Georgian town split on fallen Stalin statue

Joseph Stalin's statue has been removed from the central square of his Georgian hometown, Gori. But residents still do not agree about whether to love or hate the former Soviet leader, as Nina Akhmeteli reports.

Image caption An empty pedestal stands at the site of Stalin's dismantled statue in Gori

The last remaining statue of Stalin in Gori will be replaced by a monument to the victims of the brief war between Georgia and Russia in 2008, Georgian Culture Minister Nikoloz Rurua said.

The new monument will also be dedicated to Dutch cameraman Stan Storimans, who was killed during the Russian bombing of Gori in August 2008.

Mr Rurua said it was unacceptable for his country to be home to a monument for a man who led the Red Army into Georgia in 1921.

Removed from the prominent position it had held in the centre of town since the 1950s, the statue will now be given a new home in Gori's Joseph Stalin Museum.

Many Georgians seem to agree with their government.

National television showed a crowd of people applauding when the figure, standing six metres (20ft) tall, was lifted off its pedestal under the cover of darkness.

But there were also those who had tears in their eyes while watching the statue being dismantled.

"They just stole this monument," said Dina Tsulukidze.

She told the BBC she understood why the authorities had acted in the middle of the night.

"They knew the people here would not have let them go ahead if they had tried to remove the statue in broad daylight", Ms Tsulukidze said.

Gori residents have indeed defended the monument repeatedly from moves by various governments to dismantle it.

'Stalin cult'

Historian Vazha Kiknadze said the first attempts to do so date back to the area of Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev and his de-Stalinisation campaign in the 1950s.

Mr Kiknadze said Friday's removal was long overdue.

"Stalin is to be blamed for everything that happened in August 2008", said Mr Kiknadze, referring to the Russian-Georgian conflict in 2008.

"He started the aggressive imperialist policy that Russia is still pursuing," Mr Kiknadze added.

"I think the disposal of this statue is a historical moment. It's another step towards the end of the Stalin cult that some still hold on to in this country."

Young people meeting outside the Stalin museum in Gori seemed to be unfazed by the controversy.

They said they were not really interested in the fate of the monument or the historical significance of Stalin.

"It is great that they are going to replace this statue with something else", was all one young man had to say about the matter.

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