Stalin’s hometown “destalinized”

Residents of Gori, the Georgian city where Joseph Stalin was born, awoke on Friday morning to discover the centrepiece of their main square, a six-metre bronze statue of the infamous soviet leader, had vanished.

The monument of the dictator had been whisked away during the night by the Gori authorities. Officials say it is being moved to the house where Stalin lived, which now serves as his museum.

The move came as a surprise to the residents of Gori, who were never asked if they wanted to have the statue relocated.

Two years ago, Georgian authorities called for the removal of the Stalin statue, arguing that its proper place would be in a museum dedicated to the “Russian occupation of Georgia.” Ironically, the proposed museum would be located in the museum of Stalin, where his statue will now be placed. The initiative however was not implemented.

In place of the spirited away statue a monument to the victims of the 2008 war in South Ossetia will be erected, while Gori’s main square will be renamed in memory of the conflict.

President Saakashvili commented on the removal, saying that “The country can’t have both museums of occupation and monuments to those, on whose initiative the occupying country launched the invasion.”

He added: “History should be dealt with in a civilized way, without hysterics or vandalism.”

Meanwhile, several dozen Gori residents have gathered in front of the mayor’s office to protest the subtle engineering operation. They believe the authorities removed Stalin statue in secret to avoid public opposition.