Playing with Statues: Stalin Here and Now
In search of national historical memory characteristics
"Our memory is made up of our individual memories an our collective memories. The two are intimately linked. And history is our collective memory. If our collective memory is taken from us - is written - we lose the ability to susain our true selves."
Haruki Murakami, 1Q84
49 photos and 3 essays presented in catalogue “Playing with Statues: Stalin Here and Now” is the imprint of the Soviet regime on modern Georgia. This regime had been waging the war against its own people for decades by persecuting its own citizens, restricting their freedom of speech, choice and movement, spying and using violence against them.
About 20 million people fell victims to the Communist regime through exiles, deportations and death penalties. Such massive sacrifice has left the trace of great fear on Soviet citizens and created painful mistrust among people, which still exists.
The Soviet terror is directly related with the name of a tyrant, Joseph Stalin, who had ruled the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics for almost 25 years and was responsible for the massive violence that took place. However, other Communist functionaries were no more humane, which is proved by this archive and memorial sources. Stalin was responsible for spying and terror over the system, which reached all the corners of “one-sixth of the earth”. He determined the number of “people’s enemies” to be exterminated by quotas. His subordinates diligently fulfilled these quotas in all Soviet republics, including Georgia. Stalinism was established as a form of state governance in which terror was the universal means of solution of all political and social goals.
The Soviet system of terror was based on permanent purge of “enemies” from within or without and the ones who were the part of the system themselves. Unlike National Socialists, who mainly exterminated the “aliens” – Communists, Jews, Slavs, Gypsies, homosexuals, the Communists murdered “theirs” as well. This fact makes it difficult to draw a line between a real executioner and a real victim. This sort of indiscrimination is one of the obstacles on the way to the development of historical memory about the Soviet terror. This factor only deepens the traumatic causes that are driving this horrific experience into peripheral corners of historical memory.
Historians have not agreed yet as to why Joseph Besarionovich Jughashvili, the same Stalin, turned into a tyrant. The experience of professional revolutionaries and distrust towards their own surrounding and generally, to people, doubtlessly determined the dictator’s wish to weed out tens of thousands of his comrades-in-arms from his ranks via party “purge”.
What was the imprint that Stalin had left on Georgia – the country, which is still known to the world almost only as the homeland of the Soviet tyrant?
The author of these lines came across a partial answer to this question in Guram Tsibakhashvili’s studio, where while searching for illustrations for his next publication he was looking at photos that had been collected for years and turned into digital ones. Among various “Stalin” themes, I best remembered three stills:
A shortsighted man covered with “tattoos” of the Soviet leader; a three-piece poster on the wall of the Veterans’ Union wall portraying a parliamentarian, president and generalissimo and the Trinity, which never gave me any piece, wondering since childhood – why every shoemaker had it in their booth displayed along with Stalin, St. Mary and some big-breasted “beauty”?
And I worked out the answer to this Georgian national mysterious triptych together with Guram Tsibakhashvili: despite the ethnic origin, Stalin might be the embodiment of a Georgian “American Dream” for every shoemaker living in Georgia. Since the son of a shoemaker from Gori became a Generalissimo.
Guram Tsibakhashvili’s photos are the visual documentation of specific time space starting from the 80s of the 20th century. Three essays that are included in the collection are also the documented illustration of the specific time. All three letters were written in 2009 with the desire to conceptualize the Soviet past and they create a single chain in analyzing Georgian populist Stalinism. We borrowed the title of the collection “Playing with Statues” from the first author of this cycle.
The essays by Archil Kikodze are the string of stories telling us about how people living in Stalin’s times perceived the Soviet dictator.The writer describes the essence of the “Georgian” Stalinism and the event, which became the subject of patriotism for Georgians that was handed down to the posterity in the post-Soviet Georgia.
Kikodze’s essay was commented by Gia Nodia, which was followed by Beka Mindiashvili’s article. Despite the fact that these texts were created independently from photo materials included in the collection, I think that they will make suitable comments for Tsibakhashvili’s photos as well, or perhaps - vice versa.