The One Where I Visit the Birthplace of an Evil Dictator

Gori, Georgia

Joseph Vissarionovich Djugashvili was born in the town of Gori, Georgia in 1878.

Locals may still think of him fondly – after all, he is the local boy who made it big – really big.

Indeed, my taxi driver in Gori bragged to me that his grandfather and Djugashvili were schoolmates.

I arrived at the main town square in Gori (named in Djugashvili’s honor) to see a rectangular shrine type complex built around what appears to be an old cottage. A sign proudly announces that this cottage was his childhood home.

Gori, Georgia

Behind this shrine is what may be the nicest, largest building in Gori, fittingly home to a museum dedicated to the hometown hero.

Gori, Georgia

The museum details Djugashvili’s early success as a seminary student, followed by his ultimate expulsion.  It lauds his growing role as a revolutionary in Georgia in the early 1900s and a large map shows the destinations of his many exiles to Siberia. Later, it proudly displays photographs of him with Lenin, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill. It celebrates the Soviet Union’s victory in the “Great Patriotic War” and highlights Djugashvili’s honors following the war. A large painting of Djugashvili and his wife could be that of any other loving couple (well, kind of).

Gori, Georgia

Gori, Georgia

Gori, Georgia

But nothing mentions the thousands of military officers and political opponents he had killed.

Nothing mentions the 350,000 foreign ethnicities in the Soviet Union he executed.

Nothing mentions the hundreds of thousands of ordinary Soviet citizens – workers, peasants, teachers, priests, etc. – he murdered during his years of terror.

Nothing mentions the 7 million people he forcibly deported to Siberia or Central Asia.

Nothing mentions the 14 million people he sent to labor camps, many of whom died.

Nothing mentions that he was found guilty of genocide in 2010 for orchestrating a mass famine in Ukraine that killed up to 5 million people.

Nothing mentions that his economic policies likely led to famines that killed 10 million of the people he was supposed to lead.

No, nothing in this museum founded in 1937 in honor of Joseph Djugashvili mentions that he was responsible for the death of as many as 45 to 66 million people.

By comparison, Hitler is said to be responsible for “just” 25 million deaths.

You may be wondering why the name Joseph Djugashvili doesn’t ring a bell. Or perhaps you already figured out that most of the world knows him simply by one name:


Yes, I spent a few hours one afternoon in this town outside of Tbilisi gazing at exhibits in the Stalin Museum, puzzling over the enshrinement of Stalin’s childhood home and strolling through Stalin Park, which of course was located on Stalin Avenue.

It just felt bizarre to see so much honor given to someone who was so evil.

Stalin, Gori, Georgia

I should note that a sign at the entrance to the Stalin Museum now informs visitors that

[T]he museum is a typical example of soviet propaganda and falsification of history. Throughout various stages of soviet history, the expositions were modified or refocused, but the objective of the museum stayed unchanged – to legitimize the bloodiest regime in history.”

It goes on to say that with the support of the Ministry of Culture and Monument Protection of Georgia, the museum will be transformed into the Museum of Stalinism, “which will tell the story of the most important milestones in Stalinism thoroughly and impartially.”

Have you ever visited a place honoring someone who most people consider to be evil?


8 thoughts on “The One Where I Visit the Birthplace of an Evil Dictator”

  1. I was curious about the Stalin Museum, too, so I went a few weeks ago. I only speak English and did not have an English guide since I was solo, but from the little bits I could put together and just the overall impression as I was going through all the images, it gave off the impression of someone who was perhaps charismatic and really loved his mother. I didn’t see the sign you mentioned at the entrance, but I couldn’t tell that they’ve really changed the focus of the museum since you were there. My favorite of the gifts from various countries was the hammer and sickle desk lamp from Poland :). I heard about a communism museum/printing press in Tbilisi. I hope to get there sometime before I leave Georgia in a few weeks.

  2. For a lot of people in ex-Soviet Union, mainly those of Russian origin or still living in Russian information bubble (probably also many Georgians as he was from their country), he is not a criminal and evil dictator. He won the war, he’s a hero. When you ask about the millions of people whom he condemned to die, they were either fascists (as all nazis are called in Russia), supporters of fascists, traitors or the biggest cliche of money grabbing capitalist you can find. And it is sometimes hard to fight that, even if Khrushchev already in 1956 denounced him for what he was. But people acknowledge his crimes, though they want to pretend that winning the war and modernizing Russia (thanks to, at least partially, slave labour) washes away every crime.

  3. Fascinating stuff. I’ve never been anywhere like this, but I’ve certainly heard of similar places. It’s amazing what a slight shift in perspective can produce…

  4. Say what you want about dictators, I can never get over how a grown man in this day and age continued to wear a moustache.

    From now on I’m going to redirect all fuzz-lovers to this ‘ere post and set ’em straight on why perhaps it’s a bad idea.

  5. (Haha, had to laugh at Ayngelina’s comment about about history being a matter of perspective, and her latest article being “My mother the assassin”!)

    Love the wee little disclaimer at the beginning of the museum…yeah, that does it.

    When we were in Colombia we did a “Pablo Escobar” tour – funny how so many people there still think of him as a hero too.

  6. That’s a tough one although I have learned that history is never factual but a matter of perspective. They all probably think he was innocent and misunderstood, or atleast that is what they were told.

    1. I had to stop in Gori on my way to see the cave city at Uplistsikhe. It just seemed so bizarre, I was intrigued to see it all as long as I was there.

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