Surprisingly, there aren't that many museums or monuments to Stalin anymore. I guess killing more people than Hitler and drawing national borders that are still causing inter-ethnic bloodshed doesn't merit as much admiration as it used to.
Except in Gori, Georgia.
Located about 80 kms from Tbilisi, Gori probably doesn't have much more going for it than it did when იოსებ ბესარიონის ძე ჯუღაშვილი (Ioseb Vissarionovich Jugashvili. If you haven't noticed, I love the look of Georgian script) was born there in 1878. For example, a lot of people still don't have running water in their apartments. Still, you grasp the tail of fame where you can and Gori residents embrace their native son more intensely than ordinary Georgians do, which is to say, pretty intensely.
I had heard the museum was lame so I wasn't disappointed to find out it, in fact, was. I was much more disappointed that I had to pay $10 for a ticket. (Full disclosure: this was my second visit to a Stalin museum. The first was in Batumi in 2006, described here. I didn't like Batumi.)
Built just after his death in 1953, it's a typical Soviet-style museum, in which a bunch of uncurated, unanalyzed crap -- newspaper articles and photos and random memorabilia -- is thrown up on the wall ("unanalyzed" is probably the kindest criticism of this museum. It's a lot like the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda, California in that sense).
Not only that, it's all in Russian and Georgian, it's freezing cold and museum ladies stop to stamp your ticket every time you enter a new room, even though you're the only one in the museum. Though you have to admit, their stamp is pretty awesome.
Neither of my Georgian colleagues had been in the museum before. One was excited to see it, the other less so. Naktia was particularly reluctant to have her picture taken in front of one of the multiple statues, suggesting that her hostility is a response to the repatriation of her grandfather.
"Repatriation?" I asked. "What does that mean?"
"Sent to the gulag," she responded. "No one heard from him again."
"That's a completely reasonable point of view," I said. "You're not cutting off my head in that photo, are you?"
But even she softened up a little when we got to the room with all the gifts Stalin received from his admirers within the empire Formerly Known as Evil. How could you not be impressed by carved chess sets from Tajiks? Ivory boxes from the North Koreans? Silk weavings from the Chinese? Wooden shoes with his and Lenin's face on them from the Dutch. Wait, what? The Dutch?
Naturally, I went straight to the personalized face carpets bestowed by Turkmen and Azeris. The Turkmen carpet was seriously beautiful, even if Stalin's features were oddly Asiatic. As gifts, personalized carpets really do stand the test of time, even for people who are not dictators. However, the going price for one these days in Baku is about $600 and I can't think of many friends on whom I'd spent $600 for a carpet. If they were dictators, maybe.
Disappointingly, the Stalin Museum has no gift shop. However, Tbilisi's flea market is one of the most reliable places for Stalin memorabilia, if you're in the market for that sort of thing. (Are you also in the market for Hitler memorabilia? That's what I asked myself after I bought a 1950's alarm clock with his visage on it in Tallinn. I told myself it will would add a bit of dictatorial balance, sitting next to my Mao alarm clock. But no, I am actually opposed to Hitler memorabilia. I realize this is incoherent. I guess I got a thing for dictators).