions is low, you can gain new insights into political processes, if you try to understand the local logic and practices that may seem like paradoxes at first sight. For example the view on Stalin comes from the people’s wish to have a strong leader, stability, social progress and national survival – this is important to understand, if your wish to change the positive attitude towards him”, says Katrine Gotfredsen. 

Anthropologist Katrine Gotfredsen
Mobile numer: +45 61 30 62 63