Transparent archives. Photo from the official web-site of IDFI.
Three years after Stalin’s death, Nikita Khrushchev condemned the cult of Stalin and values that had been at the core of the Soviet experience for a period of at least 30 years. His secret speech, titled “On the Personality Cult and its Consequences” and delivered at the closed XX Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union on 25 February 1956, shook the Party at its foundations. Although the speech was not presented openly, rumors about the sensational address spread throughout the USSR and reached Georgia in early March.
At that time, Soviet agitation and propaganda were deeply embedded in Georgian society. The condemnation of Stalin’s personality cult meant not only the end of the old system, but also a strike against national pride, since Stalin was Georgian. On 5 March 1956 people started to assemble in front of Stalin’s monument in Tbilisi. Every day the demonstrations to honor Stalin grew larger, turning into an anti-government uprising with a strong tone of nationalism. Many thousands filled the streets of Tbilisi and other Georgian cities day and night, and the authorities were eventually losing control over the capital.
On 9 March 1956 Soviet Army tanks entered Tbilisi and put down the uprising. The exact number of casualties remains unknown. Nor is it known who gave the order to use force against peaceful protesters. These important events in Soviet history remain virtually unstudied to this day.
The project “Transparent Archives” by Institute for Development of Freedom of Information (IDFI) aims at closing this gap by making documents related to the March 1956 events available to the general public via the internet. The unique advantage is that Georgian archives are open to researchers.
In a discussion on 25 March 2011 at the Heinrich Boell Foundation, Giorgi Kldiashvili, director of IDFI, presented a newly-launched website, which contains more than 100 digitized documents about these events from official archives. The documents come from the former Archive of the Committee of State Security of Georgia (KGB) and the Central Committee of Communist Party of Georgia, now under the protection of the Archive Administration of Georgia’s Ministry of Internal Affairs. The documents include the official list of casualties, protocols of the secret bureau and plenum sessions of the Central Committee of Communist Party of Georgia, high official correspondence between Tbilisi and Moscow, information letters of various Ministries of Georgia to the Central Committee regarding the details of the events, and investigation files of arrested persons related to the events of March 1956. Together with the Georgian archival materials, IDFI published documents on the events of March 1956 from the Central Archive of the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation that were received by the Archive Administration of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia.
Kldiashvili emphasized that the goal of the Institute’s work is to make archive documents available; analyzing the documents will be further task of historians and researchers, as well as the authors.
The discussion after the presentation revealed how controversial the interpretation of the March 1956 events still is, and supported the importance of further historical research. In this regard Iris Kempe, director of the Heinrich Boell Foundation, and Anita Schluechter, Deputy Head of the Swiss Embassy in Georgia, drew attention to the project’s potential to enhance the understanding of history and to foster the development of a democratic society in Georgia. They encouraged the continuation of the project and the cooperation between Georgian and international researchers. Academic research has already started: one master’s thesis has been written on the basis of the documents made available by IDFI. The challenging process of “reconstructing history” is just beginning.
As a continuing part of the project “Transparent Archives,” IDFI will publish collections of archival documents related to the events of 9 April 1989 and other thematic collection of archival documents on the Soviet history of Georgia.
In future projects, IDFI aims to use the unique holdings of the open archives and to publish documents that address the least-researched events in Georgia’s Soviet history. For example IDFI will publish biographies of 3600 victims of Stalin’s repressions of 1937-1938 – the infamous “Stalin’s list.”