Generic disclaimer: I am in no way celebrating the history of leftist movements, socialism, or communism. This is intended to be an informative tool for open-minded and conscientious travellers looking to explore something different. I feel it is important to recognise the effect the left has had on shaping society and the political landscape. And, as such, there is room and hopefully, need for such articles.
My weird week in Georgia – an all expenses visa run for work, no less – would not have been complete without a day trip out to Gori. As I’m sure you’re already aware, this small and otherwise unobtrusive town is the birthplace of Joseph Stalin.
Trains to Gori leave from Tbilisi’s main railway station three times daily, however, the times are 08:10, 08:30 and 09:00. So, I arrived at the station somewhat earlier than I would like to be awake. When I tried to buy my ticket, the cashier was very helpful and not at all abrupt in the way that only women in post-Soviet countries know how… yeah, nah.
Me: Hi, can I get a ticket to Gori, please.
Me: Yes, please.
Me: I don’t have it, it’s at the embassy.
Me: I don’t have it.
Cashier: No passport, no ticket!
I’ve never felt more like a character in a Wes Anderson movie.
Fast-forward to the next day, when I successfully managed to make the one hour journey. If you’re worried about not knowing when to get off the train, you shouldn’t, because the conductor did two laps of the carriage screaming “GORI! GORI! GORI! GORI!” and then at the end of the second lap came and tapped me on the shoulder and screamed “GORI! GORI!” in my face. The train hadn’t begun to pull in to the station, but I stood up anyway because she seemed to be the only person in the world more anxious than me about missing the stop.
Gori Train Station
As you come in through the station at Gori, don’t miss the statue of Joe in the hall on the left. There’s a sign in English on the door that says something like “No entry without permission!” but when I waved my camera at the lady at the cash desk, she waved me in, but her facial expression suggested that she had only done that because it was the option that required the least effort on her part.
The Stalin Museum, Gori
The Stalin Museum is easy to find from the train station. The easiest route is to go back out onto the platform, turn left and then take the stairs up onto the road. Once you have crossed the bridge over the river, turn left onto Stalin Street (I wish I were making this up) and follow it until you reach the museum, which is literally unmissable.
I don’t have that much to stay about the museum that hasn’t already been said before. It’s bizarre. There’s no mention of anything bad that Stalin did, and if you’re interested in a balanced perspective of the Soviet Union this may not be the museum for you. If you’re into different household objects with Stalin’s face on them (teapots, plates, carpets etc.) then you’re in luck.
My favourite room was definitely the room devoted entirely to the death of Stalin, not to be confused with Armando Ianucci’s 2017 film of the same name, though it is equally perverse. In pride of place is Stalin’s death mask, which is treated with shrine-like reverence. On the walls are paintings of Joe in his coffin, and paintings of the many mourners assembled outside his mausoleum in Moscow.
Also worth noting is the fact that they have moved Stalin’s childhood home and placed it in the courtyard of the museum. It’s very small (as a good comrade’s home often is) but that’s an impressive feat regardless. There’s also his private train carriage which does attract an increased fee (nominal). It’s highly missable if you’re short on money, but when’s the next time you’ll be in Gori, Georgia?
Gori War Museum
On your way back towards the train station, on the right-hand side of the road is the Gori War Museum. It’s not very well signposted, but the mustard-coloured relief devoted to the Great Patriotic War should catch your eye. The museum is mostly dedicated to Soviet victories during World War Two and is only fully accessible if you speak Georgian or Russian.
Here you’ll find yet another life-size statue of Stalin. If you turn left at the statue and look in the box on the floor in the corner, you’ll find more Nazi medals than most Westerners will see in their entire lives.
Stalin’s Printing Press, AKA Georgia’s Communist Party Headquarters
Located at 7 Kaspskaya Street, Tbilisi, you’ll find an innocuous brick building – I almost wondered if I was in the right place until I saw the hammer and sickle motifs on the door.
I was shown around the party headquarters by the Vice-Chairman of the Georgian Communist Party. He spoke no English, so we relied on my fairly shitty Russian. Within a few minutes (literally) he was asking if men could marry men in Australia and expressing his disgust. You have been warned.
At the back of the headquarters is a small house, which was also once occupied by Joseph Stalin – or as he was known then, Iosif Djugashvili. Hidden beneath the house, in a series of tunnels running from a well, was a secret Bolshevik printing press, used by Stalin and his comrades to create anti-Tsarist newsletters. The press ran for three years until it was discovered in 1906. It spent some amount of time (not sure if it’s my memory or my Russian failing me now!) underwater, so the press is completely caked in rust. It is possible to climb down and see the press.
There are no large statues of Stalin, but there’s plenty of photos and paintings of him and Lenin. The portrayal of Stalin is about as balanced as that in Gori, but the things you get to see are a lot less… kitsch. If you’re interested in Soviet history, this is the “must see” place on this list.