Thursday, August 02, 2012

GORI: Two Conflicting Narratives in One Museum: My Visit to Stalin in Gori. By Shota Khinchagashvili (

Just got back from Stalin's State Museum in Gori, Georgia. Although I have stalled my PhD work dedicated to memory politics in Georgia for a couple of months, I couldn't help being tempted to make a quick observation on Museum's current state.

...And "in transition" is probably what describes best its current state.

I accompanied my acquaintances from Poland to the Museum several years ago, long before the 2008 military conflict. Quite predictably, all of them were astounded if not shocked by the guide's praise of the Soviet leader and his "historical role in saving Polish people from the aggression from Nazi Germany".

On April 9 Minister of Culture and Monument Protection of Georgia Nikoloz Rurua suggested to re-conceptualize the whole Museum, making it "Museum of Stalinism". This is in line with the current Georgian government's policy to join new EU member states' bid to equate two totalitarianisms on a pan-European scale. During the tour I've asked the guide about the name; apparently it hasn't been changed so far.

The guide of the Museum and the whole presentation was quite spectacular, nothing what I had experienced the last time, but also quite contrary to what I could anticipate: She, as an agent of the institution, was vividly self-conscious about the controversial character of the narrative traditionally offered by the Museum. After and among the lines of standard autobiographical accounts, the guide didn't hesitate to make remarks (frequently in Georgian, unintelligible to other three foreign visitors) about what she is actually going to omit, one time adding the reason: they [foreigners] tend to smile about what I say.

This was especially interesting due to the fact that, provided she wouldn't make misplaced remarks like those, the tour narrative was rather "neutral" and mostly devoid of glorification of Joseph Stalin. However, neutrality doesn't really work.

Apparently, the absence of Stalin's praise and comparatively neutral account of Soviet leader's path to power is naturally challenged by (a) ethico-political judgments in historical perspective that dominates the international intellectual and public arena and (b) the very mnemonic purpose of these halls, originally aimed at nothing but engineering a sense admiration.

Quite remarkably, the guide intentionally missed one whole section of the Museum which she later described as "propaganda section", noting that departments like that still could serve us in observing how the official narrative of Stalin's past was offered previously.

Nevertheless, one would think that this idea of "meta-museum" hasn't been realized yet. There is an impression that instead of telling how it was told, the guide actually hints on intrinsic transitional state of Museum structure. The latter is "split", rather than "layered" along the Soviet and post-Soviet narratives.

The split is spacial: the new politics of memory is expressed via the mere physical extension of the traditional Museum halls - there is a separate section added on the ground floor, reminding me the much impressive Museum of Communism in Warsaw.

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